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A Tribute to Some of the Greatest Female Surfers in History

The history of surfing is filled with inspiring stories of men and women who have dedicated their lives to the beautiful and exciting sport. 

It’s easy to think of surfing as a male-dominated activity, but there are countless female surfers who have made a name for themselves in the sport since it's invention. 


By setting new records, competing in major competitions, and mentoring future surfers, women are continuing to define what it means to surf today. It's an exciting time for anyone looking for inspiration in the world of surfing - female athletes worldwide are leading the movements both in and out of the water.

Not only has this helped to shape the future of surf by opening up opportunities for more female surfers, but it has also infused the sport with fresh new talent, surf styles, and ideas.

So in honor of International Women's Day, we want to spotlight some of the greatest female surfers throughout history and share their well-deserved legends.

Rell Kapolioka'ehukai Sunn (1953 – 1998)

Rell Sunn was an American surfer most well known for her work in promoting the Menehune contests, which were held on Oahu's North Shore between 1976 and 1997, as well as being Hawaii's first female lifeguard. 

She was instrumental in bringing women’s surfing into mainstream consciousness, ultimately becoming one of the first professional female surfers. 

In 1985, she founded the Women's Professional Surfing Association (WPSA), which is still in existence today. She was also an avid environmentalist, working to protect Hawaii’s fragile shorelines from development and pollution. 

Rell is held in great respect as a generous and selfless person who truly embodied the Aloha spirit. Her words are remembered with gratitude:  "The Aloha spirit is real simple. You give and you give and you give . . . and you give from here (the heart), until you have nothing else to give."

After her death from cancer at age 45, she became recognized as an icon in both Hawaiian culture and in surfing overall.

Layne Beachley (1972 - Present)

Layne Beachley is an Australian professional surfer who was inducted into the International Surfing Hall of Fame in 2002. 

She won six consecutive world championships between 1998 and 2003—the most ever won by any surfer—as well as seven ASP women's world titles over her career spanning from 1996 through 2008. She has been credited with helping bring visibility to women’s surfing by competing against men on occasion during her career. 

Beachley continues to be a widely-admired role model for female athletes everywhere, and works with several organizations that promote equal pay for women sports stars.

Keala Kennelly (1978 - Present) 

Keala Kennelly is a professional surfer from Hawaii who has made a name for herself as a fearless big wave rider over the course of her extensive career. 

In 2004 she became the first woman ever invited to compete in the Quiksilver Eddie Aikau big wave invitational at Waimea Bay, Hawaii—a feat that earned her worldwide recognition as one of the best big wave riders around today. 

Since then, she has become a fearless advocate for gender equality within all sports as well as ocean safety awareness and conservation efforts throughout Hawaii and beyond.


Stephanie Gilmore (1988 - Present) 

Stephanie Gilmore has been dominating the surf scene for over a decade and shows no signs of slowing down. Born and raised in Australia, she won her first world championship title at just 17 years old, making her the youngest-ever to win, and has since gone on to win six more. 

Her surf style consists of a beautiful blend of grace and power that makes her stand out from other surfers. She's also broken records for long-distance swimming, making her a multi-talented waterman!

In addition to her successes in surfing and swimming competitions, she has also taken home multiple awards for charitable giving, and continues to inspire fans around the world with her achievements.


These incredible female surfers have each had unique journeys that have shaped them into some of the greatest surfers throughout history. 

Each have left their own impactful mark on both surfing culture and society at large with their fearless spirit and dedication to making waves both on and off the board. 

They are true inspirations for aspiring female surfers and athletes all over the world, and we are so grateful to share the sport with such accomplished women.


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