Kevin Cody

Pro surfer Liz Benavidez: 2019 Hermosa Beach Surfer Walk of Fame inductee

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Liz Benavidez carves a bottom turn in 1980 at Sunset Beach, Hawaii, her favorite contest site. Photo by Jeff Devine

by Mike Purpus

Liz and Mike Benavidez will become the first brother and sister to have plaques on the Hermosa Beach Surfer Walk of Fame when Liz receives  her plaque during the 2019 inductions. Mike, a former professional surfer, received his plaque in 2015.

Liz Benavidez started surfing at the Hermosa Beach pier with her brother in 1976, when she was 14.

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“I wanted to be one of the boys,” she said. “So I grabbed a board nobody was using and a pair of my brothers trunks and went out with the Hot Lips surf team every time they went out. I was one of the first girls to wear trunks instead of a bathing suit,” she said.

In addition to her brother, the Hot Lips team included Chris Barela (also a 2015 Walk of Fame inductee), Terry Stevens (namesake of the International Surf Festival Velzy-Stevens Paddleboard race) and myself (2003 inductee).

“We surfed before school at 6 a.m. and after school almost everyday. My brother looked after me in the line-up. Chris was always screaming for me to go on big waves and Terry taught me to duck dive. Every time I saw the team do something hot I kept practicing it until I could do it.”

She was quickly invited to join the Hot Lips team.

After surfing for a year, her mom Barbara bought her daughter her first custom board from ET Surf. “Pat Ryan (a fellow 2019 inductee) shaped me a sweet round pin. I loved it and still ride round pins today. I got team deals on Bayley Wetsuits. They were good suits but weighed 30 pounds after they got wet. They built up my paddling muscles and got me in shape for Al Ching’s Lanakila  Outrigger Paddling Team. Body Glove put me on their team for a while. Then Hot Line Wetsuits started sponsoring me on the Pro tour,” Benavidez said.

Liz Benavidez shares the podium with Men’s World Champion Tom Curren at the 1985 Stubbies Classic in Burleigh Heads, Queensland. Photo courtesy of the Benavidez family.

She joined the pro tour in 1980, when she was 18, after satisfying her moms demand  that she graduate from Mira Costa High School.

Her first pro contest was the Women’s Offshore Masters, at Sunset Beach, Oahu. She placed 5th and was named ISP (International Surfing Professionals) Rookie of the Year. In 1981, she finished second in the ISP world rankings, behind the legendary Margo Oberg.

In 1982, she placed third at the Bells Contest in Victoria, Australia and was voted #5 in the Surfer Magazine Reader Poll.

In 1983 she placed 2nd at the OP Pro in Huntington Beach, behind friend and rival Kim Mearig. Mearig won the pro tour title in 1983.  In 1984 Benavidez won the Roxy Pro Gold Coast Contest in Queensland, Australia. In 1985 she won the Stubbies Classic in Burleigh Heads in Queensland, earning the title “Margo Obert Slayer.” A few weeks later Benavidez finished third at Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach.

She continued to rank in the top five on the professional tour through 1988.

Benavidez’s  favorite contest wave was Sunset Beach, where she and Mearig frequently free surfed with one another and against one another.

“Kim and I surfed together all the time and would wind up facing each other in the contest finals. One 12-foot day at Sunset, showing off for Kim, I dropped in late, right through the Sunset Bowl and got pitched. My board hit me in the head and I was bleeding bad. Kim got the lifeguards to paddle me in. I had two black eyes for a week,” Benavidez recalled.

Between contests, Benavidez worked at ET Surf. Then, in 1988, she and boyfriend Marcus Gonzales moved to Kauai, where they would raise a daughter Coral, now 29 and son Che, now 25.

Los Angeles County Lifeguard and good friend Paul Hugoboom remembers watching Benavidez surf big waves in Hawaii.

“The first time I saw Liz on Kauai was on a 10-foot day at Hanalei Bay. Liz paddled out with Kim Mearig and went wave for wave with the best local surfers on the island. They did not back down at all,” Hugoboom said.

In 2012, Benavidez moved back to the South Bay to help care for Hugoboojm’s ailing father.

She still surfs almost every day, often with her brother, at the local beach breaks that made two professional surfers. ER SWOF

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