- 23 May 1899
Chatswood, New South Wales, Australia
- 11 March 1995
Harbord, New South Wales, Australia
- Surfboard Rider and Swimming Instructor
- Alternative Names
- Latham, Isabel (also known as)
Isabel Letham is renowned throughout the surfing world as 'the first Australian to ride a surfboard', although she disputed this, prefering to describe herself as an early Australian female surfer who experimented with riding a board in the Hawaiian tradition. She did this in 1915 at the age of fifteen when the visiting Hawaiian surfer, Duke Kahanamoku, who was giving a surfboard riding exhibition at Sydney's Freshwater Beach, invited her to ride tandem with him. Since then, her name has become legendary within the surfing world. She has been a source of inspiration for subsequent women surfers; Australian world champion, Pam Burridge, even named her first daughter Isabel in her honour.
Letham is less well known for the important role she played in teaching swimming to hundreds of young people in Australia and in the United States. In the 1920s she lived in San Francisco where she first taught swimming at the University of California and was eventually appointed to the position of of Director of Swimming to the City of San Francisco in 1924. She returned to Australia to live in 1929, where she continued to teach swimming at Freshwater and Manly for many years. Letham was also important for introducing water ballet to Australia.