> Mother Ocean - Hall of Fame Profile of Mimi Munro
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Mother Ocean - Hall of Fame Profile of Mimi Munro
Story by Dharma Mum - Gayla Schaefer
Photos Courtesy of the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame and Museum
Mimi Munro's email address includes the phrase, "Mother Ocean," which caused me to hum Jimmy Buffett's tune in my head through my experience interviewing her. It also turned out to be a pretty good description for this Maven of the High Seas.
I set out to interview Mimi Munroe, initially inducted into the Hall of Fame by Greg Noll in 1996, over the summer. Since this is coming out in October, you can guess that I hit some snags.
Having been told about Munro by many who know and love her, I was excited to do the interview and started making calls in July. Unfortunately for me, she stays pretty busy over the summer between her family, work as a massage therapist and offering summer surf camps for kids and women which happened to be scheduled for the exact times of day I have available for interviews per my kiddos' preschool hours.
Undaunted, we tried to connect for a week or so before I left for my summer road trip and she left for her big honor in Huntington Beach. As fate, the stars and everything else would have it, we were finally able to chat only today as deadlines loomed.
Frightfully embarrassed of my difficult scheduling problems, I was incredibly surprised that Munro actually apologized to me for being difficult to connect with. That was my first clue as to what kind of person I was profiling this go round.
Mimi Munro is called the "Joyce Hoffman of the East Coast and the female version of Gary Propper" on the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame and Museum website. A pretty hefty intro to be sure, it seems to fit what I had been told of the lady who was named the 2007 Woman of the Year by the the Surfing Walk of Fame in Huntington Beach.
Before Frieda Zamba was a blip on the surf radar, Munro was earning her place as a true woman to be reckoned with – and she was barely a teenager.
"My recollection of when I first started surfing is that I was watching some friends of mine when I was 10 years old who had a surfboard that was really big, so big it took a couple guys to carry it to the water. They said, 'Hey, Mimi! Come try this,' and that was that," she laughed. "The board was so big you couldn't help but stand on it."
After her initial exposure along the coast of her hometown of Ormond Beach, it was a few years before she really got going in the water. During that time she occupied herself with some basic kid activities: you know, competitive tennis, swimming and sailing. (Not exactly my typical activities as a kid…)
"I was a tough little kid, what they called a Tomboy," she recalled. "Before I started surfing, I had been a competitive swimmer for a short while. I would get bored with things and move on to other things. As a swimmer, I traveled just a little locally with the parks and rec swim team and then I had also played tennis. And I had been a sailor as well on prams and traveled around the state with friends at regattas."
Sweeping the courts for her tennis lessons right before she got into surfing, Munro had been traveling and competing locally for tennis tournaments when something drastic happened that changed the course of her life.
"I walked in to the court one day at the tennis club, owned by a tennis pro I trained with, and found out he had shot himself the night before," she said. "I didn't have an anchor after that happened. Surfing was the next anchor that I could do for myself. Sailing, I had to have my parents take me but I could get myself to the beach because we only lived a couple blocks from the ocean."
"I had no surfboard so I would take my older brother's surfboard," she laughed. "I would get home from school before he would and sneak out back. But, I had to give it up when he came home yelling at me."
Without even a board of her own, it still wasn't long before this little dynamo had caught the attention of some of the big guys.
By age 12, she was the 1964 Florida State Champion and won the East Coast Surfing Championships in '65 and '66.
"At my first contest, I still had no surfboard so I borrowed one. Then, I was given one by Daytona Beach Surf Shop after I won the Florida State Surfing Championships. From there, I surfed a lot of small local contests in Daytona, Ormond, and Flagler and went to the East Coast Surfing Championships where I met Dick Catri and was asked to join his team."
She was 13 at the time.
"When Dick said, 'How would you like to travel up?' - I said that would be great but it's not going to happen. I can still see myself sitting there watching him ask my father and when he said yes, I was amazed. It was a great experience. I had a lot of big brothers and got to see a lot of sights that were new to me at the time. The guys were great and I have a lot of good friends that I still stay in contact with."
When I interviewed the Godfather of East Coast Surfing himself, Dick Catri told me about Munro and what an effect she had on the team. As I recall, he said the whole team became big brothers to her at the same time they fell in love. Looking at old pictures of her, I can see why but talking to her, I get a better idea. This is a one-of-a-kind kind of human being if ever I have talked to one.
