Jason Cherkis: In 1974, when she was only 14, Jackie Fuchs would wake up way before her parents and catch a ride with friends from her house in the San Fernando Valley across the Santa Monica Mountains and into Malibu. She’d hit the beach and paddle out in the quiet, pre-dawn dark.
It was the only time she could be on the water and not have to deal with the catcalls and the teasing, the good-natured gibes that gradually shaded into something harder and meaner. Before sunrise, she was just another surfer, her back to the sand, waiting for the right wave. She liked being the only girl out there.
Tall and slender with bright blue eyes and brown hair down to her shoulders, Jackie could have passed for Mary Tyler Moore’s daughter. The surfer dudes called her “Malibu Barbie.” One editor of a surfing magazine struck up a correspondence and sent her letters addressed to “Maliboobie.” “You had better get hot and send some good photos,” he wrote to her in black marker. “Your competition in photos is getting tough! You should see what some girls are sending in!” She could never tell how seriously to take the attention. In a letter to the editor published in June 1974, Jackie admonished one magazine for its skin-deep coverage of female surfers: “If they’re so hot, why don’t you show them surfing? Some of us chicks have more than just hot bods! Awoo!”
When Jackie heard that only male surfers were being paid to attend the national championships that year in North Carolina, she organized two benefit screenings of surf films to cover the travel expenses for female competitors. She cold-called directors to cajole them into donating reels of their documentaries for her events, and phoned local officials to arrange for fire permits, security and space. She passed out hundreds of homemade flyers up and down the Pacific Coast Highway. At the door, she took tickets until there wasn’t room left to stand. No one seemed to care how young she was.
“As rebellious as we thought we were,” says Steven Diamond, a childhood friend, “we were nothing compared to Jackie.” She was smarter and bolder than the other teenagers, constantly doing things girls were told they shouldn’t. She attended summer school just to take shop. She learned power chords on her Stratocaster and went to bed with the radio on, hoping to hear Fanny, the one all-female rock band in the universe, on KLOS. A middle school friend remembers driving to the grocery store with her mother one afternoon and spotting Jackie at the freeway on-ramp, her 6-foot-10-inch custom fiberglass swallowtail board under one arm and her thumb out.