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Rell Sunn Biography

First Competed At Age 14, Inducted Into Surfing Walk Of Fame, Succumbed To 15-year FightSELECTED WRITINGS BY SUNN:


American surfer

Surfing champion Rell Sunn fought almost single-handedly to grant women access to the sport at a time when it was still very much a male-dominated pursuit, and along the way emerged as one of the top female longboarders in the world. Often compared to Duke Kahanamoku, considered the founder of modern surfing, Sunn was "the modern archetype of the Hawaiian water-woman," declared Independent writer Andy Martin.

Sunn was born in 1950 in Makaha, on the west side of the island of Oahu. Her family was of Chinese-Hawaiian heritage, and her middle name, "Kapolioka'ehukai" meant, prophetically, "heart of the sea." The beach near her Makaha home was famous among surfers for its waves, and she began surfing there at the age of four. At the time, women surfers were a rarity—"although women had surfed alongside men in Hawaii for centuries," noted Robert McG. Thomas Jr. of the New York Times. "Since the arrival of Western missionaries in the 19th century their participation had been discouraged. In the 1950's, boys rode the boards, and girls stayed on the beach, tanning their bodies and looking good in bikinis."


"A Young Woman and the Sea." Honolulu Star-Bulletin (January 12, 1998).

Sketch by Carol Brennan

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Famous Sports StarsExtreme Sports