Nelson, Nancy


Baby-faced goofyfoot surfer from San Clemente, California; winner of the Makaha International in 1962, 1963, and 1965, and runner-up in the 1965 World Surfing Championships.

Nelson was born (1947) and raised in San Clemente, and got her first surfboard at age 12. Three years later, while living in Honolulu for eight months with her family, she placed third in the Makaha contest; the following year, at age 16, she won at Makaha and placed second in the West Coast Championships; in 1963 she again won Makaha and finished third in the West Coast Championships. "I don't get nervous in competition, and I strive for perfection," she said after winning Makaha for the second time. "I am a moody surfer, though. When I'm happy I surf well, and when I'm unhappy, not too well."

Small, compact, and quick-footed, with excellent wave sense, Nelson was nonetheless overshadowed throughout the mid-'60s by two-time world champion and media darling Joyce Hoffman, who lived just a few miles to the north. After a slow year in 1964, Nelson returned the next year for a final victory at Makaha, then finished runner-up to Hoffman in both the United States Surfing Championships and the World Championships. Nelson placed 3rd in both the 1964 and 1965 SURFER Poll Awards, and in 1966 she was 3rd in the International Surfing Hall of Fame Awards, behind Hoffman and Joey Hamasaki.

In 1964, when SURFER asked, "Why do you like to compete in a man's sport?" Nelson showed a flash of proto-feminist indignation. "If girls like athletics like I do, I see no reason why they should have to just sit on the beach and look pretty. Besides, who said it was just a man's sport? I don't like all of the restrictions that men seem to think are necessary for women."

Nelson later ran a photography business in Hawaii. She also lived in Montana and Ireland. In 2013, she died of breast cancer.