Lisa Muir Wakley is a legendary surfer based out of Pensacola, Florida who also competed in skateboarding. In an interview by Professor Steve Estes on southern surfing in June 2017, it was shared that Lisa “was born in 1955 on Rantoul Air Force Base in Illinois. Her dad was a hurricane hunter in the Air Force. Lisa grew up in Puerto Rico and Pensacola, Florida.” She started surfing in ninth grade at age fifteen in 1970.
According to the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame she was nicknamed “Longboard Lisa,” (although she transitioned to short boards) and learned to surf at Ramey Air Force Base in Puerto Rico. “Her Caribbean waveriding was just the beginning. In 1973, she moved to Pensacola area of Florida’s Gulf Coast, a move that would make Navarre Beach her lifelong homebreak.”
Within her surfing bio, Lisa is quoted as saying that she was motivated to compete against the guys – “I think it’s because I was in that period of women’s lib, and if a guy can do it a girl can do it.” She also remembered getting burned on occasion. “And I can remember a surf trip in particular where it was no girls; it was all guys heading down to Mexico. And it broke my heart when I was told it was an all-guys trip.”
It sounds like Lisa wasn’t deterred and had 30 years of competitive professional surfing. To Estes she said, “I traveled a lot because women’s surfing, there wasn’t a lot going on there. There wasn’t even sometimes enough girls here to have a heat that you could qualify in and/or was competitive… I surfed in the East Coast Championships in Texas, in Corpus Christi and then I went over to the East Coast and I surfed in the Florida Pro and the Seaside Pro, which was one of the first pro contest I surfed in, in ’75.” Turns out that her sponsorship was through skateboarding, Brewer Skate Shop!
Brewer Skate Shop would sponsor her to compete in both surf and skate contests, providing her with surfboards, although they didn’t fund her travel. Lisa said, “women weren’t recognized as being marketable at that time. So, but in the skating world I would say they were, because it was—I went out to California and traveled with the Brewer team and we did safety things and exhibitions and stuff like that and I surfed—I skated La Costa and some pools with some really well-known surfer-skaters…”
Lisa said her California trip was a whirlwind and because she was young she mostly remembered who she was traveling with and where, versus names of folks she met. Professor Estes was fascinated with this connection between her skating and surfing. Lisa explained that, “When I was a young girl because living on the Gulf got flat a lot, we would skate and I actually skate goofy foot and surf regular foot… it taught me switchfoot at an early, early, young age and I can bounce around pretty easily.”
Lisa appeared in the east coast magazine called Wave Rider on several occasions. For skateboarding, there’s photos of Lisa in issue No. 3, Spring 1976 by Dave Hamby ripping through some pylons in a race at Pensacola Beach. And, there’s a small photo in issue No. 5, 1977 shows Lisa carving a tight line in a bowl.
The local newspaper, The Pensacola News Journal (June 6, 1976) reported on a highly anticipated skateboard contest sponsored by the paper and the First Baptist Church. Lisa at age 21 was the women’s slalom champion with Tina Wood in second. It was noted that Lisa “has been racking up national sidewalk surfing championships.”
Lisa spoke about the 1970s surfing scene and the struggle to get legitimate photos of her surfing into magazines like Surfer and Surfing, to Estes. The magazines would choose a bikini shot over action photos. More recently she’ll get alerted by a surf photographer who will share photos of her surfing from that era that were rejected by the magazines. She expressed gratitude to surfers like Lisa Anderson who really opened up the door to more visual representation and strategic marketing.
Lisa was inducted into the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame in 2002 and continues to surf, offering lessons through her company Surf Navarre. She also hosted the first all-female surfing competition on the Gulf Coast in 2004 and is an advocate for local beaches, educating people about respecting beaches and the value of keeping them clean.
Thank you, Steve for sharing the transcript!
- East Coast Hall of Fame. “Lisa Muir Wakley.” 2002 inductee.
- Estes, Steve. “Lisa Muir Interview.” Southern Surfing project. Sonoma State University. June 7, 2017.