Mimi Munro, today, is sweet and soft-voiced, kind of mousey, but tougher than woodpecker lips. She’s tiny . . . five-feet tall, give or take, but has arms like a bantamweight Golden Gloves contender poking out from her sundress. Her 60-something-year old face is as lined and sun-damaged as it is beautiful. There’s a thin layer of gravel at the bottom of her soft Florida drawl. You half-expect Munro to sidle up to Piper on the next episode of Orange Is The New Black.
Forty-nine years ago this week, Munro was zeroing in on a finals finish in the 1966 World Championships in San Diego. She was 14, rode the nose like David Nuuhiwa’s understudy, and was unbeatable on the East Coast. “I only stood a chance against Mimi if the surf was big,” a Florida rival said of Munro. “In little waves”—meaning nine contests out of 10—the rest of us girls might as well have just sat on the beach.” In San Diego, if the surf had been a foot smaller, Munro might have gone all the way. But in shoulder-high waves at Mission Beach and Ocean Beach, Joyce Hoffman was indestructible, winning easily. Joey Hamasaki was at her smooth-turning best, and Munro settled for third.
Here’s where the story gets interesting. Returning home for her final year at Seabreeze Middle School, about to enter the high-speed, corkscrewing backend of the ’60s, Munro began to lose her balance. Some classmates were struck dumb by her new fame (at a time when Munro wanted nothing more than to be one of the gang), and others were resentful. There were butch-girl comments, directed not so much at Mimi, but at women surfers in general, which created an unsolvable tension in her young mind between femininity and surfing. A year later, busted for a lunchtime surf check, Munro drew a three-day suspension, which she took as an invitation to drop out, which invariably put her in with the Daytona Beach druggies. At 16, she was an ex-surfer. At 17, repentant, she was involved with the church. At 20, she was married, and about to have the first of four children. There was time spent on a commune. There were prison visits for a soon-to-be-ex husband. But mostly, for the better part of 20 years, she was raising kids.
Then Munro began to dream about surfing, and on her 38th birthday, she ordered a new board. She picked up right where she left off, and eventually started loading the mantle with trophies, giving surf lessons, and—bringing us up to date—riding side-by-side with her grandchildren.
Somebody needs to make a documentary about Munro. Somebody from way outside of the surf industry, who really knows his or her job, to get the quality up to where it belongs. Like, Hoop Dreams or Man on Wire quality. The story deserves no less. Let’s bring Mimi Munro back to the public eye at Sundance 2018.