Her Name was Betty Winstedt
She started surfing at 40; she shows her form at Makaha in 1956.
Heldreich Winstedt family photo
Sometimes we can be inspired by how someone else lived their life. I had the privilege of hearing about a wonderful woman named Betty. Her daughter Victoria talked to me about her.
Although she has crossed to the other side, and even though I never met her, she inspires me to transcend the limitations I have begun to notice have come with the passing years. How she lived her life has also reminded me that it really is never too late to start something new, and that there is value in learning new skills.
This woman had almost a century of life to work with, and she did not waste any of it. There are many things about her constant reinvention of herself that we would all do well to take note of. Her life was like anyone else’s. What made the difference was how she approached the challenges she was given: with a positive attitude, her inner strength, and courage.
Betty was born in 1913. She and her family lived through the Great Depression, and when she was in High School, they lost their home. After she graduated from High School, she relocated to Santa Monica, California where she spent weekends swimming and body surfing around the pier there.
She went to college, graduated and worked in an emerging profession: dental hygiene. Betty was an athlete, however, and was on the swim team at the Los Angeles Athletic Club where she started training to compete in the Olympics that were going to be held in Germany.
She had her pilot’s license by the time she was 22, and flew single-engine aircraft. When she soloed a glider on a whim, she fractured her leg in several places and spent months in a cast. This ended her Olympic dream, but did not stop her quest for excellence.
When Betty got married in 1937, her husband was a diamond cutter and jeweler. Betty had two daughters, and also learned to craft custom jewelry during this phase of her life.
She took her girls to visit her sister Jane in Hawaii in 1953, and fell in love with the islands. She was 40 years old. She learned to surf that year. When she caught a wave all the way to shore, she fell in love with the sport. She surfed every morning all summer.
Within months, the entire family had been relocated to Oahu. This decade was the golden era of surfing, and Betty surfed with some of the greatest legends of the sport: Blue Makua, Fred van Dyke, Rabbit Hekai, and Fred Hemmings; Peter Cole, Jimmy Wong, Buzzy Trent, and George Downing. She got surfing tips from some of these legends as well.
Betty was known as a pioneer of women’s surfing. She surfed longboards in the 50′s, and surfed until the 70′s. Before she gave up this passion, she traveled the world competing in international surf competitions.
She came in second at the Makaha International Surf Meet, and brought home a first place trophy in the women’s division at an international competition in Lima, Peru. She surfed with her daughter Vicky and the two were invited to Peru as a mother-daughter team when Vicky took a first place in the Makaha International.
After a divorce from her first husband, Betty built a home in Makaha on a beach lot she’d purchased years before. She met and married Charlie Winstedt in 1969, and it was around this time that she quit surfing. She spent 20 years with Charlie.
Towards the end of her life, macular degeneration took her sight and rendered her legally blind, but this did not break her Spirit. She became a potter, and took classes for more than a decade. Her bowls were treasured by many. She could not see, but she could feel how the clay was forming under her hands.
She also started writing haiku, a form of Japanese poetry with a specific meter. When her eyesight began to fail, others helped her continue to express herself, and a doctor she met in the ER became a friend who encouraged Betty to publish her poetry.
Betty is on YouTube. You can search for Betty Winstedt, and you will find clips of her haiku, and you can see the incredible vibrant life energy this woman carried up until the very end of her days on this planet.
At 90, she survived open heart surgery, and within weeks was swimming in her pool again. She loved life, had a lot of fun and some grand adventures, and never gave up.
Betty was a poet, an artist, a mother, an Olympic level athlete, a pioneer of women’s surfing, a jeweler, a pilot, and a shining example of what the potential is for a single human lifetime.
Her life reminds me that it is never too late to learn, or to do something new. I also learned that adversity is just an opportunity to open yourself up to something else, it is not a tragedy that has the power to destroy your life unless you allow it to.
Betty Winstedt, I never met you, but you have truly inspired me to continue to learn and grow until it is my time to go.
I wrote this haiku to honor Betty:
Her life fully lived.
Overcame all challenges.
Surfing Heaven’s waves.
The path you take is made by walking it.
All original material posted to this site is copyright 2012, Julie Marie.