Women and Surfing

September 15, 2009

clean at waipu cove

The surfing world is male centered and dominated.

I’m a surfer. And I’m a woman. This should not cause any conflict, it doesn’t in itself, it only causes conflict for me when I encounter the ‘surfing world’.

Here’s what I mean. A quick perusal of top news stories today from google reveals… a story about a possible breakaway tour which of course is all about mens surfing and has nothing to do with any women surfing, a pic of a dog surfing for chrissakes, and one of the top articles on my search has a woman, but she’s not even a surfer and the article of course has to have a picture of her in a bikini (airbrushed to hell) and a comment on how hot she is (because if she wasn’t she would probably not warrant mention in the media). This is quite typical. And if you can find articles about women surfing out there, it will have to repeatedly point out that it is WOMEN’s surfing, as the absence of a mention of gender in the surfing world defaults to the male status quo.

Surfing magazines and sites are the worst, and the biggest reason for my conflict as a surfer. Top two surfer mag and surfline have the typical masculine look of surfing mags, online and print. To be fair, surfer mag does have a pic of an actual girl, actually surfing, on its front page. One pic. However, the only pics of women I can see on surfline are babes in bikinis. Not surfing.

When I began surfing I was completely naive to all of this. I simply wanted to surf and enjoyed catching waves. When I got a little better, and surfed more often, I began to check out the occasional surfer mag. I actually may have purchased one. Or two. I was so very quickly turned off, and so very obviously excluded, that it really put me off the surfing culture.

There is very little space in surfing culture for women and girls here in New Zealand. This male dominated, with girls as eye candy, surfing media, has an impact on me as a woman surfer. When I’m out the back, watching the waves, I am anxious to some degree of the men around me. I feel like I don’t fit in, I am encroaching in their territory. When I was a beginner surfer I was so anxious I would even avoid them to the point of avoiding waves.

Now I’ve been surfing for about 5 years and I live at my favourite spot I don’t let them get between me and the waves. I have had a few occasions where I have caught a wave only to almost have a collision, with the guy telling me something along the lines of ‘I didn’t think you were going to get that one’. Why? Because I’m a woman? I always wonder.

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