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Oberg, Margo


Gifted and resilient pro surfer from the Hawaiian island of Kauai; world champion in 1968, 1977, 1980, and 1981, and often cited as the original female big-wave rider. Born Margo Godfrey in Pennsylvania in 1953, the daughter of an aerospace engineer, she moved with her family at age five to the wealthy San Diego beachfront community of La Jolla, and began surfing at age 10. Two years later the reed-thin regularfoot beat an all-boy field to win the 12-year-old division of the Windansea Surf Club menehune contest; at 13, mentored by power surfer Mike Doyle, she was a finalist in the Makaha International and runner-up in the United States Surfing Championships.

Fellow Californian Joyce Hoffman was then the reigning queen of women's surfing, but in 1968 Godfrey repeatedly finished ahead of Hoffman, placing first in three of seven events on that year's elite AAAA-rated California circuit, and winning both Makaha and the East Coast Surfing Championships. Near the end of the year, the birdlike but intensely competitive ninth grader was an easy winner in the World Surfing Championships, held in Puerto Rico.

The following year Godfrey swept all four AAAA-rated events, and became the first women surfer to earn a prize-money check, taking $150 for her win in the Santa Cruz Pro-Am. Godfrey then placed second in the 1970 World Championships, which led to a breakdown of sorts. "I had to go back to high school and live through the 11th and 12th grades not being world champion," she later recalled. "People kept asking, 'What happened, why didn't you win?' It was all so devastating that I retired."

Godfrey dropped off the surf scene entirely. She married San Diego accountant and church pastor Steve Oberg in 1972 and became a fervent born-again Christian, and the couple moved to Kauai. Oberg made a seemingly effortless competitive comeback in the summer of 1975, winning the Women's International Professional Surfing Championships at Malibu. Her surfing had improved during her five-year seclusion. She rode in a function-first style, crouched and ready, arms spread evenly; she was aggressive in her choice of maneuvers, but stayed within herself and rarely fell.

Oberg meanwhile discovered a talent for riding larger surf, and by mid-decade was a winter season fixture at Sunset Beach on the North Shore, where she excelled in waves up to 15 feet. She also reclaimed a self-confidence that at times veered into arrogance: she described herself as "the women's Gerry Lopez," and said she was her own favorite surfer.

A women's division was added to the world pro tour in 1977, and Oberg set the competitive standard, winning the title that year and finishing runner-up to fellow Hawaiian Lynne Boyer in 1978. She took 1979 off, returned to take a third world title by winning both events on the abbreviated 1980 world tour, then won three of four events in 1981 to earn her fourth and final championship. She then retired permanently from full-time competition at age 29. Oberg continued to enter events in Hawaii, and placed second in the 1982 World Cup just three months after giving birth to her first child. In 1983 she earned her final pro tour victory, at the World Cup, held at Sunset.

In the late '70s, Oberg wrote a weekly surfing column for the Honolulu Advertiser, as well as a semi-regular column on the women's pro tour for Surfing magazine, and also did surfing event color commentary for ABC's Wide World of Sports. She won the Surfer Magazine Readers Poll Award in 1968, 1969, 1978, 1980, and 1981, and was the only woman included in a 1985 Surfer article titled "25 Surfers Whose Surfing Changed the Sport."

Oberg was inducted into the International Surfing Hall of Fame in 1991, the Huntington Beach Surfing Walk of Fame in 1995, and the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame in 2001. She was profiled in 20th Century Surfers, a 2001 Outdoor Life Network documentary series; she was also featured in Girl in the Curl: A Century of Women's Surfing, published in 2001. Oberg appeared in about a dozen surf movies and videos, including Waves of Change (1970), Five Summer Stories (1972), Adventures in Paradise (1982), Shock Waves (1987), and Surfers: The Movie (1990). A 2000 issue of Sports Illustrated for Women included Oberg among the "Top 100 Women Sports Figures of the Century."

Oberg has owned and operated the Margo Oberg Surfing School since 1977.