Women on Waves Honors Zeuf


The women's surf contest coming to Capitola on April 12 pays tribute to the late beloved surfer Zeuf Hesson.

By Brooke Wright

April 1, 2014—With women crowding lineups and pulling off airs on the international pro circuit, it’s hard to imagine a time when the self-proclaimed “Surf City” didn’t even have a women’s wetsuit for sale. But that time was only 20 years ago, believe it or not—just a few years before the first women’s surf shop opened in town and the first women’s surf contest began. Since then both surf shop and contest have paused and relaunched. Both will regroup at Capitola Beach on Saturday, April 12 for the annual Women on Waves Surf Contest.

Women on Waves, or “WOW,” is a one-day annual contest that includes about 100 novice and skilled participants ranging in age from 3 to 60+. All are welcome to join, as long as they have a longboard and a great attitude. It is run on donated time and materials, and all proceeds—$48,000 over the years—go to community causes. This year the beneficiaries are two scholarships: the Women on Waves Zeuf Hesson Scholarship Fund, which will help an event participant with tuition at any institution of higher learning; and the Barry Hamby Cabrillo College Scholarship Fund, which supports a select community member attending Cabrillo.

WOW started out in 1996 when Zeuf Hesson, the first woman to join the West Wind Surf Club, advocated for the club to sponsor a women’s surf contest. Hesson, a well-loved surfer in the community, passed away last year at age 54 after a long battle with breast cancer. WOW organizers say it’s time to honor her for instigating the contest and for her many other contributions to the sport. (Story continues below box.)
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“She did a lot for the community,” says Marisol Godinez, who’s helping organize this year’s contest and did the website’s mesmerizing art. “I wanted to do something to honor her contribution to the world of women’s surfing, so we changed the name [of the scholarship] so everyone will always remember her.”

Godinez says Sally Smith-Weymouth, another key contest organizer and the founder of Paradise Surf Shop (which opened in Pleasure Point in 1997, closed in 2010 and relaunched online last year as Paradise Surf), and Hesson’s husband Frosty both supported the idea. Frosty Hesson will be at the Paradise Surf booth signing copies of his memoir Making Mavericks.

Women on Waves Reborn

WOW went through several incarnations before going dormant in 2010 and reemerging in 2013. Like so many stories in the Santa Cruz women’s surfing world, its latest iteration started at the Paradise Surf Shop. Godinez says she remembers walking into the shop in 2007 and talking to Smith-Weymouth about getting the Mermaid Series, which sponsors women-only competitions in the Bay Area, to organize the contest. Mermaid Series ran WOW in 2008 and 2009, and again in 2013 after WOW’s three-year hiatus.

While most Mermaid Series events are for profit, WOW is different. Everyone volunteers, and the equipment is donated.

“It’s always been about how can we help women, girls, ladies, from all ages, all surfing backgrounds, get to the finish line and feel good about themselves,” Godinez says. “Because with do you do with that feeling? Your perspective changes.”

Longtime WOW participant Ricki Bell backs her up. “I remember being terrified,” she says of the first time she competed. Then a friend reminded her that the event was about giving to the community, and everything changed. “She said just go have fun, and I did. And I came in fourth.”

Bell, who began surfing at age 43 after finishing a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, said the WOW events and community that developed around it has been a nexus of positivity for a lot of women.

“I started surfing with women in recovery who never would have thought of themselves as surfers,” says Bell. “It’s empowering for them, a chance to begin their life again.”

That spirit of community service permeates all the organizers and participants, but it also pays huge dividends to those donating their time, according to Smith-Weymouth.

“I don't think I can fully express how gratifying it is to be a part of the Santa Cruz women's surf community,” Smith-Weymouth says. “There are so many characters, both young and old, that I've fallen in love with, and watching the generations grow and bloom just fills my heart with so much love and joy. It's just incredible.” (Read Smith-Weymouth's article It Takes A Village.)

So fill her heart, join the hula dancers, support your community and most importantly, surf!

Women on Waves starts Saturday, April 12 at 8am at Capitola Beach. Entries are limited to 100 participants for categories based on age and skill. Registration costs $40-$60, with menehune (kids 12 and under) free. Go to for more details.