The most famous female icon of 60s surf culture was not a blue-eyed blonde from California, but a 16 year old Jewish girl name Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman, whose parents fled the Holocaust from Eastern Europe.
Bored with the stuff girls are meant to be interested in at sixteen, the small but strong-willed Kohner found an obsession (and escape) in surfing and surf culture. Every weekend she would fearlessly steal waves off the local surfers, who affectionately nicknamed her ‘Gidget’, as in Girl and Midget.
Back in the 60s, surfing was just a pastime for a handful of Californian rebels and outcastes. Then came along ‘Gidget’, whose real life adventures as a surfer girl were turned into a novel by her father, Frederick Kohner, a Hollywood screenwriter. His first novel, Gidget – The Little Girl with Big Ideas (1957), sold over 500,000 copies and was made into a film in 1959, starring Sandra Dee opposite a hunky James Darren.
‘Gidget’ then became a hit TV series, spreading Californian surf culture to the world. In subsequent films, Gidget would travel to Hawaii and Rome, grow up and get married etc. The beach movie cult had taken off, spawning largely forgettable films such as Beach Blanket Bingo, How to Stuff a Wild Bikini and Ride the Wild Surf. (Years later, we would get Keanu Reeves in Point Break). But behind all the hoopla of the Hollywood Gidget franchise was Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman, just one little girl with a big idea.
Text by Howard Collinge- The Unique Creatures