Surfing legend remembered

Margie Smith, centre, next to John Whitmore, left, and Marlene Webb, right, and the rest of the men in the 1966 Springbok surfing team prior to their departure for San Diego.

In July 1966, Margaret “Margie” Smith, a 17-year-old from Kalk Bay, made history when she won the first official South African Women’s Surfing Championship title.

The petite blonde first won the Eastern Province and Border interprovincial surfing titles in 1965, before winning three consecutive South African women’s surfing titles from 1966 to 1968, according to the John Whitmore Book project, a website dedicated to the icon who pioneered the sport of surfing in South Africa.

Her victories put her on the surfing map and, in September 1966, she was selected along with SA Championship runner-up, Marlene Webb, to represent the Springbok surfing team at the third International Surfing Federation (ISF) World Championships in San Diego, California, where she placed in the top 10.

Both women were the first two South African female surfers to be selected for the team.

According to the John Whitmore Book Project, Mr Whitmore, who was the South African surfing team manager during the 1960s and 1970s, had coached Margie and had given her a part-time job in his surfboard factory when she left school, sponsored her with surfboards, and helped her to raise funds for her air ticket to California.

Her brother, Christopher Smith, recently made a R4 000 donation to Shark Spotters in her memory after she died at the age of 71 in July.

Mr Smith said he chose Shark Spotters as a beneficiary as they look after the surfers of Muizenberg Corner, which is home to generations of surfers.

He celebrated his 80th birthday two weeks ago and has asked that instead of gifts, donations should be made to Shark Spotters in Margie’s honour.

He recalls how he struggled to understand her “surfing jargon” when they were young.

Margie started surfing at the age of 14 at Surfer’s Corner in Muizenberg.

Mr Smith said he left home to study at the Glen Agricultural College in Bloemfontein when Margie was 10-years-old.

It was during this time that Margie and their brother, Alex, started surfing. They both later emigrated to Australia where she stayed for several years after the peak of her surfing career.

Mr Smith said he reconnected with her after her return to South Africa and his return from the Free State to Cape Town to manage the family business.

At the time, Margie lived on a smallholding in Noordhoek with her husband and two children, he recalls.

“She embraced life there and had cows, horses, and other farm animals. She loved to garden and grew herbs. She also owned and managed a small shop in Noordhoek. The small white building on the Main Road near the vet is still there,” Mr Smith said.

Following her divorce a few years later, Margie bought a plot in Sunnydale and ran the Sunnydale Nursery, a cattery, kennels, and a restaurant.

Mr Smith said she also hosted surfer and surfboard manufacturer Clive Barber, who did surfboard repairs there.

He remembers her as hard-working and a go-getter.

“She wanted a pool so she dug a big hole, bricked it, plastered it, and paved it,” he said.

Her niece, Mariza Mundow, said Margie had an “energy about her” and she was a “very social person”.

“I was the flower girl at her wedding, and I remember the red-and-white theme,” Ms Mundow said.

She recalls how Margie started painting later in life and how art became her passion.

“I still have a few of her paintings but they are unsigned,” Mr Smith said.

Margie sold her property in Sunnydale and bought a plot, Rietkuil, outside Swellendam where she continued to run her cattery and kennels in her final years.

Sarah Warries, from Shark Spotters, said: “ Shark Spotters really appreciates the donation Mr Smith has made in honour of his sister, Margie. Margie was clearly a phenomenal woman, a pioneer in ladies surfing in South Africa, and we are honoured that the work that Shark Spotters does to keep the next generation of surfers safe has been recognised by Margie’s family.”

Margie’s surfing achievements:

• Springbok Colours – 1966 (placed in the top 10 at the third ISF World Contest in San Diego)

• Western Province Colours (1964-68)

• 1st, EPSA Championships, 1965

• 1st, Border Championships, East London, 1965 and 1966

• 1st, SA Championships, Durban, 1966

• 1st, SA Championships, East London, 1967

• 1st, SA Championships, Cape Town, 1968

Margie Smith at Elands Bay in the mid-1960s.
Margie Smith in her Springbok tracksuit at Muizenberg, circa 1966.

To make a donation to Shark Spotters, visit their website at www.sharkspotters.org.za/donate or email info@sharkspotters.org.za