Kim Hamrock was sitting outside a snack bar on the beach in Oceanside, Calif., last Saturday, sipping coffee, staring out at the grandeur of the Pacific Ocean waves rolling up on the sand; she was contemplating her passion for surfing. "It's almost mystical," she said. "All I know is I surf for the love of surfing. I am truly a soul surfer."
She is also truly a terrific surfer, albeit an unlikely one: She's 32, the mother of three and only in her third year of competition. Nonetheless, Hamrock is serving notice that she may well be the country's best female surfer since Alisa Schwarzstein, the last American to win the women's amateur world championship, in 1980.
The proof is in the waves. In the gloom and chill, early Saturday morning, Hamrock, who lives in nearby Huntington Beach, had won the women's division of the U.S. Amateur Surfing Championships. She hadn't simply won; she had deep-sixed the other three competitors in the finals. Five judges assign scores to the best four of seven rides, based on the length of each ride, the range of radical maneuvers executed and the difficulty of the waves the competitor chooses. Four of the five judges had concluded that Hamrock was easily first, and the fifth had ruled her a close second. "I felt good out there, comfortable," she said.
Hamrock recalls the first time she saw surfing. She was six, it was on television, and, she says, "it touched my heart." However, not until she was a senior at LaSerna High in Whittier, Calif., in 1976, did she try the sport. Her most reliable ride to the beach in those days was a high school friend and recreational surfer named Marty Hamrock, whom she married in 1979. By then she was hooked on surfing, but babies began arriving (Christopher, Nina and Margeaux are now 11, eight and four, respectively), she was working, and there was no time to surf.
So it was surprising that when Hamrock finally got serious about surfing, in 1990, she immediately began winning competitions. She won the open class (for amateur contestants of all ages) at the National Scholastic Championships in 1990 and '91, and three straight West Coast crowns, beginning in 1991. Two months ago in Venezuela, at the Pan American Championships, her only international competition to date, Hamrock placed third among entrants from 13 nations. Next May she will represent the U.S. at the International Surfing Association's World Amateur Championships in Rio de Janeiro.
Her intensity is already world class. "I've always been desperate for a wave," says Hamrock, "and when there are big, spooky waves, something attracts me to them." National team coach Bruce Walker maintains that no woman handles big waves—craves big waves—the way Hamrock does. Says Walker, "She is the perfect example of how surfing hooks into your life and hangs on."
"Surfing has taught me how to deal with all kinds of problems," Hamrock says. "The ocean has moods, just like people. It has calm and stormy days, just like life." She pauses. "But the main thing you learn from surfing is how to hold your breath—a long time."