Girls Just Wanna’ Have Fun

Okay, so I get it. Women can surf. They do surf. And they will surf much more. 2002 is officially the year of the female surfer. Need convincing? According to SIMA (Surf Industry Manufacturers Association), women’s surf apparel is by far the fastest growing segment in the surf industry. Accurate statistics are difficult to come by, but several research studies indicate that women’s surfing may currently be the fastest growing sport in the United States. Women in the surf have bombarded the media channels as of late, including film (Blue Crush), the newspapers (The San Francisco Chronicle, among others), even this very Web site: www.surfpulse.com/di.shtml.

A recent trip to the Action Sports Retailer trade show in San Diego reinforced the premise. Women’s surfing and lifestyle clearly dominated the show floor, evolving the incumbent bikini-clad, runway-model-dominated display to one that included the likes of companies like Surf Chick, Surf Diva, Burly Girls, Water Girl USA, and Roxy. All of the larger surfwear companies had separate booths or areas dedicated to their women’s lines, including Quiksilver, Billabong, O’Neil, and Rip Curl. For perhaps the first time in recent surfing memory, the buffed and polished behinds of the Reef Girls were forced to compete for attention with the likes of the buffed and athletic Roxy Girls.

What’s this, a shift in the predominantly male surfing order? You bet. And beyond just the fact that women are surfing more than ever before, they are bringing with them a much different ethos into the lineup. You see, for most women, surfing is a communal activity. Imagine that: surfing with your friends—what a concept! For while women are taking to the surf in droves, they are replacing the archaic male “lone wolf” mentality with an altogether ground-breaking notion: fun. That’s right—they actually have the nerve to bring joy into the lineup. Camaraderie in surfing is not only an allure, but often times a requirement for women, particularly as they are learning. This has in turn led to an explosion of surf schools, as well as all-female surf camps and resorts (even SurfPulse is not immune—check out current advertiser www.girlsadventureout.com). Heck, there’s even a “surf spa” to cater towards women’s desire to be pampered, while at the same time learning how to surf (www.keleasurfspa.com). If that doesn’t signal a shift in attitudes towards surfing, I’m not sure what does.

It hasn’t always been so. Back in the 50′s and 60′s, through the Gidget and Beach Blanket Bingo eras, women were more or less resigned to the beach, to look good in their bikinis, and to cheer the valiant men on out in the water. In the 70′s, an elite group of female surfers emerged, led by Margo Oberg, and made their mark on the professional surfing scene. Problem was they were playing by the men’s rules, and unable to adequately establish their own identity. Much like with women’s tennis at the time, the female surfers were labeled as masculine women playing a man’s game. Right or wrong, this masculine image didn’t sit well with the general public, and the sport’s popularity quickly subsided.

It wasn’t until the late 80′s when women’s surfing emerged once again, thrust into the spotlight by an athletic, attractive Floridian surfer named Lisa Anderson. She actually had the gall to wear board shorts instead of the bikini standard at the time, and influenced an entire generation of wahine surfers. For the first time in its history, female surfing was not only cool, but it could also be feminine.

Today, however, a whole new culture is emerging within women’s surfing: surfing for fun. While previous rises in popularity revolved primarily around professional surfing, today’s surfer-girl to be isn’t necessarily aspiring to be a traveling pro. Rather, she may just want to go down to the local beach to ride a longboard, hang out with her friends, and enjoy the ocean. This represents a 180 degree shift in both mentality and image for women’s surfing. Instead of the previously serious, often very aggressive representation of women in the surf, today’s portrayals are centered simply on women having fun.

Quiksilver’s Roxy Girl brand and Randy Hild, the man who created it, can claim a good deal of responsibility for this dramatic change in image. The Roxy brand has led many women down the less competitive, more playful path to surfing. Think San Onofre on a Sunday afternoon with 3-4 foot rollers easing in to shore, music playing on the beach, and friends hanging out. This type of atmosphere resonates much more with women than the harsh, male pecking-order-laden, stink-eyed staring environments that are so common in many modern surfing lineups.

Indeed, women may in fact be bringing back a care free spirit to mainstream surfing that has largely been lacking over the last 20 years or so. The competitive nature that has become the status quo in the surf today—the taking versus sharing, the “me” versus “you” mentality—is the very same frame of mind that until now has kept most women out of the water. But with critical mass, women are suddenly breaking down that paradigm, even if only at select locations. And it will be a snowball effect: the more women who are out there surfing, the more kinship will be felt by their fellow wahine, which will in turn broaden the appeal of surfing to more and more women.

So what does this mean for the surfing lineup of the future? As female surfers become more prolific, it may signal the end of many of the hostile attitudes that are so prevalent in lineups today. Simply put, women just don’t dig it, and once their numbers are up in the water, they probably won’t put up with it, either.

Hopefully, we will also see an overall shift in mindset with surfing, as women help bring back some much needed exuberance to the sport. The male-dominated elitism that has plagued surfing for decades is showing signs of cracking, as more and more women enter the lineup and effectively claim, “So what’s the big deal?”

The big deal is this: women are changing the face of surfing, quickly. No longer will the waves be the exclusive domain of the male-dominated mentality. And for those of you out there who still enjoy the spoils of an aggressive, competitive pecking order: beware—the girls are coming, and they’re here to have fun.

Get some waves. – DL

Want to get involved in the local women’s surfing community? Visit the Wahines/Girls Only forum in SurfPulse Lounge.

(9/17/02)

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