'I like where I'm at,' says Margo, even if it means hanging on 20-footers

"There are ten really famous male surfers in the world, and one really famous female surfer. That's me. I want to ride the biggest waves any woman has ever ridden."

That's the kind of pride that goeth before a wipeout, but no one can accuse Margo Oberg of only hot-dogging. When most of her grade school chums in La Jolla, Calif. thought searching for the perfect wave meant a new hairdo, little Margo was lugging an 11-foot, 40-pound board to the beach. At 12 she defeated a beachful of boys to win her first championship. At 15 she won the first of three straight world surfing championships. Then, as a grand old surfer of 18 and winner of more than 100 competitions, Margo quit, got married and moved to Hawaii.

"No one knew what I was doing," says Margo of her life with husband Steve. "They thought I was being the good wife and baking cookies." In fact, she was waiting for surfing prize money to increase and make it worth her while to turn pro. Finally, "scared I was going to flop," Margo entered the Hang Ten women's professional tournament in 1975 in California and won the $1,500 first place prize, enough to convince her "I wasn't over the hill."

Hardly. So far Margo, now 24, has won two more world championships and figures to take her third straight (and sixth overall) this year. Her three competitive firsts have already meant $5,000 in prize money. "I get this 'Hey, Margo, why don't you give someone else a chance?' " she admits. "But I've paid my dues."

She caught her first wave after her aeronautical engineer father, an Annapolis grad, and Smithie mother moved from Pennsylvania to a house across the street from the beach in La Jolla Shores, Calif. Her tennis-playing parents nudged her toward the courts, but gave up after Margo began bringing home surfing trophies by the pound. "In high school I wasn't going to be queen of the hop," she says. "I was into how good I could be surfing."

Predictably, Margo met her husband on the circuit. At home on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, Steve practices accounting and manages Margo's career—except when the surf's up and both head for the beach. They drive Volkswagens and live in a modest condominium crammed with 11 surfboards. "We're not into material possessions," she says. Instead they are active in the evangelistic Church of the Living Word, where Steve is assistant pastor. "If it feels I'm getting fouled up," she says, "I kick back and read my Bible." (Yet she protests she's no "namby-pamby" Christian and has included Schlitz beer in her yearly $20,000 endorsement take.)

Margo figures her endless summers will keep her surfing until she's 50. "But first I want to have three kids and teach them to surf." (She now teaches at a resort.) The mystical thrill of riding the big rollers hasn't diminished. "It's like I'm at the top of an elevator shaft and it's 60 feet straight down," she rhapsodizes. "It's pure survival. The wall of water is like a wall of canvas, and your little surfboard is a paintbrush. You're painting arcs up and down the waves. You feel the danger but, when you've done something really good, you feel the peace."