23 May 1899
Chatswood, New South Wales, Australia
|Died||11 March 1995
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). A probably erroneous story has been repeated for years that In January 1915 at Freshwater Beach, Sydney she experimented riding a board in the Hawaiian tradition in tandem with Duke Kahanamoku. This story has been disputed by researchers who have investigated its roots and provenance, and the reality is probably that she did not do so until shortly after, at Dee Why beach in Sydney, on February 6, 1915. 
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.
Again probably apocryphally, the idea has been repeated for years that at the end of the Freshwater Beach session Kahanamoku invited Letham from the crowd for a tandem surfing demonstration. Letham herself later repeated the story, but contemporaneous records indicate that this incident did not take place until the following month at Dee Why beach.  In either case, Letham was 15 at the time, but an accomplished swimmer and bodysurfer. As she later told the story, on the first few waves they paddled for she yelled for him to stop because it felt like going off a cliff. Kahanamoku ignored her cries, went anyway, and hauled her to her feet. They rode at least one wave that day, although repeated re-telling of the story has resulted in an increasing number being reported over the intervening decades. Letham was, as she later said "hooked for life".
Letham went on to become an accomplished surfer, and to teach surfing and swimming.
- Surf's up: The Girl's Guide to Surfing, Louise Southerden, ISBN 1-74114-237-7.
- Making Waves - Isabel Letham 1899-1995, Warringah Council Local Studies 
- legendarysurfers.com entry for Letham
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