Surf's Way Up for Women Going Pro as Wave Riders

Monday, February 21, 2011

Female surfers' biggest annual competition starts this week in Australia. Prize money lags behind men's, but women's participation in this daring sport is way up. Credit goes to gutsy role models, better gear and "Blue Crush," the 1995 surfer flick.

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'Blue Crush' Motivates

Women represent about 20 percent of professional surfers today, up from about 5 percent in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Some surfers give part of the credit for that to the 1995 film "Blue Crush," which portrays the trash talk girls faced when they paddled out to surf among the guys.

In the film, a young surfer is dreaming of winning a prestigious competition when she happens to fall in love. Her lover encourages her and goes to the competition to root her on.

"All the girls I teach have seen 'Blue Crush'," said Garcia. "It was a movie that showed how much harder the girls have to work to compete and to be accepted. It really got girls passionate about surfing."

Another contributing factor to the mid-1990s sharp rise in female surfers was the appearance of Lisa Anderson on the professional circuit in 1994. Anderson was aggressive, hard core and fearless. Many said she surfed like a guy. In 1995 she became the first--and still only--woman featured on the cover of Surfer magazine.

As spectators have become more interested in women's challenges and more females are buying gear, sports clothing and accessories giants like Roxy, Billabong and Rip Curl have increased financial commitments and sponsorships of individual athletes.

Beauty Over Skills

Still, Hudson says "the girls who get the sponsorships, unfortunately, aren't always the best surfers, they're the best-looking surfers. The industry still wants to portray women surfers as blond beauties in bikinis."

A big leap for surfing women came in 2010 when they broke into the sport's most dangerous and male-dominated challenge, big wave surfing, where waves reach up to 30 feet and more.

At the first ever female exhibition, held at the Nelscott Reef Classic in Oregon on Nov. 3, 32-year-old Keala Kennelly, from Kauai in Hawaii, became the first big wave women's champion. The event was part of the Big Wave World Tour.

Women's eNews asked Nelscott founder John Forse why he decided to hold the women's event.

"Because they deserved it," he said in a phone interview.

Forse, who has seen the number of female surfers in Oregon grow steadily over the past 20 years, also said Nelscott plans to include women in next year's Big Wave World Tour event.

But in an already dangerous sport, Santa Barbara Seals' Garcia says he can pass on the perils of big waves.

"Even I don't do it; I'd rather not get myself killed," he said.


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Regina Varolli is a freelance writer based in Manhattan, and the owner of Words by Regina Varolli and Co. She blogs about food on The Huffington Post.

For more information:

The Women and the Waves:

The Association of Surfing Professionals:

Santa Barbara Seals Surf School:

Nelscott Reef Classic:

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