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Women of the Board

Women of the Board 

Surfing was big in the 1920s. The sport, recently exported from Hawaii, attracted some unexpected enthusiasts. George Bernard Shaw gave it a try. So did “It Girl” Clara Bow. Dame Agatha Christie mastered surfing on a wooden longboard in Honolulu and brought her board back to England with her to become one of the first women to surf in Europe. This 1920s ad for “Swim Easy” swimwear features silent film stars Myrna Loy and Leila Hyams with canine superstar Rin Tin Tin perched on a short wooden board. Loy and Hyams both lived in the Malibu Colony in the 1920s, back when legendary surfer Duke Kahanamoku was a regular at what is now Surfrider Beach, and were known to be ocean swimmers. Loy wasn’t just using a surfboard for a prop, she was one of many women in the 1920s who embraced the surfing lifestyle, decades before “surf culture” was officially a thing. Photo from S. Guldimann private collection. Cover design by Urs Baur

2024 arrived amidst wind and big surf. So far, El Niño has delivered punishing waves and plenty of cold air but not nearly enough rain, and almost no snow for California’s mountains.

Not even gale force winds could blow out the big surf this month. Surfers are rejoicing at the succession of wave events that are rolling onto the coast. Coastal homeowners and the agencies responsible for coastal infrastructure like Pacific Coast Highway are not. Heavy surf coincides with King Tides this week, generating the potential for coastal flooding and damage. Big surf is unpredictable and can be extremely dangerous, especially when it occurs during the highest tides of the year. These are conditions best admired from a safe distance for all but the most experienced surfers. 

A troubling new report indicates that there are far fewer mountain lions in California than previously estimated. The Los Angeles Times broke the story, reporting that the study, released by the California Mountain Lion Project, finds that the estimated total—between 3,200 and 4,500, statewide—is “thousands fewer than previously thought.” 

Some of us in the Santa Monica Mountains were less than thrilled to see our National Recreation Area—one of the last major bastions of habitat for the big cats in Los Angeles County—described as “a patchwork of weedy, fire-stripped wilderness,” (it’s not all like that, really!) but the important message of the study—and the article—is the importance of preserving habitat and connectivity before  the scales are irrevocably tipped toward extinction.

The surf was up—way up—this week, as big waves from a northern storm system coincided with some of the highest tides of the year. Spectacular waves were generated, like this one, but the conditions were also dangerous for the unwary. Look for more extreme high tides on January 24-26,  and February 7-9. 

Work continues on the Wallis Annenberg Wildlife Crossing over the 101, and the project is on schedule to open next year as planned, but that is only a first step. If we are truly committed to saving California mountain lions and other key wildlife we need more safe crossings, fewer barriers to wildlife movement and a major focus on conserving land in the wild land interface, not developing it.

We reported in December that some important open space land acquisitions in the Santa Monica Mountains were in the process of being negotiated. In late December, the news arrived that a 151 acre area between Latigo Canyon and Corral Canyon in Malibu was successfully purchased by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and its sister agency, the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority. The land is adjacent to Solstice Canyon Park, and preserves an important riparian corridor. The acquisition was described as a holiday miracle in the press release, but while a certain amount of luck figured into the equation, what it really represents is years of patience, negotiation, and just plain hard work on the part of state officials and conservation activists—work that is essential but that doesn’t always get the recognition it deserves, because most of it takes place behind the scenes, often beginning at the grass roots level and working its way all the way up to Sacramento.

Wildlife isn’t the only thing at risk on our local roads. A series of speed-related accidents on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu have generated community grief and outrage, and calls for action from Caltrans, the agency responsible for the state highway. It’s a reminder for all of us to take a deep breath and slow down, no matter what road we are traveling on.

We are starting the new year here at TNT with an in depth conversation with one of our favorite local architects, an unlikely but historic surfing safari with Dame Agatha Christie, and a loving and heartfelt farewell to the wonderful, kind, and caring Helen Yoon, a woman who embodied everything Topanga stands for. 

Our resolution is to embrace whatever the new year brings with grace and enthusiasm. With the strangest presidential election ever ahead of us and an unpredictable El Niño winter still before us we know it will probably be a rollercoaster ride, but here’s to the hope it’s the fun kind of roller coaster that brings joy and excitement along with the dizzying twists and turns. Whatever the new year brings, thank you, dear reader, for joining us on the ride! 

Stay safe, be well. Happy 2024!

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