On those few mornings when she's not training for a surf competition or standing waist-deep in the surf cheering on a pod of female students, Setterholm can sometimes be found on dry land, recruiting women and girls. One hazy weekday morning she turns up at Notre Dame Academy, a Catholic girls high school in West Los Angeles. Setterholm has been invited to speak to the school's surf club by Susie Conley, who taught for her the previous summer. She's brought along tons of surf-related giveways for the girls, including stickers, posters, T-shirts and her surfboard--which she props up next to a statue of the Virgin Mary. Dressed in running shoes, a red T-shirt with the logo ''Wild Woman Water Day'' on it, and black tights, her thin blond hair stuffed in a ponytail, Setterholm looks fitter than most 20-year-olds.
When the girls pour into the gym in their tan pleated skirts and white shirts, chattering and lugging their backpacks, she greets them effusively. ''Hi, guys! This is Surf Academy. It's all about women's surfing!'' She's brought a video of ''Wild Woman Water Day,'' the annual sporting event that consists of a variety of amateur swimming and surfing contests. But before showing it to the two dozen or so teens, she whips them up with a little history lesson and pep talk.
''How many of you surf?'' she asks. A half-dozen hands tentatively go up. ''You guys know it's a happening thing to surf? I've been surfing over 30 years.''
''Wow!'' a few girls murmur.
Setterholm's audience is even more impressed by the video, a series of quick-action images of girls and women charging into waves or gliding on top of waves, hooting and cheering for each other. But when Setterholm asks afterward how many of them want to surf, the response is muted.
Setterholm knows surfing isn't going to attract every girl and that only a few of the young women she's met this morning will ever fling themselves onto a board and paddle out, ever feel the thrill of skidding down the face and across a fast-moving wave. For all its glamour and sex appeal and current cultural chic, surfing is a tough sport to learn. It takes years to master. But that's OK. Setterholm knows there are plenty of girls out there ready to rip.
In the last two years, she has seen her own numbers swell radically. In May, Surf Academy became the official surf school for the city of Santa Monica. She's already got 500 kids lined up for summer camp there and another 600 at her Manhattan Beach site, twice the number of groms she taught last year. More than 60 people are working for her. In her first summer program four years ago, she probably had 25 girls. Now she's receving more than 100 calls a day, many from women and girls languishing in the landlocked Midwest. ''It's just gone through the roof,'' Setterholm says, sounding amazed.
In addition, Surf Academy now runs the camps sponsored by industry giant Quiksilver. Early last month, Setterholm was gearing up to run a series of clinics called ''Roxy Surf, Now.'' Held at various Southern California beaches, the clinics were aimed at the rising wave of girls, ages 7 to 17--the very group that will shape the future of the sport. To say the least, Mary Setterholm is stoked.
Mona Gable last wrote for the magazine on Tom Hayden.