Marine Biologist/Writer/Surfer
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Coco Ho surfs like a girl. And that's a good thing. Photo: Nike 6.0

Coco Ho surfs like a girl. And that’s a good thing. Photo: Nike 6.0

I would give anything to have my husband’s ability in the water. He draws lines that I could never imagine and turns simple bottom turns into massive explosions of power and spray. But guess what? He doesn’t surf like a girl. And I don’t hold that against him. So why is it held against me if I don’t surf like a guy? Why is it held against me if I do?

I want to “celebrate” women’s surfing. I really do. But let me ask you this: what is there to “celebrate” when the biggest decision about my spring suit is not whether the most up-to-date technology was employed, but rather, do I want to accentuate my butt cheeks or my cleavage (or both)?

I grew up in a time when surf brands barely recognized women’s surfing, much less decided to produce a wetsuit that would fit our smaller shoulders and waists. For years I surfed in guy’s suits, simply because there were no other options. That is until I hit puberty and realized that–oh, wait–men and women aren’t shaped the same.

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And herein lies the most basic of principles. Men and women aren’t the same. We are different. We are shaped differently, we are created differently, and, most importantly, we surf differently.

A few recent Inertia articles have highlighted the ongoing issues that surround women surfers. One, in particular, garnered nearly 30 comments related to Coco Ho’s recent interview with Surfing Magazine–an interview that many felt was geared more towards discussing cute boys than carving solid waves. One commenter summed up his opinion of women’s surfing, and unfortunately, it is an opinion that all too commonly pervades our collective surf community:

The women don’t deserve the same money that the men get. Professional female surfers cannot surf as well as the men, so more people are going to watch the guys over the ladies… Sadly the women in professional surfing can’t perform at the same level as the men and have to resort to making money through ways that are more popular in our culture like modeling. As far as money and number of viewers are concerned, Alana Blanchard is probably one of the best things to happen to women’s surfing.

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Wow. Ouch? My reactions to this statement range from utter rage to outright amusement.  Alana Blanchard squabbling aside–this comment embodies everything wrong with women’s surfing, and more. Truly, people, you’ve missed the point.

Women’s surfing will only excel when the public (men?) understand a universal truth: men and women surf differently. We don’t surf better, and we don’t surf worse. We surf differently. We surf like women. Just like men, we surf with power and grace and skill. Just like men, we surf with style, strength and poise. But unlike men, we surf like women.

Our surfing is not in comparison to the surfing of men, because we define a class of surfing all to our own. It’s a realm that men cannot even imagine inhabiting. We throw spray, we get barreled, and we surf better than that guy, and that guy, or that guy. And at the end of the day, it all comes down the fact that, like men, we got to go surfing.

In her Inertia article, Darcy Roland mentions Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon, in relation to the many women who have paved the way for today’s female athletes. What many don’t realize is that ­­­Switzer literally endured physical and verbal attacks while she ran the marathon. In today’s world, you can’t even imagine a marathon that lacked women. In recounting her historic marathon run, Switzer says:

If I quit, nobody would ever believe that women had the capability to run 26-plus miles. If I quit, everybody would say it was a publicity stunt. If I quit, it would set women’s sports back, way back, instead of forward. If I quit, I’d never run Boston. If I quit, Jock Semple and all those like him would win.

If we, as women, take to heart the comments such as the one on the article about Coco Ho’s statements, then we essentially relinquish to the substandard criteria that society has created for our sport–we’re great “eye candy”, but not worth much else. Nobody ever really believed that women had the capability to surf a wave over ankle high, but we do. Nobody ever believed that women had the capability to pull off airs. But we did. Nobody ever believed that women had the capability to charge big waves–Teahupoo, Mavericks, Pe’ahi–but we have. Not one of the guys who paddles out to the same lineup as myself believes that I’m actually going to catch a wave. Joke’s on them.

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Thank you, Katherine Switzer–in addition to her countless female brethren–that paved the way for females such as myself. Thank you, Lakey Peterson, for pulling an air in competition. Thank you, Paige Alms, for always charging, whether it’s Pe’ahi or Mavericks. Thank you, Layne Beachley, Lisa Andersen, Stephanie Gilmore, Carissa Moore (ok, fine, pretty much the majority of famed female surfers–Rell Sunn, Keala Kennelly….etc., etc., etc.,) for your dedication to the sport of surfing, for pushing the limits, and for redefining of what we consider “women’s surfing.”

One surfer commented on a recent article that I published, stating:

“Cheers to all the ladies who shred it up just cause it feels right!”

And I wholeheartedly agree.

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