Waterspot: The great Godfrey

It’s been nearly half a century since I moved into that old house in Encinitas. It was located at the corner of 3rd and D and a few dozen of us rented it for $100 a month. My rent was less than 10 bucks, but being new to the place, I slept on the front porch couch. It was dilapidated. It was dirty. It was paradise.

Margo Godfrey about to win her first World Contest at age 14, in 1968. Photo by Grannis

A few months later I was asked to move into a small cottage on Cambridge Avenue in Cardiff. The rent was exactly the same, $100 but with only three of us living there, I had to work one day a week. I quit the day I met Margo.

The 1968 Women’s World Surfing Champion Margo Godfrey had just turned 17 and she moved into a pup tent on the front lawn of a Cardiff house rented by Bill and Richard Bernard (the founders of Surf Ride) and one of our state’s top surfers, Cheer Critchlow. While being a girl and living on your own in a tent in someone’s yard may be nearly acceptable these days, in 1970 it was something akin to treason. Nearly every day that summer I met her on my walk to the beach and we strolled down to ride Cardiff Reef, George’s or Seaside. Going any further than that meant we either drove my Chevy wagon or her Rambler American.

With gas 32 cents a gallon, and no internet to guide the masses, the entire coast was there for the taking. The furthest we ever ventured together, however, was to her mom’s house in Montecito, and into Baja where we once slept in the back of my station wagon at a surf spot called Salsa Puedes. We were never romantically involved, but she was like a little sister to me. I never had a better surf partner.

Few people outside my family and small circle of friends knew me by name, but Margo was a celebrity known throughout the surfing world. Wherever she went surfers would shyly hover near in hopes of sharing a wave with her or actually engaging her in conversation. She was well read and could talk intelligently on various topics and so when conversation did ensue it was usually deep and lengthy.

Pro surfing in general and women’s pro surfing in particular were in the doldrums in the early ‘70s, and Margo rarely if ever surfed contests in those days. By the mid 1970s she had married Cardiff standout Steve Oberg. Together they traveled to one of the first pro surfing contests at Malibu, which Margo handily won. Soon afterward the young couple moved to Kauai where Steve, who had already spent some time in the Islands, coached Margo into big surf. When women’s pro surfing fired up again, Margo won a higher percentage of heats than anyone except, perhaps, Kelly Slater.

Margo Godfrey Oberg currently lives just north of Santa Barbara. I hadn’t heard from her in years before I contacted her several months ago. We reminisced about that summer all those years ago, and when I asked her about her competitive career, she chuckled and said with a mixture of confidence and humility, “I always knew if I got the right wave, I would win.” I know firsthand that’s true. 

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