It was a day when nothing was going right.
I’d gone out by myself in 4-to-6-foot surf, and my plan to pick off the smaller waves wasn’t working. I kept telling myself to take off on the bigger waves, but then I’d back out each time. Clouds obscured the morning sun, and as I sat on my board, thinking self-defeating thoughts, a wind picked up. There were very few people out there that day, which in retrospect was probably because the waves were crap. A man in his 60s paddled over to me and waved. I said, “Hi,” then went back to glaring at the waves.
“So you’re a woman,” he said, stating what I hoped was obvious.
“Yep,” I said.
“I’ve got this great idea,” he said, “and I want to know what you think.”
“Surf wax … for women!”
This was a few years ago, so I’m a bit fuzzy on the exact name, but I swear it was “Chick Sticks.”
“Um…why would we need different wax?” I asked.
“Well, they have these cute pink wrappers, with cool designs, and I just think women would like them!” he said.
I wish I were a good enough surfer to take the next wave in all the way to the shore in a stylish and glorious exit, but instead, I let myself drift away until I was no longer in earshot.
In the Minority
It’s 2017, and surfing is still a man’s world.
In the ten years I’ve been surfing, I’ve never once seen more women than men in the lineup.
My friend Jenny, a former competitive surfer, has been surfing for 19 years up and down the California coast. I asked her via text if she’d ever seen more women than men in the water outside of a competition.
“Hahaha, never!” was her response.
I’ve spent the last seven years doing CrossFit four times a week. CrossFit is every bit as difficult and intimidating as surfing, but I frequently attend classes with mostly women. These women are not hiding in the corner, leaving the feats of strength to the men. Many of the women I know regularly and resoundingly beat the men in the class.
Surfing has been around a very long time. For most of that time, women were expected to stay on the beach while the men charged the waves. CrossFit is a recent invention, and from day one women have been on equal footing with men. It shows, both in the gyms across the world and in competitive CrossFit.
Here’s the thing. I enjoy surfing with guys. Most of the men I surf with are a delight.
However, years and years of being in the majority have led to a few men behaving in a manner can be odd, offensive, or just clueless.
“Sit a bit farther in, that will help. Oh, here’s one—go, paddle!”
When I go surfing by myself I frequently get pointers from men I don’t know. I thought it might be because I look like I need help, but Jenny, who is usually one of the best surfers in the lineup, said men often point out a wave for her to ride.
“It’s usually older men,” she said, “and I love it, especially when they point out a set wave, because I’ll take off on it and get a great ride.”
Jenny doesn’t need their help, but she’ll happily take their wave.
This unsolicited wave consulting is well-meaning and not in the least hostile, but unless a woman asks you for surf tips, keep it to yourself. We don’t want to hear it. Well, I guess Jenny wouldn’t mind if you give her all the waves.
A few weeks ago I heard some shouting among the crowd sitting at the peak. Two men paddled away from the argument, toward me.
“I don’t believe it. That guy cut me off, and he yelled at me,” one of them said.
“He’s crazy, messed up in the head,” the other said.
They stopped paddling and sat on their boards next to me. I gave them a sympathetic smile—I hate conflict in the water.
“Hey,” one of the men said to me, “you should go yell at that guy who cut me off! Girls can get away with anything out here.”
The reason why this bothered me is a bit harder to explain, but it boils down to the fact that making assumptions based on someone’s gender—or race or nationality—is a terrible idea. My gender doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about me as a person. I’m a former amateur boxer, so I’ve probably taken more punches to the face than most of the men out there.
This doesn’t mean I had any interest in starting a fight, unprovoked, but it does mean I hate hearing about “girls,” what they are like, and how they should behave.
More Lady Waves
This is not a completely black and white issue, because I do take pride in the fact that I do something most women don’t. I love my mostly male surf crew, and the majority of the men I meet treat me as an equal.
However, as much as I enjoy being one of the few women in the water, I would prefer to look around and at least once, see more women than men beside me.
Until then, let’s just be glad the “surf wax for women” concept didn’t take off.