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FROM CALIFORNIA TO AUSTRALIA, women around the world have been surfing for decades – or, in Hawaii’s case, centuries. Yet whether you’re used to pulling on a damp wetsuit in the middle of winter, or slapping on SPF 50 year-round, there’s one thing nearly all female surfers have in common: the feeling of being in the minority in the water.
Just because female surfers are outnumbered, doesn’t mean they should be underestimated. While admittedly still small, the global women’s surfing community is growing exponentially, largely thanks to badass communities of female wave riders around the world. Here are groups of female chargers who are carving the way forwards for all women in the water.
1. Siargao, The Philippines
“When you’re surfing in the Philippines, you’re treated like a princess,” says Filipino surfer Elaine Abonal and founder of Surfista Travels, a surf school on the island of Siargao. “Female surfers here are encouraged and cheered on in the lineup – you would never see a guy saying to another girl here to get out just because she was a chick!”
Siargao is a tropical paradise of blue ocean, stunning beaches, and multiple reef breaks. It’s also where you can surf the Philippines’ most famous break, “Cloud Nine”, a perfect barreling wave that frequently appears on lists of the world’s best surf spots. On this island, as Elaine says, “Women surfers don’t just exist; they dominate.”
More and more women are learning to surf each year and they have plenty to inspire them. The island hosts the annual Siargao International Women’s Surfing Cup, with female surfers traveling from all over the world to compete against the local talent, and last year Siargao hosted the first ever World Surf League Qualifying Series women’s event to be held in the Philippines.
The women surfing in Siargao aren’t all seasoned pros. The island also has a selection of waves for intermediate surfers, a few beginner spots and, most importantly, a hugely supportive environment for female surfers.
2. The Phuket Surfer Girls, Phuket, Thailand
Given Thailand’s reputation for swimming beaches and snorkeling sites, you might not equate its shores with surfing. Add the fact that studies show most Thai girls aren’t getting enough exercise, and the idea that Thailand might be home to a thriving women’s surf scene seems…well… almost impossible.
Enter the Phuket Surfer Girls, as a group of predominantly Thai native women, who surf throughout the monsoon season, is informally known. Along with a few expats from places like Australia, Russia, Norway, and the US, these women can be spotted paddling out at various beaches along the Phuket coastline. While the waves are a far cry from world-class, this group make the most of the empty lineups at spots like Kata and Kalim Beach, which still pick up enough southwesterly swells for them to have become local surfing hubs.
Not only are the Phuket Surfer Girls the life and soul of these communities, hosting beach parties and surf contests throughout the surf season; they’re also involved in encouraging more girls to start surfing too. In Thailand, darker skin is often associated with low-paying manual labor that’s performed outdoors, so many Thai women avoid activities that might darken their skin – surfing included. The Phuket Surfer Girls are trying to combat that, by encouraging young girls from local fishing villages to come surfing with them and develop a love for the sport early on.
3. Women and Waves, Newquay, UK
The Women and Waves surf club is acutely aware that there are rarely more women than men in the water, despite the sizeable women’s surfing community of this town in Cornwall. As any female surfer can tell you, with the added stress of crowds, this can be daunting. That’s where Women and Waves come in.
In spring and fall, the town, countryside, and waves are quieter than the summer months when Newquay and its surrounding area are overrun by holidaymakers from the UK and beyond. There’s still enough daylight for an evening surf before the clocks go back. It’s on one of these evenings each week that the Women and Waves surf club meets.
The focus at this club isn’t competition, but rather the joy of just getting in the sea with other like-minded women. Members vary from novices to experienced surfers, with a few bodyboarders and swimmers to boot. There are additional options for surf-taster lessons with a qualified instructor or equipment rental, while Women and Waves also organize coaching days, weekend sessions, and surf and yoga retreats – all of which cater to women who love the ocean and, of course, just want to have fun.
4. Nosara, Costa Rica
Not long ago, surfing in Costa Rica was still considered a sport “for the guys.” Although Ticos, or Costa Ricans, began to take up surfing in the 1980’s, it wasn’t until the early 2000’s that surfing started to shake its boy’s only reputation. Since then, boosted by a few local Ticas, the surf scene for women has come a long way. In Nosara, in particular, it’s now common to see women paddling out.
While local female surfers have established their place in the lineup, several women’s surf camps and retreats have also opened in the small, close-knit town. At Safari Surf School, two-time Costa Rican National Champion Andrea Díaz runs women-only surf retreats, while Surf Bikini Retreat was founded by local surfer Adilia Zuñiga Díaz.
Adilia is also the brains behind Nosara Surf Ticas, a pro bono Surf Club where local girls and women can learn to surf in a safe environment. Adilia provides boards and teaches the basics. When those girls start to feel safe in the water and are no longer beginners, they graduate from the group and leave the board for new members. Since the idea is for women to both learn a sport and enrich their culture, the club also hosts yoga, dance, and language classes.
5. Surf Diva, San Diego
Surf Diva celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 2016. Founded by twins Izzy and Coco, the school and shop offer everything from competitive coaching to group surf lessons on the mellow beach breaks of La Jolla in San Diego. Surf Diva has been recognized as a pioneering influence in women’s surfing.
Yet back in 1996 when the twins founded the La Jolla boutique, they were paddling headlong into a male-dominated industry. Since then, on the back of 2002’s iconic surf movie Blue Crush and the subsequent explosion in women’s surfing, they’ve been able to expand, with a surf school in Los Angeles, surf adventures in Costa Rica, and co-ed surf lessons.
With all this heritage, not to mention a staff of over sixty surf instructors and even their own line of female-specific fiberglass surfboards, a lesson with Surf Diva might sound like an intimidating experience. This couldn’t be further from the Surf Diva ethos. With the motto, “The best surfer in the water is the one having the most fun,” the team encourages students to ignore the California surf crowd, have fun, and enjoy the ocean – which, as all women surfers know, is what surfing should be all about.