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Interview with Terry Eselun, the surfing star in the Super Bowl 1976 commercial for Schlitz

Blast from Super Bowl past, we checked in with legendary lady surfer Terry Eselun to ask her about her Superbowl 1976 X appearance in the  Schlitz "right wave" commercial. 57 million people watched her catch the right wave in that ad. 

 

Dab @adland: You flew out to Hawaii to shoot this advert? Was that the first time you had been in Hawaii to surf, or had you been there before?

Terry Eselun: No, I was 26 when I and my husband at the time were flown out to Hawaii. As a surfer, I took my first pilgrimage to Oahu when I was 18, right out of high school. I lived on the North Shore, surfed out there, then decided to head into Town, Waikiki, where I lived, surfed, and worked. I took another trip the following year, this time living on Kauai for a few months to surf.

Dab @adland:  You said that you went to Honolulu to find a bikini that the photographers liked, does that mean you basically styled yourself for this commercial? How small was the actual crew doing the shoot? This ad seems like it was filmed by fellow surfers?

Terry Eselun:  As I remember, the photographers wanted a certain color of bikini. I was fine with that.  They made me wear bandaids over my nipples so they wouldn't show when wet. The bandaid thing I thought was kind of strange, but the suit was a sheer yellow.

Dab @adland: You also said that you had to dub the commercial in the pool. To me it seems quite gung ho naive to even attempt to get sound in actual waves, so that was fascinating! What other things did the commercial crew invent have to do, on the spot?

 

Terry Eselun: Regarding the filming: I think they wasted a few days trying to get the sound bobbing out in the water, trying to hold a boom mic, water slapping, waves crashing. Same thing on the beach, impossible to get good sound when you have the shorebreak crashing in the background. We finally went up by pool on the last day and they got the sound they wanted without all the distractions. The photographers were, I think, a bit unfamiliar with getting good surfing shots which is an art all its own. I remember them being very patient, kind and complimentary.

Terry on the left at the Ocean Beach finals, probably 1966.

Dab @adland: You were the co-creator of First Hang Ten Women’s International Professional Surfing Championship, did you have any help from your "Superbowl celebrity" in creating that?

 

Terry Eselun: Yes, I was one of the Directors of the First Professional Women's Pro Contest at Malibu in 1975. I think the reverse is true, I believe the Schlitz ad people heard about our first-ever women's surfing group: Women's International Surfing Association, and how we were promoting women surfing, and they reached out to us. I remember a group of us driving up to Los Angeles for the interviews. They brought us each in one at a time to talk to us. By the time I got home, I had a call from them, asking me to do the commercial.

Terry Eselun catching a wave, unknown date

Dab @adland:  You wanted a copy of the ad to show your grandkids, which is fun I hope they enjoy seeing you in it. How many children and grandchildren do you have, and do any of them surf?

Terry Eselun: I technically have no grandchildren. My wife of 46 years had an identical twin sister who died in 1977. (She and I were together then). Her sister had a 5-year-old Rusty. We helped raise Rusty., Rusty is now 50 years old, married, and has two wonderful children, Darla (7) and Brody (10). They are the centerpiece of our lives. Yes, Brody has tried surfing. Darla would rather dance and pose.

Above - Rusty, Tammy, Diann and Terry, with Brody and Darla. The whole family was up skiing in Snow Valley.

Dab @adland: Do you actually drink beer, or even Schlitz? I'm always curious when I see athletes in ads for beer. 

Terry Eselun: Beer? I wish I didn't enjoy it so much! There's nothing like a cold beer after a fun surf! I haven't had a Schlitz beer since the 70's. I'm not sure they still make beer? 

 

Dab @adland: Oh they do! I'll tell them to send you a case! So, 57 million people watched the super bowl in 1976, did you feel really famous after that appearance?

 

Terry Eselun: The commercial aired first on the 1976 Super Bowl.
I was working as a waitress at the time to support myself after leaving my husband.
I remember it was a very busy brunch at a popular restaurant in Newport Beach called Woody's Wharf on the water.  The bartender let out a yelp and pointed at the television, "Hey! That's Terry!" I remember a few people over the next several months as the commercial aired would mention that they saw me on television, but I certainly didn't feel like a celebrity.
I remember since I had a SAG membership, I was approached by and obtained an agent to do more work. I may have done a few more shoots, but I didn't like driving up to L.A. to audition; it took me away from the surf.

Terry's "headshot" talent agency file, showing off her sporty skills, and check out those cool bell bottoms!

Dab @adland: You surfed in competitions already quite young, I know that you were in the 1965 United States Surfboard Championships when you were just sixteen. What is it like to compete at that age, and do you still surf?

Terry Eselun:  Yes, I competed throughout the sixties and into the early 70's.  I didn't compete in our first pro event as I was the director and was needed on the beach.
When I competed, I often was in the finals and/or first place.
I loved the travel to different meets and surfing different waves. I also enjoyed meeting other women that surfed as there were very few of us back then.

The boys thought we didn't belong, but we showed them.

Now, women are surfing anything the ocean can throw at them, everywhere in the world.

As Billy Jean King said in her new book, All In, "If you can see it, you can do it."
Women today are standing on the shoulders of all the women who came before.

And, finally, yes, I still surf. I'll be 73 in April.

We've moved up to the Central Coast of California where the water is much colder and the conditions are more wild, but I still go out. When I enter the ocean something happens, I drop the land and all that waits there, and become one with nature. I began surfing at age 12. One thing that's happened, right when I turned 70, I found my mobility much slower so it takes a lot of effort to "pop up" from a prone position, thus I work out regularly and have to will myself to my feet, but once I'm up memory takes over. I hope to remain in the ocean until I sail on to whatever is next.

 

Dab @adland: Thank you so much for this interview, and for sharing your photos with us Terry, and I'm glad to hear that you still surf. That's badass. 

Terry on the waves.
Terry Eselun Malibu
Terry Eselun and friends surfing in Malibu recently

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Anonymous Adgrunt's picture

Love Terry. She is quite a gal.

Anonymous Adgrunt's picture

I agree! What an inspiration! She seems really cool. Would love to see someone do a new commercial with her, maybe not Schlitz beer though. I haven't seen that in years.

Dabitch's picture

Maybe one of the local California smaller brewers could be smart enough to use her in a photo campaign? Real California vibes all around.

Neo's picture

Don't be giving away free ideas! That would be baller!

Dabitch's picture

I'm trying to WILL IT INTO THE UNIVERSE man. Because yes, that would be cool. Mean Joe Green gets to comeback, why not Terry?