Story by The Inertia.
Editor's Note: The following is an excerpt from Lauren Hill's new book, She Surf - The Rise of Female Surfing, which celebrates the diverse, vibrant, and engaged community of female riders making waves around the globe. You can find a copy here. Follow Hill on Instagram or listen to her podcast here. Her book is also available on Amazon or at your local bookstore.
Surfing's first documented wardrobe malfunction may be attributed to an unlikely candidate: the world's best-selling novelist, Agatha Christie. The English queen of mystery fiction, outsold only by Shakespeare and The Bible, also happened to be a keen surfer. In 1920, Agatha set off on an around the world adventure of the British Empire's colonies. In South Africa, she learned to surf prone, and in Hawaii became one of the first Britons to experience stand-up surfing. In Agatha's letters published in The Grand Tour, she recalls:
"The second time I took the water, a catastrophe occurred. My handsome silk bathing dress, covering me from shoulder to ankle was more or less torn from me by the force of the waves. Almost nude, I made for my beach wrap. I had immediately to visit the hotel shop and provide myself with a wonderful, skimpy, emerald green wool bathing dress, which was the joy of my life, and in which I thought I looked remarkably well."
… It was heaven. Nothing like it. Nothing like that rushing through the water at what seems to you a speed of about two hundred miles an hour … until you arrived, gently slowing down, on the beach, and foundered among the soft flowing waves. It is one of the most perfect physical pleasures that I have known."
Agatha was humbled in the way that all subsequent women have been in the surf - betrayed by surfing attire. Her "skimpy bathing dress" is modest by modern standards, related only tangentially to the modern bikini - one of the most emotionally evocative articles of clothing.
In 1946, French designer Louis Réard launched his boldest experiment: a revealing two-piece swimming ensemble. Inspired by the explosive impact of post-war nuclear testing at Bikini Atoll in the South Pacific, Réard named the four strategically placed triangles of fabric le Bikini. Prior to this point, the navel had been considered too racy to reveal. As detailed by The History Channel, "In prudish America, the bikini was successfully resisted until the early 1960s. It was immortalized by the pop singer Brian Hyland, who sang "Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini" in 1960, by the teenage "beach blanket" movies of Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon, and by the California surfing culture celebrated by rock groups like the Beach Boys."
Note From the Author: I'd love to encourage people to purchase books from their local bookshop - especially now - when local businesses are under more pressure than ever. Bookshops can easily order in copies from the publisher Gestalten.