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“Courage, sacrifice, determination, commitment, toughness, heart, talent, guts. That’s what little girls are made of; the heck with sugar and spice.” —Bethany Hamilton
Serving as an inspiration to women around the world, famous female athletes are a reminder of how hard work truly pays off. Breaking down social barriers and overcoming the seemingly impossible, more and more women in sports are becoming influencers and role models in their respective fields. Besides conquering challenges with every tournament or match, famous female athletes continue to unlock their potential with every new goal and record they set.
The all-female skateboarding crews, soccer players such as Megan Rapinoe, wrestlers like Ronda Rousey, and swimmers like Missy Franklin Johnson inspire women to push themselves to the next level. Going down in history as the greatest sportswomen from California, these are the Golden State’s famous female athletes.
California is famous for its spectacular coastline, sun-soaked sands, and epic surf spots, giving rise to many legendary surfers. These world-class surfer girls who charged the waves also made waves and forged a path for future female surfers.
Shannon “The Cannon” Aikman is a famous female athlete and member of the California Golden Girls (no, not related to the TV show—rather, they're a team of professional athletic women who surfed the Pro-Tour in the 70s-80s). Her early days of surfing started in the historic surf town of Hermosa Beach; the coastline was situated right in front of her family’s beach house. Aikman surfed professionally for eight years; she competed in the International Professional Surfers World Tour, where she was rated among the top three California contestants for five years. She was also inducted into the Surfing Walk of Fame in 2016 for pioneering modern-day professional surfing and creating awareness for women to excel in the sport.
One of the most influential figures in the history of professional female surfers is Jericho “Wavedancer” Poppler. She first started surfing at the age of 9 and went on to win many amateur contests. Not long after, Poppler was seen all over California’s best surf spots tackling monster waves and becoming the International Professional Surfing (IPS) World Champion in 1976. As one of the key members of the California Golden Girls, Poppler paved the way for many other female surfers by cofounding the Women’s International Surfing Association in 1975 and Women’s Professional Surfers in 1979.
One of the first female professional surfers to surf Tavarua CloudBreak in 1981 was Candice “Candy” Woodward. The famous female athlete is yet another member of the California Golden Girls who surfed the Pro Tour in the 70s and 80s. Woodward won first place in the 1979 San Diego WISA Championships and became the California State Champion during the OffShore Huntington Beach WISA Pro Division in 1980. Inspiring women all over the world, she serves as an ambassador to the sport and continues encouraging women to get into surfing.
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From iconic ice skaters to trailblazing basketball players, these amazing female athletes have inspired women across the country and beyond to pursue their dreams—no matter what other people may be telling them.
Arguably the greatest and most famous female tennis player of all time is the one and only Billie Jean King. Not only is the former No. 1 ranked women’s tennis player a living legend, but also a crusader for social justice and women's equality in sports. The famous female athlete was already a renowned figure in the sport when she was challenged to Battle of the Sexes against Bobby Riggs. She won the most-watched tennis match at the age of 29 and went on to win 39 Grand Slam titles throughout her career.
At the age of 16, Tracy Austin was the youngest U.S. Open Women's Singles champion in history. Greatness was inevitable for the famous tennis player—she was on the cover of the July 1967 World Tennis Magazine issue when she was only four years old. The former No. 1 ranked professional tennis player also became the youngest inductee into the International Tennis Hall of Fame at age 29. Breaking records left and right, the famous female athlete unfortunately retired in her early 30s after experiencing a series of injuries and a serious car accident.
Twenty-three Grand Slam titles in singles, 14 in women’s doubles, and two in mixed doubles—do any of these accomplishments make you think of a particular someone, perhaps one of the highest-paid female athletes of all time? There isn’t a single person in the world who hasn’t heard of Serena Williams, and there aren’t enough pages to list all of the records she has achieved throughout her career.
She was truly destined for glory. The famous Black female athlete became the second African-American woman to win a Grand Slam title at 17 years old; she earned the title at the 1999 U.S. Open. The influential Black Californian also became the first African American to win the 2003 Australian Open championship. Hailed by many as one of the best players of the Open Era, Williams continues to encourage and inspire women to never give up on their dreams. The famous women’s tennis player is regarded as a role model and an ambassador of the sport.
Famed for her artistry, flexibility, elegance, and musical interpretation, Sasha Cohen is a 2006 Olympic silver medalist, a three-time World Championship medalist, a 2003 Grand Prix Final Champion, and a 2006 U.S. National Champion. The famous female athlete was a gymnast from an early age before changing paths at the age of 7. Rising to prominence in the ice-skating community during the 2000 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Cohen was labeled as one of the “Baby Ballerinas” thanks to her abilities to point her toes during difficult skating maneuvers. The famous female ice skater is also credited with popularizing the I-spin position—it's even referred to as the “Sasha spin.”