"It was a wonderful time and we had the carpet rolled out for us wherever we went. Dick was a great promoter. The part that was hard was, being 13-years-old, I was a shy kid and didn't talk easily with people I didn't know or even people I did know. Other kids wouldn't approach us because of our "status" as surfers in the limelight and that was tough, even back home at school, I just wanted to be one of the kids. Even the kids I knew back home put up some barriers, but part of it was really just me being shy."
It is hard to imagine Munro as shy now, knowing what all she has accomplished. But trying to put myself in her shoes and remembering how awkward I was at 13, I can't imagine traveling the country as a star and still maintaining good grades (which she did) and a normal life (which she had trouble with).
"I did a lot on my own as a kid. There weren't many other girls and none my age. I loved all kinds of sports and I could usually do any I tried with some degree of success. It brought me much pleasure to participate and receive some level of success."
Surfing with Catri in what would become the Hobie Surf Team, she traveled up the East Coast during her summer breaks and would end up at the Virginia Beach East Coast Surfing Championships. That led to a slot in the 1966 "World Contest."
As she laid out her lifetime chronology for me, I had to interject with little questions gleaned from old stories I had read about her exploits. (That is, after all, what we writers try to do to sound like we have prepared a bit.) I found it incredibly amusing that when she told me of her slot at the "World Contest," and I asked if that was the ISA contest as I had read, she truly could not recall. This gal has had such a life that details such as those are not all that important! Yet another sign that the reports I have had of her humility and down-to-Earth nature were completely correct.
About this point in the interview, which had to be conducted by phone because once again the stars were not working in my favor for a road trip to Ormond Beach where Munro still lives, she told me to make sure that I not use info from the Encyclopedia of Surfing which, she told me, has false information about her.
"I never lived in a commune and I was not married 'till I was 27," she laughed, noting that she thinks the commune thing might have come because she lived for a few years with a family she had met through church as a nanny for their children and later worked in a "Free School" they started which she described as a private school that incorporated learning activities outside the classroom as well as in it. "It also said I was considered the best female nose rider at the time, and I was never considered that."
Back to her life story, at least so far as surfing is concerned… As one of the first East Coast surfers to compete internationally, 14-year-old Munro took home third place from that 1966 World Surfing Championship.
Called a "role model of a generation of Eastern female surfers," the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame and Museum website notes that no woman surpassed her in the longboard era and that her style and grace is forever etched in the memories of those who witnessed her brilliant performances in contests of the mid-60's.
Pretty hefty stuff when you realize we are talking about a young teenager.
After '66, Munro went to California and surfed in a few contests before heading for the Northshore of Hawaii during her winter break with Joyce Hoffman, one of her idols and her chaperone for the trip.
"I didn't do very good because I was not used to big waves," she said. "We surfed Makaha and Huntington, but I didn't make it out of my heat in either. Most of the time the trips were in the summer but I believe for the World Contest I had to go to my principal and ask for an excused absence. He said, 'By all means,' and he was very proud and encouraging to me."
(Remember earlier in the story when Munro said she would get bored and move on to other things? Well the next part of the story seems unbelievable, even to Munro herself, unless you recall that part of her teenage persona.)
"About 15 or 16, I walked away from surfing," she said. "It was the late 60's and I started to do other things. I had come to a point where I had satisfied my desires and I really didn't like the notoriety. I was a bit shy and it separated me from my peers."
Munro, previously an A student, took a life altering turn when she got suspended for three days for leaving campus at lunchtime to check the waves. Apparently feeling that she was dismissive of the punishment, the principal upped the punishment to ten days suspension and after that Munro decided to pursue other educational routes.
"I thought, 'well, there goes my semester,' so my memory is that I said 'Bye. Ok, I am not coming back,' and so I went to night school and adult ed classes to finish my requirements and graduate a year early. But, I have regrets I didn't stay the last two years because that is supposed to be the most fun part. I loved school and was good at school."
After graduating, Munro went to live with the family in Longwood, FL, she had met as counselors in her Unitarian Universalist church.
"They were younger than my parents and had two young children, so I went to live with them and worked like their nanny with their children, which I loved."
She taught at the "Free School" for a few years and then went on to Gainesville to live with friends and attend Santa Fe Community College, one of my own alma maters, in the downtown area of the Orange and Blue capital.
"That was good and kept my attention until I met the person I married and had children with in my 20's. All this time I wasn't surfing. We were always at the ocean and I don't even remember why I wasn't surfing. I loved the beach. It's a great solace for me to walk and regenerate but I was pretty busy raising four kids."
