Dawn patrol in Eastside Santa Cruz. The lineup swells from a few to 17 guys… plus me, the sole surfer girl. Then a woman paddles out on a soft-top longboard. With her brown hair still dry, she stops on the inside where I’m waiting for my last wave. We exchange smiles, and she tries for a couple small bumps, but they pass her by. I say “Here you go,” when a slightly larger wave comes toward her, and as she turns to paddle for it, she hoots “We could ride it together!” inviting me to drop in on her. Surfer girls rock.
While there are fewer women who surf than men, rising stars like Carissa Moore, Stephanie Gilmore, Sally Fitzgibbons and Courtney Conlogue surf on par with the boys. Yet they are relegated to the poorest waves during shared contest windows, and largely absent from the phallocentric surf magazines. Instead of glossy photos of these pro surfer girls ripping, many of those magazines lure male eyes with annual swimsuit issues, posing women in barely-there bikinis sexily on the beach while a guy rides waves in the background. As Miss Representation (trailer below) points out:
No matter what else a woman does, no matter what else her achievements, their value still depends on how they look…. The exploitation of women’s bodies sells products, magazines, etcetera.
Some women and girls buy into the myth that their worth is measured by their bodies and not their abilities. Others contribute to their objectification, like Stephanie Gilmore who posed naked for ESPN. Sponsors of women’s surfing, while providing an opportunity for competition, also focus on the body, using their athletes as models. While pro male surfers can look less than pleasing, it seems an unwritten rule that for a woman to be sponsored, she must be eye-candy: pretty, preferably blond, and hot in a bikini. Olympic swimming medalist Amanda Beard recently disclosed in her book, In the Water They Can’t See You Cry, that her fit, athletic body was deemed too fat to advertise swimsuits, so she was forced to diet unhealthily and suffered damage to her self-esteem.
We need women who will buck the media onslaught to stand strong and be recognized for their abilities and accomplishments instead of how they look. We need women to support and encourage each other, like the longboarder in Santa Cruz did, and to celebrate our achievements, like Stephanie and Sally chairing Courtney up the beach after she won the Commonwealth Bank Beachley Classic.
When the surfing magazine swimsuit issues hit the stands again this year, I gathered a few of my friends for a photo shoot of real NorCal surfer girls. We don’t surf in bikinis, because the water is too cold, but even if it was tropical, many of us would choose more practical rash guards and board shorts. Because it’s about surfing, not sexy.
Miss Representation Trailer: