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Thursday, January 13, 2011

HEROES: EVE FLETCHER


HEROES: EVE FLETCHER

FOR THE 84-YEAR-OLD AMATEUR SURFING STAR, A LIFE LIVED ON THE WAVES IS THE ONLY LIFE WORTH LIVING. EVE FLETCHER PLANS TO HANG TEN UNTIL THE END
Photography Rick Rickman
Text Martha Glass
In her outgoing voicemail message, Eve Fletcher says that if she hasn’t answered, she’s “probably out in the garden.” That’s where the message ends, but anyone who knows Fletcher also knows to check the water—the Pacific Ocean, to be specific, probably off the shore of SanO Onofre, where the soft-spoken, 5’3,” 84-year-old caught her first wave just over half a century ago. Do the math: while more and more preteens seem to be landing pro-surfing sponsorships these days, Fletcher was 30 before she ever paddled out.
An East Coaster by birth, Fletcher moved with her family to the San Fernando Valley at age 10, where she became an avid swimmer when her parents joined the local country club. Later, she took a job in Disney’s Ink & Paint department, where she contributed to films like Cinderella and Alice in Wonderland. Fletcher was an animation supervisor for the company (where she continued to work through the 1989 feature The Little Mermaid before receiving the Animation Guild’s Golden Award in 2005) when, at age 30, she finally ventured down to the San Onofre shore. Toting her first surfboard—a gift from actor Johnny Sheffield (who played Boy in several Tarzan films)—she happened to meet the most famous surfer of the time, Marge Calhoun. When Fletcher asked her for advice, Calhoun’s reply was, “You just paddle and then stand up!”
With what could only have been a perfect combination of fearlessness and unflappable determination, Fletcher took to the water in no time. After a year, she cashed in her vacation time and packed up for a month-long Hawaiian “surf-ari.” Back in California, she was a member of the San Onofre Surf Club, and a familiar face on the beaches of Malibu and Rinc√≥n. She would never be dubbed a prodigy—in 1966, while surfing San Onofre, a 16-year-old Australian surfer informed her that he “couldn’t wait to get home and tell everyone all the old ladies here surf!”—but her accomplishments speak for themselves.
Fletcher is less an anomaly than most would suspect. At 75, she was among the many senior surfers to be featured in the documentary Surfing For Life. (The oldest to be profiled, then-94-year-old John H. “Doc” Ball, continued to surf, sans wet suit, and skateboard until his death in 2001.) “Getting old still scares people,” 58-year-old photographer Rick Rickman told the Huffington Post earlier this year. “I felt that taking pictures of older people doing exciting and active things might change that.” (Rickman snapped this photo above of his weekly surf buddy in action for his recent book, The Wonder Years: Portraits of Athletes Who Never Slow Down.)
For her part, Fletcher cares less about carrying a torch than catching a wave. She still hits San Onofre on a regular basis—even if she hates to admit that her body is less than willing to cooperate. “I don’t have the strength and stamina I used to have,” she has said, recalling being held under at Makaha for a long time and wondering when she would get a breath. As for other signs of Fletcher slowing down, you’d be hard-pressed to find them. “I plan to surf ’til I drop,” she has said. “You’re never too old to be stoked!”
Image credit: Eve Fletcher, 80, at San Onofre State Beach, CA, 2006