While the mystery behind the identity of an century-old New Jersey surfer may never truly be solved, a surf historian said that the historical debate behind the so-called “Sandwich Island Girl” has ended, creating a new legend in the process and securing Wrightsville Beach’s place as the birthplace of East Coast surfing.
The discovery nearly two decades ago of a wood-cut illustration nearly that ran in a New Jersey newspaper in 1888 raised questions about whether Wrightsville Beach’s surfing in 1909 was the first on the East Coast. However, Joseph “Skipper” Funderburg, Executive vice president of the Wrightsville Beach Museum of History, said that after extensive research, historians will never be able to verify the identity of the mysterious surfer.
But while it may never be known if she was real, the mysterious woman is about to be named, thus creating a new legend for Asbury Park, N.J. surf community, Funderburg said.
“We’re never going to figure it out,” said Funderburg. “She is fiction now, so we’re turning her into a legend.”
While historians weren’t able to discover the woman’s identity, they were able to give her a name, as Funderburg revealed the woman from the wood-cut will now be known as “Mamala.” Funderburg said that Asbury Park shops and attractions will use the image and name Mamala as part of its marketing efforts.
Funderburg said Mamala was a known Hawaiian female surfer from antiquity, having surfed five of the state’s most recognizable breaks. However, since she wasn’t of Hawaiian royalty, her name was free to use to create the newfound legend.
The declaration also keeps Wrightsville Beach’s name safe as the birthplace of East Coast surfing, as the discovery of the wood-cut image first raised questions about whether it was actually Asbury Park.
Burke Haywood Bridgers and a few of his friends conducted the first surfing on the East Coast in Wrightsville Beach around 1909, historians have found. The event was commemorated in 2015 with the installation of a marker at the corner of Waynick Boulevard and Bridgers Street, near where Bridgers is believed to have surfed his first waves.
The account was confirmed by Funderburg after he discovered an April 2, 1910, edition of the Pacific Commercial Advertiser, where Bridgers wrote to a friend in Hawaii asking for tips on wave riding, a sport he had tried for the first time at Wrightsville Beach the previous summer.