My Surfer Girl

Cowabunga! Hall of Famer Mary Lou McGinnis-Drummy is a real-life Gidget.

WRITTEN & PHOTOGRAPHED BY KAT MONK


Mary Lou McGinnis-Drummy is what Gidget could only have dreamed of being in real life: a pioneer in the surf world. After reaching the heights of women’s competitive surfing in the ‘60s, Mary Lou went on to model and was regularly seen as an extra/stunt double in surf films. She also raised four children, judged surf contests for almost 40 years and served as the executive director of the Western Surfing Association.

Mary Lou grew up in the landlocked city of Chatsworth, California—not on the beaches of Malibu or the South Bay. In the 1950s the McGinnis family spent their holidays and vacations at their grandparents’ beach home on 20th Street in Hermosa. One Christmas Mary Lou got a 9’6” Velzy and Jacobs balsa surfboard and taught herself how to surf.

At 17 Mary Lou graduated from high school and got married. When she and her husband moved to Hermosa Beach, she got a job at the iconic Green Store and started surfing at nearby 20th Street whenever she had free time.

Surprisingly for a male-dominated sport, Mary Lou says she only felt support for her surfing efforts. “It was a great opportunity learning at Hermosa,” she says of her early experience. Soon she was seen in lineups from Malibu to Rincon.

In the contest circuit Mary Lou’s claims to fame were placing fifth in the U.S. Surfing Championships in Huntington Beach in 1965, third in The Malibu Invitational and winning the Santa Monica Open. Considered the ideal California girl, she was frequently showcased in magazines and on the covers of Surfer, Surfing and West—a magazine that was then included with the Los Angeles Times.

While competing, Mary Lou also launched her film career. Hollywood in the ‘60s had a love for beach culture, with the Gidget series and the Frankie and Annette Beach Party movies. Mary Lou had the unique opportunity to not just be an extra but also a surfing stunt double for Sharon Tate in 1967’s Don’t Make Waves. She shares that working in the surf films was an “eye-opener on how films were made” and says it was “super-exciting to work in that industry.”

Mary Lou was also the first woman to be featured in her own surf film, a documentary entitled Follow Me that outlined her “Surf Corps” journey through Japan, Morocco, Spain and India in search of waves.

For a while, Mary Lou was a single mom of Erin, but she then married Steve Drummy—a professional beach volleyball player—and had three more children. Unsurprisingly, three of her four children became competitive surfers who went on to have their own careers.

In Mary Lou’s next phase of life she became a surf judge and started the Women’s International Surfing Association, which later merged with the Western Surfing Association (WSA). Today the WSA holds about a dozen events each year for men and women with a myriad of divisions in different age groups—even including an adaptive surfer heat. She has been running contests as well as judging for the last 40 years.

After a lifetime of dedication to the surfing world, Mary Lou was just inducted into the illustrious Surfer’s Hall of Fame in Hermosa Beach. She says it was “one of the greatest honors of my life.” Fittingly, she is currently living in the surf destination of San Clemente—home to one of the best waves, called Trestles, in California.

 

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