Michelle Kwan, the most decorated figure skater in U.S. history, won over 40 championships throughout her career. The famous female ice skater is a five-time world champion figure skater and a two-time Olympic medalist. Kwan is recognized for skating with “silent blades” while simultaneously delivering clean movements. Known for her musicality, she also successfully combines athleticism with grace and artistry whenever she’s on the ice. The famous female athlete was inducted into the California Sports Hall of Fame in 2017.
Polina Edmunds started skating as soon as she took her first steps. She was spotted gliding on ice rinks when she was only 20 months old and started taking both skating and ballet lessons when she was 4 years old. Edmunds wasted no time in becoming a famous female ice skater. She became the 2015 Four Continents champion, the 2014 CS U.S. Classic champion, and a two-time U.S. national silver medalist—once in 2014 and another in 2016. Representing the U.S. at the 2014 Winter Olympics, the famous female athlete finished in ninth place. Having achieved many accomplishments at a very young age, Edmunds announced her retirement from competitive skating in 2020 at the age of 22.
Nicknamed the “White Mamba” by Kobe Bryant himself, Diana Taurasi is the most famous WNBA player of all time. The three-time WNBA Champion is one of only five athletes in history with four Olympic gold medals in basketball. Former professional basketball player Phil Jackson even called Taurasi a “shark” because she relentlessly hunts down the big moments and seizes them. As one of the most exciting basketball players of her generation, the famous female athlete always responds with honesty, hard work, and a renewed appreciation for the game. With a long list of accomplishments to her name, there’s no denying that Taurasi is a leading figure in the sport.
World-famous WNBA player Lisa Leslie was the first to win the regular-season MVP, the All-Star Game MVP, and the playoff MVP—all in the same season in 2001. She's also one of nine players who won four gold medals in the Olympics; after Teresa Edwards, she's the second female basketball player to ever earn that many awards. She also made history when, in 2002, she became the first woman to dunk in a WNBA game. The former professional player has three WNBA MVP honors in her name. After her retirement, the famous Black female athlete released her autobiography, Don’t Let the Lipstick Fool You, which tells her story of stardom.
Tina Thompson is one of the top basketball players. She's scored the most points during her WNBA career—an impressive 7,488 points in 496 games. As a member of Team U.S.A., the famous female athlete won two Olympic gold medals in 2004 and 2008. Thompson’s career as a professional basketball player lasted 17 years. During that time, she became a four-time WNBA champion with the Houston Comets, a member of the WNBA All-Decade team, an eight-time All-WNBA team selection, a nine-time WNBA All-Star, and the WNBA All-Star MVP in 2000. The famous WNBA player retired in 2013 and became the head coach of the Virginia Cavaliers women's basketball team in 2015.
Not only have these fierce females had illustrious careers playing sports, but also coaching sports teams. They've made a name for themselves while blazing trails for women in sports.
Credited with popularizing women’s basketball and taking it to the next level, Cheryl Miller is a former basketball player-turned-coach and an influential figure. She led the U.S. women’s basketball team to its first Olympic gold medal in the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. The fearless and daring athlete also secured the gold medal at the women’s World Basketball Championship at the Goodwill Games in 1986. As a three-time NCAA Player of the Year, she quickly became one of the best female basketball players of all time as well as one of the most legendary coaches.
You may have heard of Justine Siegal as a baseball coach who’s heavily involved in sports gender equity; what you don’t know is that she’s the first female coach employed by an MLB team. The famous sportswoman is the first in a couple of other things as well: the first female coach of a professional men’s baseball team and the first woman to throw batting practice to an MLB team. Growing up, she was always told that baseball is a man’s sport and women should stick to softball. This inspired her to start her own nonprofit organization, Baseball For All, at the age of 23. Providing equal opportunities for girls with the same passion for baseball, the nonprofit aims to get rid of the status quo of women being discouraged from playing the game.
Brandi Chastain isn’t your average soccer coach—she practically reinvented the sport. The famous female athlete is a two-time FIFA Women's World Cup champion, two-time Olympic gold medalist, and a sports broadcaster. Thanks to Chastain, the U.S. beat China in the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup Final after she scored a World Cup-winning penalty shootout goal. Now, she’s the varsity head coach at Bellarmine College Preparatory, where she led the team to victory in its first CCS Open Division championship title. Everything this National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee touches turns to gold.
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