In Surfing Sisterhood Hawai‘i, Honolulu native Mindy Pennybacker, a columnist for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, brings waveriding in the islands to life blending Hawaiian legends, historical accounts, and interviews with more than thirty contemporary female surfers of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities.
Surfing Sisterhood Hawai‘i Surfing Sisterhood recounts how female surfers got pushed aside and deprecated by a male-dominated industry in the mid-twentieth century and how they’ve come roaring back. In 2021, Hawaiian five-time world champ Carissa Moore won gold in the debut Olympic surfing event.
In 2022, Hawaiian Moana Jones Wong won the first women’s World Surf League championship tour event at Banzai Pipeline, in big, barreling waves that were, until then, considered too dangerous for female contests.
Surfing Sisterhood Hawai‘i shows how surfing in Hawai‘i is a daily celebration and lifestyle for its women, who sustain community, nature, culture and ‘ohana in its waves on top of having a lot of fun.
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Hawai‘i native Mindy Eun Soo Pennybacker is surfing columnist at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, and author of Surfing Sisterhood Hawai‘i: Wahine Reclaiming the Waves (Mutual Publishing, 2023), and Do One Green Thing: Saving the Earth Through Simple, Everyday Choices (St. Martin’s, 2010).
Her stories and articles have appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Nation, Sierra Magazine, The Surfer’s Journal, Stanford Magazine, Self, Martha Stewart’s Whole Living, Fiction Magazine, and elsewhere.
A graduate of Punahou School, Pennybacker earned a B.A. in English Literature from Stanford University, an M.F.A. in fiction writing from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and a J.D. from the University of California at Davis, Martin Luther King School of Law. She was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford and received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and Joseph Henry Jackson and James Michener awards for fiction writing.
As a youngster, Pennybacker was mentored by famed Waikīkī beachboy Albert “Rabbit” Kekai and became the only girl member of the Tongg’s Surf Gang, a competitive group of boys in her Diamond Head neighborhood. The boys entered her into junior contests at Waikīkī, where she faced the famous, fierce Mākaha sisters, Martha and Rell Sunn, and never placed better than third. She withdrew from competition for 40 years, then surprised herself by winning the women’s 35-and-up shortboard division —and placing second in longboard—at the Honolulu Bar Association’s Landshark contest at Kewalos. In the open-gender championship final, she was defeated by a male Punahou classmate.
After a lifetime of seeing women outmaneuvered, outnumbered, and bothered in the ocean by men, including a tourist who praised her perfect English, Pennybacker found her joy and confidence in surfing restored as she interviewed the more than 30 waveriding wahine who share their stories and strategies in Surfing Sisterhood Hawai‘i.
Inspired early on by the Hawai‘i environmental group Save Our Surf, Pennybacker went on to serve as editor-in-chief of The Green Guide in New York City, where she also worked for the Trust for Public Land and Natural Resources Defense Council, Glamour and This Old House magazines, before returning home to edit Honolulu Weekly, then join the Star-Advertiser as a staff reporter.
She lives in Honolulu with her husband and fellow journalist, Don Wallace, who since their wedding day has understood she’ll always be arriving late, with wet hair, if the waves are good.