april playmate karla conway is a petite, surf-wise wave jockey
February may be the shortest month, but it's been April that has -- twice in a row -- provided Playboy with its shortest centerfold subjects. In fact, 19-year-old Karla Conway, this month's berry-brown surfing buff, is our second Playmate (last April's bantam beauty, Sue Williams, was the first) to weigh in at 98 pounds, all of them fetchingly distributed on a fine 4'11" frame.
A native of the Golden State, Karla was born in Pasadena, and shared a peripatetic girlhood with her five brothers and two sisters, moving 31 times in 16 years as her father -- a car-rental-company executive -- traveled across the continent opening new branch offices for his firm. "One winter we moved all the way from a freezing New York to balmy Mexico City," Karla says, "and ever since then I've hated cold weather." Back on the West Coast since 1959, Karla graduated last year from Canoga Park High and promptly persuaded her father to let her use the family's small Malibu beach cottage as a temporary bachelorette pad while she looked for a job in Los Angeles. "Two days after moving in, I went to work as a receptionist in a nearby bank," says Miss April, " and I talked Mom and Dad into letting me stay on alone at the cottage because it's a 15-minute drive from the office and only a 100-foot stroll to the beach. With all my brothers and sisters married and scattered across the country, I'm the only one left to keep up the place. Outside it's kind of weather-beaten white, but I've fixed up the inside with a pot-bellied stove, comfy furniture and lots of big fat candles."
No kook (novice) when it comes to riding Malibu's rugged surf, Karla spends all her off-hours in -- or preferably spends all her off hours in -- the water dressed in a brief bikini. "I guess traveling so much as a child helped me appreciate the outdoors," says the board-riding brunette, "especially near the shore, where there's a wild, free spirit that seems to hang in the air." An avid surf skimmer for some five years now, Karla often rides tandem or "trandem" -- doubling or tripling up on one board. "I also do surf stunts," she says, "like riding on someone's shoulders. When I'm out there sliding on a wave, I feel like I won the world. When we wipe out -- that's when the board digs into a wave -- I jump and 'pearl' as deep as I can so as not to get konked by my own surf stick.
"All my friends are serious surfers," Malibu's prettiest wave jockey admits, "not hodads -- that's surf talk for guys who pretend to be surfers. Hodads come to the beach in their woody wagons -- that's an old wood-sided station wagon -- and loll around in wet bathing suits acting like they just rode a wave ashore. They're not only phonies, but they clutter up the beach on top of it."
When the waves are down, Karla trades her surfboard for a 12-string guitar ("For me it's more like therapy than fun. I play Bob Dylan mostly; his rambling, bluesy lyrics almost make us soulmates."). A pretty fair pluckster, she can liven a Malibu Beach blast with folk-rock sounds, or quiet one down with something poignant ("Malagueña's my best"). As for wheeling her way to where the biggest surf rolls in, Karla sports a newly acquired MG-TF roadster, kept carefully covered by a tarpaulin behind the cottage. "I went to one rally after I bought the car," she says, "but I got lost and and the officials finally had to send out searchers. Now I just drive and take a date along to do the navigating."
Although Karla intends to keep calling California her home port, she's currently making plans to fulfill one of her fondest dreams: "Traveling across Europe before I'm 21." Prior to her June departure, however, Karla will spend the spring on her board, shooting the biggest waves she can find. "When I'm in the water," our April Playmate dreamily admits, "I sometimes wish I could slide the surf forever without coming ashore." For purely photographic reasons, we're glad that's one wish that wasn't fulfilled.
Photography by Paul Morton Smith and R. Charles Wilson