Scared of nobody, loved Hawaii etc.
Yesterday, the gatekeeper of surfing’s historical archives, Matt Warshaw, loosed a three-minute filmic tribute to former world number two, Jodie Cooper.
If that name ringeth a bell, it might be because much of last year was eaten up by a court case where she successfully accused a Lennox Head local, the surf mat aficionado Mark Thomson, of attacking her in the surf.
But, as you will learn, there is much, much more to the dazzling Jodie Cooper.
BeachGrit: Yesterday you loosed a swinging little clip of Jodie Cooper, a woman who remains an important strand in our cultural DNA for two reasons: one, she was one of the female pros who loved surfing Hawaii and, two, she didn’t take any shit from boneheads. Do you remember when Johnny Boy Gomes belted her at Rocky Point? Let’s gather around the campfire while you retell that fabulous story.
Warshaw: I re-read Jodie’s version of the Johnny-Boy story yesterday—what a nightmare, on so many levels. Apparently everybody in pro surfing was out at Beach Park, I think it was 1993. Johnny-Boy and Bud Llamas take off on the same wave, get tangled, John comes up and starts knocking Bud around. Everybody looks the other way, except Jodie, who tells Johnny to chill out, so he lets go of Bud, paddles over and hits Jodie in the head. Nobody in the water does or says a thing. For two years after that, she says, he harassed her.
And, then, just last year, she was pounced on and wrestled by surf-mat king Mark Thomson at Lennox.
And before that, she got bit by a shark. On the hand, shaved off a couple of knuckles.
Johnny-Boy and Bud Llamas take off on the same wave, get tangled, John comes up and starts knocking Bud around. Everybody looks the other way, except Jodie, who tells Johnny to chill out, so he lets go of Bud, paddles over and hits Jodie in the head. Nobody in the water does or says a thing. For two years after that, she says, he harassed her.
Do you love her fighting spirit?
There isn’t much about Jodie Cooper that I don’t love.
You once wrote of a dinner date and “mid-sized crush” and described her thus: “endlessly cheerful, gorgeous, fine dinner companion, raspy voice.” Again, let’s all gather at your feet while you tell that story.
Having a crush on Jodie Cooper in the 1980s was as daring and radical as thinking Tom Curren had good style. Everyone had a crush on Jodie. For me, I’ve always had a thing for girls who look like boys who dress like girls, and that was Jodie all the way. I’d talked to her a few times before, probably at the Op Pro, and in Hawaii. She and Pam Burridge and Barton Lynch were my favorite people on tour. I’m trying to think, looking back whatever it is, 30-something years, if I thought it was a date-date, and I remember being before nervous beforehand, so I guess I did. I’m sure she didn’t think so. We went to Mongkut Thai, in downtown San Clemente. Five minutes in I knew it was just a friendly dinner, which was fine, maybe even a relief, and we had a really nice time. I remember her voice, and also that for such a small person she had these big rough country-girl hands.
Jodie swung the door open to the closet in 1997. Do you remember? Do you remember the response to her being gay? Did you tear down your bedroom posters in tears?
She came out in sort of an oblique way, at least as far as the news got to America. Surfing mag called her up for a little one-column interview, and the question was “What is the punkest thing about you?” and Jodie said something like, “My lifestyle, being gay, is pretty punk.” Which it was, in surfing terms, back then. It still is.
You lived through the heady eighties and nineties when Jodie was in her competitive prime. What were your impressions of Jodie as a surfer? I think, a little off style-wise and hence no world title maybe, but, when they happened, big turns and wonderful demonstrations of strength.
The women pros of that age were all a little off, style-wise, except maybe Pam. Wendy Botha and Frieda Zamba won all those world titles, and neither of them had a better style then Jodie. Also—and this wasn’t true for Frieda or Wendy or any of the others—the bigger the surf got, the better Jodie looked, especially at Sunset. I don’t think she ever quite hit Margo Oberg’s level in bigger surf, but pretty close. Jodie loved being out there when it was heavy, and it showed. She’d hang on the North Shore for weeks after all the other girls left. She was never a particularly ambitious world tour competitor but in terms of pushing it in bigger waves, nobody from her generation could touch her. Layne Beachley was the next one, after Jodie, to really charge.
Last I heard, Jodie was working costumes on the movie adaption of the surf novel Breath, nailing that seventies-era perfectly and the taking down Carcass in court. How about you?
Jodie and I wrote a couple letters back and forth, as you did back in the ’80s, and that was about it. I left Orange County in 1990 and lost touch with everybody in the surf biz for a couple of years, Jodie included. She did the commentary at a couple of WSL contests recently, Bells or Margarets, or both, and to me she sounded kind of reined in, a little nervous, not much like I rememer her. But it was good to see her onscreen anyway. Jodie seems indomitable in a way, unbreakable, but there’s something kind of hard-luck about her too. I don’t quite know why. Maybe I’m just still pissed on her behalf because that geezer Thompson who assaulted her basically walked, which seemed like a pretty grievous miscarriage of justice.