Mimi Monro was one of the first women I saw who surfed with a delicate balance of femininity and deeply honed water knowledge on a longboard. At age 60, she’s still one of my sheros and she’s still hanging ten on her longboard (and taking out surf contests, too.)
I first surfed against Mimi as a 16 year old at one of the East Coast Betty Series surf contests, one of many all-female events as industry support surged into the sport post-Blue Crush.
Mimi, mother of four and grandmother of nine, works full time as a massage therapist and shares her surfing expertise through her Surf Camp during the summertime. Along with techniques of how to catch a wave, she also passes along the love and respect of the ocean to all her students.
She’s classically cat-like and timelessly stylish in the water; one of the original mistresses of noseriding.
I was excited to see Mimi’s story still circulating around the East Coast newspapers…
Thanks for inspiring me with your sweetness and incredible surfing, Mimi.
Mimi Munro sat on the sand, arms tucked over her knees, a look of disgust smeared across her face.
Over the weekend, she and her family had made a 12-hour drive from Ormond Beach, Fla. It already was Tuesday afternoon at the 50th annual East Coast Surfing Championships.
Munro hadn’t surfed a single heat.
In one of her two women’s divisions, there were so few competitors that the event was pushed into a final that wouldn’t be held until Friday.
The other women must have heard Munro was coming.
“She can still hang 10 with the best of them,” said Dick Catri, an East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame member who coached a team Munro surfed on in the 1960s. “She’s as tough physically as she ever was.
“PS… you’d better hope you don’t get her in your heat.”
Munro was one of the greats – a pioneer in surfing in general and especially in women’s competition.
Now, at 60, she still is.
Munro was a petite, bleached-blond teenager in 1965.
Despite being much younger, she was the strongest of any of the women in the Ormond Beach surf scene back then. She was a member of Catri’s Surfboards Hawaii team that at the time dominated most competitions along the southeastern coast of the Atlantic.
Catri had heard about something called the Virginia Beach Surf Carnival and how it had just changed its name to the East Coast Surfing Championships.
So he decided to pack a couple of cars with team members, strap on a few boards and make the long drive north. Munro was his hotshot female competitor.
“I remember driving to her house and asking her parents if they would let me take her to Virginia Beach for the weekend… with a bunch of guys,” Catri said. “I was shocked that they said yes.
“I needed to have a girl on the team and she was the one I wanted.”
Munro was 13.
She won the women’s division in what Catri said was dominating fashion.
And she had no idea of what she’d done.
“I was just surfing,” said Munro, who still lives in Ormond Beach – working as a massage therapist. “I never really had any feeling that I was breaking any ground. I never really thought about the fact that I was one of the few girls who surfed. I never had problems with any of the guys. They looked out for me.
“And I just surfed.”
One of Florida’s original female wave riders, Mimi Munro, age 14, finished 3rd place in the 1966 San Diego World Contest.
Back then, everybody surfed on longboards. At 5- foot-3 and nothing but muscle, Munro was a master of all of the toughest moves of the times. Hanging 10 – standing on the front end of the board with all 10 toes hanging off – was a piece of cake.
The narrator on a balsabill.com video from 1967 calls her style “smooth and aggressive.”
“She wasn’t afraid of anything,” Catri said.
Munro returned to the ECSC the following year with Catri’s new team, sponsored by Hobie.
She won again in the same fashion she did the previous year. She had gone to California and finished third in the world. She was on a fast track to surfing stardom.
Then, the following year, she dropped off the planet.
“I had surfed hours and hours and hours every day for quite a few years,” said Munro, who was 10 when she first jumped on a friend’s plank, referring to a huge, heavy surfboard that took two people to carry to the beach. “I was having some troubles at home and I really didn’t like the notoriety at all. It was a mix of a lot of things and I didn’t really miss surfing.
“I walked away, I guess, when I was 16.”
It was 22 years later – by then she was a mom with four children – before Munro returned to the sea.
“The beach was always part of my life,” said Munro, who runs her own summer surf camp for children in Ormond Beach. “Swimming, body surfing, fishing with my dad.
“So when I had kids, I started taking them to the beach. My daughter had started asking me about pictures she saw of me surfing.”
Back on the sand, Munro watched as others surfed. The urge returned.
“It was spread over several months,” she said. “I kept having these dreams that I was trying to surf. Then finally one day, I just woke up and said ‘I remember that.’ So I just went out and surfed. It took about 20 minutes to get my feet back under it.
“I’m immersed in it again. I think I appreciate it more now than I did back then. I’m stoked again.”
Now, years later, with grandchildren also surfing, and still physically fit with washboard abs, she’s back in the fold and competing again.
She is a member of the East Coast Surfing and East Coast Surfing Legends halls of fame. She is a member of California’s Surfing Walk of Fame.
And she’s back winning contests.
“It was like they saved a spot in the lineup for me all those years,” she said.
Not Tuesday afternoon.
Still squatting on the Virginia Beach sand, Munro was disappointed that she hadn’t yet surfed. She waited anxiously to hear if she would make it out on the water as an alternate in the grand masters longboard semifinals – an all-male event that featured some of the greats in the division.
But there was more disappointment. All eight men showed for the two heats. She’d have to wait until later in the week to strut her stuff.
“It was the only way they could keep her out of the competition,” Catri said with a wry smile. “They didn’t want no parts of her.”
Like some of the ladies, the old men must have known Munro was here.
Lee Tolliver, 757-222-5844, firstname.lastname@example.org