Isabel Letham

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Isabel Letham
Born Isabel Letham
(1899-05-23)23 May 1899
Chatswood, New South Wales, Australia
Died 11 March 1995(1995-03-11) (aged 95)
Harbord, New South Wales, Australia
Occupation surfboard rider and swimming instructor
Known for surf riding a board in the Hawaiian tradition with Duke Kahanamoku, 1915, Freshwater Beach, Sydney, Australia

Isabel Letham (23 May 1899 – 11 March 1995) was an Australian pioneer surfboard rider and swimming instructor, renowned as 'the first Australian to ride a surfboard' (although she disputed that claim).[1] In 1915 at Freshwater Beach, Sydney she experimented riding a board in the Hawaiian tradition in tandem with Duke Kahanamoku.[1][2]

Kahanamoku had been invited to Australia by the NSW Swimming Association. He hadn't brought a board so Letham's father William Letham helped him make one from sugar pine. At Freshwater Beach Kahanamoku gave a 3 hour demonstration of "Hawaiian-style surf shooting" to a crowd of several hundred people. Australians had been bodyboarding on wooden boards, and bodysurfing, but not standing up.[citation needed]

At the end of the session Kahanamoku invited Letham from the crowd for a tandem surfing demonstration. Letham was 15 at the time, but an accomplished swimmer and bodysurfer, and known as something of a tomboy. On the first few waves they paddled for she yelled for him to stop because it felt like going off a cliff. Being a gentleman Kahanamoku did stop, but then ignored her cries, went anyway, and hauled her up. They rode four waves that day and Letham was, as she later said "hooked for life".[citation needed]

Letham went on to become an accomplished surfer, and to teach surfing and swimming.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b Nikki Henningham, Letham, Isabel (1899 - 1995) in She's Game (exhibition online), in The Australian Women's Register, The National Foundation for Australian Women and The University of Melbourne accessed 18 August 2011
  2. ^ Isabel Letham (2007) Australian Women's Archives Project accessed 18 August 2011

Further reading[edit]