The Real "Gidget"

Photo credit: Kathy Connor Zuckerman

By Pablo Capra

Gidget (short for "girl midget") is as essential to California surf folklore as Johnny Appleseed is to American storytelling. Since the 1950s, the character Gidget has been written about in novels, and portrayed in films and TV shows by actresses like Sandra Dee and Sally Field. The popularity of the Gidget story helped evolve the sport of surfing into California’s favorite pastime. The girl who started it all is not a myth! Her real name is Kathy Kohner, and at 15-years-old she traded peanut butter and radish sandwiches for the chance to borrow a surfboard and paddle out. Her determination to be a part of the gang and prove that she could master surfing (and date the boys!) made her an inspiration to many. The boys she surfed with also happened to be some of the most influential surfers of the day, including Miki Dora, Mickey Munoz, Dewey Weber, and Tom Morey. The California lifestyle, lingo, and rites of passage she learned at the beach charmed Kathy’s father,  Frederick Kohner. Writing in the young and colorful language that Kathy had brought home, Frederick Kohner published the novel Gidget: The Little Girl withBig Ideas in 1957.

In the meantime, Kathy has grown up. She became a teacher and married Marvin Zuckerman, with whom she has two sons. She now works as the "Ambassador of Aloha" at Duke’s Malibu. Like the Gidget character, Kathy remains totally curious, fearless, and individualistic in her approach to life. She makes special guest appearances at numerous surfing events every year where she continues to inspire young girls to surf. She especially loves the Santa Monica Pier’s Ocean Festival! The Gidget story captures a time of innocence in California’s surfing history that surfers today often dream about. Pablo Capra is a poet, local historian, and publisher of BrassTacks Press.