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Snapshot, 1957: The original surfer chick

It’s the summer of 1957, and there’s a new face on the California surfer scene, Kathy Kohner. Although small, she is mighty, tackling waves four times her height. But, in order to do so, she needs to get that pesky long board out from the rear window of her family’s Buick…

Looking to make some friends after years abroad, Kathy has gone to the beach with her family in search of some worthy prospects. With long board in tow, a clear choice seems to be a group of guys in search of the perfect wave…surfers. No one is fully accepted into the surfer subculture until they are given a nickname, and after proving herself in the squall, Kathy will eventually be dubbed Gidget by her buddies — a hybrid for girl and midget, due to her diminutive 5'1" stature. Over the summer, during the car rides back to Brentwood from Malibu, Kathy will go on to tell her parents about her new friends, experiences, and, of course, nickname, inspiring her father to write Gidget: The Little Girl with Big Ideas — a book that would become so popular it would eventually evolve into a book series, movie series, TV series, comic book, and documentary. While Kathy will eventually give up surfing, her legend will live on in the form of Gidget — cowabunga!

Photo: Allan Grant / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images