Flashy goofyfooter from Encinitas, California; the 15-year-old winner of the 1959 Makaha International Championships, and runner-up in the 1964 World Surfing Championships. "Linda was the hot-dogger of the women," California ironman surfer Mike Doyle once said. "She had incredible wave judgment and just ripped the waves apart." Corky Carroll called Benson the "Godmother of female surfing."
Benson was born (1944) and raised in Encinitas; her father had been a drummer in the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. She began surfing at age 11, and was influenced by Dewey Weber, the zippy blond small-wave ace from Hermosa Beach. The diminutive Benson (5' 2" as an adult) quickly learned how to walk the board, do multiple spinners, and hang five. She made her competition debut in the 1959 West Coast Surfing Championships, won the event, then went on a few weeks later to win Makaha, during her first visit to Hawaii. Just days later, the Benson became the first woman to ride the fabled big surf at Waimea Bay.
Benson competed for 10 years, repeating as West Coast Championships winner in 1960 and 1961, and taking the United States Championships in 1964 and 1968. She also won the US Invitational in 1964, finished runner-up in the 1964 World Championships (to Australia's Phyllis O'Donell), and was the top female vote-getter in the 1965 Surfing Illustrated magazine reader's poll. Surf Guide magazine published a 1963 cover shot of Benson exiting the water, with a coverline reading: "Linda Benson: World's Greatest!" It was the first time a woman appeared on the cover of a surf magazine. Don Hansen, Benson's longtime surfboard shaper, built and sold a Linda Benson signature model skateboard in the mid-1960s.
Benson often jousted with two-time world champion Joyce Hoffman of California, and in the late '60s she came up against four-time world champion Margo Oberg, also from California. She quit competing in 1969, then left surfing entirely. In a 1995 interview with Wahine magazine, Benson she battled with "alcohol and other substances," but that she'd been sober since 1977. In 1979 she began to riding waves again, and from that point forward remained active on the surfing scene.
For 38 years, beginning in 1965, Benson was a United Airlines flight attendant. From 2003 to 2007, she ran the surfHER Surf School at Moonlight Beach in Encinitas.
Benson was featured in a number of surf movies, including Cavalcade of Surf (1962) and Gun Ho! (1963). She worked as a surfing stunt double in films like Gidget Goes Hawaiian (1961), Muscle Beach Party (1964), and Beach Blanket Bingo (1965). In 1992, Benson was inducted into the International Surfing Hall of Fame; five years later she was inducted into the Huntington Beach Surfing Walk of Fame. "The Making of a Champion" is the title of the Linda Benson chapter in Andrea Gabbard's 2000 book on women's surfing, Girl in the Curl: A Century of Women in Surfing. Benson also appeared in two 2009 surf films, Dear and Yonder, and The Women and the Waves. In 2005, Benson served as a contest director and promoter for the Women's World Longboard Championships.