The Real Gidget

Fran Gealer
She doesn't ride the California waves much anymore, but Kathy Kohner Zuckerman still holds tight to the longboard that made her--and surfing--famous.

In her Pacific Palisades home, not far from where she learned to surf, the real Gidget grows nostalgic. In her hands is a diary from 1956, when the only thing that mattered was the size of the waves.

Learning to surf: "I often wandered to the pier at Malibu and watched the boys surfing there. I decided I must have my own board, so I bought one from Mike Doyle for $35. I went out with the fellows every day and I taught myself how to surf. It was very physical, very demanding, but I felt a high every time. Then I'd come home at night and write about it."

That name: "All the fellows had nicknames in Malibu: Moondoggie, Golden Boy, Beetle, the Jaw. One day one of the guys called me 'Gidget.' He said I was a girl and a midget. [She's 5 feet, 1 inch tall.] The name stuck."

Novel idea: "My father was a screenwriter, and a good listener, too. I had grown so fascinated with this culture at Malibu Point that one day I told him I wanted to write a story about it. He suggested I tell him the details and he'd write it. And he did―in six short weeks. My father was Czechoslovakian, and I still think it's amazing that he so aptly captured a piece of American culture."

Gidget fame: "After the book came out, and then the movie and TV show, everything changed in Malibu. It became such a popular spot. As uncomfortable as the attention made me feel, now I embrace it, simply because the book [recently re-released] and its story keep my father alive for me."

Grown-up Gidget: "I surfed at Waikiki on my 60th birthday, but I don't ride the waves much anymore. I spend most of my time up at Duke's Malibu, a restaurant with a surfer theme. I'm a hostess there, and I love every minute of it. It keeps me talking about this wonderful adventure."

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