On Waterwoman Lynne Boyer And The Surfer As Artist And Vice Versa

Posted by Robin Hill on

Surf history is delineated really well by decades. Every ten years seems to usher in a new template for what the culture has become. In the late sixties several occurrences ensured the proceeding ten would be no exception. Endless Summer taught surfers everywhere that the keys to the ultimate wave riding experience lay with transglobal exploration. Shortboards were becoming the norm and George Greenough's visions of tube riding and vertical surfing were being adapted by stand up surfers everywhere. And the hippie counterculture was sweeping the world, making long hair, LSD experiences, rock music and communal living the norm.

Born under these influences, it's unsurprising that the 1970s became one of surfing's most exciting and revolutionary eras. Surf adventurers were pioneering new breaks in far off jungles all over the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Larry Bertlemann was stunning crowds in and out of the water with his powerful and aggressive low stance, pretty much inventing high-performance surfing and the first legit skateboard trick, the "Bert Slide", all at the same time. And living in a car and spending all day lounging at the beach smoking pot and eating lentils went from being the alternative to the mainstream pretty much overnight. One of the stars of the era, Hawaii's Gerry Lopez even said, "All things considered surfing in the 1970s was, without doubt, the best of times."

Lopez @ Uluwatu

[Lopez at Uluwatu from The More Things Change documentary, a typical beach scene at Sunset and Bertleman from Hideaki Sato's North Shore 1970-1980 book]

Male hegemony also dominates the history of surfing, sadly this still seems to be the case in the 2010s. In most instances the only "surf" photos of women from the seventies are of  them lazing around in bikinis. Flicking through Hideaki Sato's North Shore 1970-1980 book (available here) which overflows with epic photos, one particular image really caught my eye. A black and white photo of a woman cranking down the line at Haleiwa. Immediately fascinating and curious, it's so rare to see a photo of a woman surfing on Hawaii's North Shore. Let alone from the 1970s. And especially not looking so stylish and, well, aggressive... the low stance and position of her arms oozing the kind of speed and power more commonly associated with the likes of Larry Bertlemann.

Lynne Boyer at Haleiwa
[Lynne Boyer at Haleiwa from Hideaki Sato's North Shore 1970-1980]

I immediately set to Googling, Lynne Boyer, the subject. The images that popped up were equally fascinating, piquing my interest. The action shots all portrayed the same magnificent sense of power and strength. Either deep bottom turns heading straight towards big barrels or aggressive smashes to the lip. Definitely an impressive surfer and talented waterwoman (note: "waterwoman" appears to not be a legit word, whereas "waterman" is).

Lynne Boyer 1Lynne Boyer 2
[Lynne on the World Tour and at home at Sunset from lynneboyer.comsurfingwalkoffame.com]

Two of the action shots that popped though were especially interesting for a different reason though. On these two... one pulling a cheater five the way they did on the shortboards of the seventies and the other taken over the shoulder as Lynne heads back up towards the lip, possibly for another crack at it... she just has the most wonderful smile. Like she's having a lot of fun! And that, weirdly, is another rare thing to see in a published surf photo. Even though surfing is fundamentally all about having fun and chasing the joyful feeling of centrifugal playfulness, it's not often that you actually see pictures of a surfer smiling whilst in action.

Boyer SmilingBoyer from over the shoulder
[Lynne Boyer grinning away from the Lyttle Street blog and her Twitter avatar]

Boyer wasn't a native Hawaiian. In fact, as far from it as an American can get. Originally an East Coaster. Born in Pennsylvania, she spent the first decade of her life in Maryland before moving to Haleiwa on O'ahu's North Shore at the age of 11. This was 1968 when heavy local breaks like Pipeline and Sunset were starting to get surfed regularly. I wasn't there but I'm almost certain the energy of surfing and the spectacular feats brought about by the winter swells penetrated the air. At 16, Boyer placed third in the State Championships. Pretty impressive when that state happens to be the birthplace of surfing. And two years later, on the cusp of adulthood, she came first, demonstrating a God given gift in the water.

Immediately after leaving High School, Lynne turned Pro and began travelling the world, charming contest crowds with her high performance surfing. In 1976 she won the Hang Ten Pro Champs at Malibu and spent the proceeding nine years floating about in the top ten of the Women's Tour rankings. In both 1978, which was only the second year a Women's World Championship Tour had existed, and '79 she came top of the table. Earning renown for her attacking low stance and comfort in bigger waves, she proved, despite her mainland roots be a distinctly Hawaiian Champion.

Lynne Boyer paddling out
[More Boyer from the North Shore 1970-1980 book]

In a reenactment of a cautionary tale told time and time again Lynne Boyer descended from her pedestal into a hole of drug and alcohol abuse. This is definitely a symptom of surfings separation from traditional sports. Like professional skateboarding, athletes in "lifestyle sports" are more akin to musicians or artists. The combination of endless travel, bursts of easy money, partying and ego stroking adulation drive even the most talented individuals into murky territory. Turns out Lynne fell into the trap.

Ahhh, the age old and jarring interpretation of surfing as a sport, as opposed to a lifestyle, or even better an artform. Is one of the reasons participants in "lifestyle sports" like surfing and skating find it so easy to fall victim to drink and drugs that they are actually creative souls caged by the rigidity of a competitive structure? Perhaps the restraints of trying to do something so wild and free and expressive in a confined and judged arena are so stifling that the true aquatic artist crumbles under the pressure?

In the case of Lynne Boyer this debate takes an evidential curve. She had always enjoyed making paintings and drawings, even as far back as High School. However her natural prowess and undeniable talent in the heavy waves of the North Shore meant becoming a professional athlete was a no-brainer. But when the pressure of the pro circuit left her fried and killed her passion for surfing, "it took 13 years of being sober to make it fun again", her second love, painting, was there to pick up the pieces. And since then that's what she's been doing. Chilling back in the nest at Haleiwa, O'ahu knocking out impressionist masterpieces of Hawaiian scenes in thick oils. Nowadays her Twitter tagline even reads, "I am an artist and a surfer. I paint a lot and surf a bit."

Lynne Boyer PaintingLynne Boyer Painting 2
[A couple from Lynne Boyer's extensive portfolio of O'ahu scenes from LynneBoyer.com]

The Golden Rays was founded on the principle that surfing is filled with hugely creative people. There's a real parallel between sliding about on waves and making stuff. Maybe the sense of playfulness essential to both plays a big part. Maybe surfing is just writing your name in water. Who knows. Whatever the reason, we're always wowed by the art made by surfers, whether painters like Lynne, photographers, designers, writers and even board shapers. Surfing is full of weird and wonderful humans making awesome stuff and we're out to celebrate that.

It's awesome to be able to pick up a book, focus on one image and get immediately dropped into a someone's story. So thanks go to Hideaki Sato for his epic North Shore 1970-1980 book, full of photos that could lead you deep into the rabbit hole of surf history... and thanks, of course, to Lynne Boyer, the artist in front of the lens.

Get your copy of Hideaki Sato's North Shore 1970-1980 from The Golden Rays now!

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