During her non-surfing life, Munro became very involved in assisted child birth, helping to bring several dozen children into the world as a midwife or doula. She was also very involved in the La Leche League and found many other motherhood-related activities to keep her active spirit happy on the shore.
"Birthing was a really enlightening experience that really enhanced my life in my twenties and thirties," she said. "I enjoy caring for people. It is part of what I do now as a massage therapist too."
Yet, it is hard to imagine how someone so talented could so completely walk away from the life and sport. Apparently she did, however, to the point that she thinks she only surfed once from the time she gave it up in her teens until she was 38-years-old and one of her daughters started dating a surfer.
"The marriage started to resolve and my oldest daughter started dating someone who made backyard surfboards so I borrowed one," she explained. "It took about 20 minutes to get back on and then I went crazy. I had had dreams about surfing when the kids were older than toddlers and I would be thinking about surfing and wake up or wanting to check the waves and couldn't get to the beach and I'd wake up before I could get over the dunes or before I could get to the water. Then, one night I did get to water. So, I decided it was time to go back. It really took like 20 minutes. My daughter's boyfriend was like, 'Dang, you really enjoyed that!' and my eyes were as big as sausages I was so excited. So from there, I called Dick up and said I needed a surfboard and he said 'Where have you been?'"
A bit out of shape and lacking a bit in the stamina department, Munro said that it all came back pretty fast.
"Now we are a surfing family," she said with obvious joy.
Her oldest daughter married the backyard board maker and their child surfs along with them. Her second daughter is just getting started and has five kids who all enjoy trying out the surfboards from grandma. Her two sons are also avid surfers. All of her children live nearby.
"I think we might become a complete surfing family," she laughed happily, noting none of the kids compete, however. "They were kind of upset with me that I didn't start them when they were two-years-old but its like any sport, there are only a handful of people who really go in the competitive way."
A few years after she started surfing again, and entering contests again of course, Munro was back at the top of her game and in 1996 she was inducted into the East Coast Hall of Fame.
"I entered the ESA contest locally and it was a good experience," she explained. "I got 6th place in finals and I had never gotten 6 th in my life so it was rather humbling. Then, I entered the 33rd Annual Easter Surfing Fest contest in 1997 and ended up in the finals for longboarding and won it. It was pretty cool, especially since the other lady was from California."
The best part for Munro, however, was a feeling of coming home again.
"There were some other surfers from California who I had known as a kid and they had come out for the contest because it was all longboarding and even though all that time had passed, it was like it all disappeared, like they saved my place in the line up. The gap just closed up. I was really surprised that people even remembered me."
Now a grandmother, Munro is still inspiring women and children to the surf. She does the summer camps and just added one for women last year, saying that her area is about ten years behind California, and even Cocoa Beach, when it comes to women getting in the water.
"It has been really fun," she said. "It really started to explode last summer when I was first seeing women in the water -in their mid 20's and 30's getting inside it. They are really enjoying it. That is really cool."
But as her email moniker suggests, this Mother Ocean enjoys most her time with her family.
"It's an extreme pleasure to surf with my family. It's the greatest, coolest thing. I just really love it. My boys get after me because they say I am a wave hog – not that I am – just my experience allows me to see a wave and pick it up so I have to go down and surf away from everyone so my sons won't drown me. What is interesting, is when do surf with family, the kids and grandkids, I am like a Hawkeye. I make sure they paddle out after they catch a wave. I think that is just what we surfers should do make sure no body got hit with their boards but when out with my family I am really diligent."
Munro's latest triumph came this summer, as I mentioned, when she was named the 2007 Woman of the Year by the Surf Walk of Fame organization in Huntington Beach.
"It's her year," said Tony Sasso, executive director of the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame and Museum.
Some of Munro's childhood friends, one of whom is a professional event planner, decided that the event needed further commemoration and organized quite an event in Ormond Beach, in August.
"It was great but I really felt like it was much ado about nothing special," said the still limelight shy Munro.
The city named it Mimi Munroe day by special proclamation, as did the state legislature.
"They said they are going to have Mimi Munro day every year now but I don't know about that," she said humbly.
After a lifetime of adventure, including raising four kids which we all know to be one heckuva trip, Munro said her take on life now was summed up pretty well in a recent horoscope she saw.
"It said something like, now that you have the wealth to have anything you want, you realize now more than ever, that it is your friends and family that are your wealth in life and I think that is very true for me."
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