Chicks on stix

A new summer exhibit is celebrating the contribution of women to our city’s rich, but often male-dominated, surf culture. Mermaids of the First Coast chronicles 50 years of women surfing in Northeast Florida. Over 600 people attended the June 16 kickoff party at the Beaches Museum and History Park in Jacksonville Beach. The exhibit will run through August 25.
Exhibit curator, local surfing legend and the unofficial “mayor” of Jacksonville Beach, Mitch Kaufmann, says the installation pays tribute to all the women who have surfed our shores throughout the years. The exhibit also helps promote the sport of surfing and the camaraderie of the women in the lineup. “The women’s aspect of our surf culture is kind of overlooked a lot. It’s mostly guys that get promoted, but Jacksonville has such a big women’s surf community,” he says. “There are so many champion surfers from here and this really unique sisterhood that they have.”
Kaufmann previously developed exhibits on the history of surfing and Dropping In, which documents the East Coast skateboard culture that earned the city the name “Rattown,” similar to the West Coast’s “Dogtown.” Kaufmann says, “We thought, ‘Now what do we do?’ We thought, ‘Let’s do women surfing in Jacksonville because it’s huge and it’s really cool.’ We have such a great history of women surfing. In the last 10 years, women’s surfing has absolutely dominated East Coast competitions without question.”
Mermaids features photographs, video footage and other surfing memorabilia of the top female surfers from past to present. “It dates back to the pioneers of our local women surfers and all the way up to our current champions,” Kaufmann says of such notables as four-time East Coast champion and two-time U.S. champion Debra Swaney and Karina Petroni, the youngest male or female surfer to hold three amateur titles. Petroni, of Atlantic Beach, also holds the Eastern, U.S. and National Championship titles and is one of the only girls from North America to ever make the World Championship Tour.
The kickoff party also featured a video screening of Mermaids and a fashion show of current surfwear sponsored by Jaffi’s in Neptune Beach. The models were many of the up-and-comers in the surfing community including Piper Austin, Kayla Durden and Kayla Beckmann. The video and a book of photos are available at Beaches Museum throughout the run of the exhibit.
Kaufmann says approximately 35 women are prominently featured on posters with an image of them surfing and biographical information. Once the exhibit wraps in late August, the Beaches Museum and History Park will host a closing party. Each of the women featured will be presented with their own poster to commemorate their position in the lineup as important figures in First Coast surfing.