Dispelling Surfing’s Masculine Ideal

AN ODE TO THE MANY WOMEN WHO MAKE UP THE WORLD’S VARIED LINEUPS, FROM THE LATEST ISSUE OF SURFER MAGAZINE

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“She’s got balls!” exclaimed the guy on a shortboard paddling next to me at a Dominican Republic reef pass, as Anna Santoro started scratching into an oversized set wave. It was one of the biggest swells of the season, and chunky overhead walls were hitting a shallow section and morphing into thick-lipped tubes that required ninja-like skills to knife into.

Santoro lived on the North Shore of Oahu for many years, honing her skills at Sunset, Rocky Point and the outer reefs, so her wave choice wasn’t all-too surprising. But it did, apparently, surprise the guy next to me. Clearly, his anatomically-incorrect comment was meant to be a compliment of Santoro’s ability in consequential surf, but it did get me thinking. In surfing, we’ve historically judged the aquatic talents of a woman in terms of how they measure up to a man’s. Tyler Wright, Carissa Moore and Steph Gilmore are often praised for surfing “as well” as the guys on Tour. Big-wave chargers like Paige Alms and Bianca Valenti get props for sitting at the peak and “hanging with the guys” at Jaws and Mavericks. Santoro’s “got balls,” for stroking into one of the heaviest waves of the day.

For the entirety of the modern surfing era, the “ideal” approach to riding waves has been decidedly masculine. We’ve traditionally used the top guys on Tour or in the freesurfing sphere as a measuring stick for what good surfing looks like–so naturally our language would reflect that. But the idea that good surfing is inherently masculine is slowly unraveling at the seams. If you took a survey of all the lineups around the world, you’d see that surfing is more diverse than ever, with men and women drawing unique lines on varied surfcraft with styles that span the entire spectrum of femininity and masculinity. And as that has happened, the idea of good surfing has become more widely defined–and that’s a good thing.

Female surfers have never been more talented and empowered than they are today, and this new issue is a front-to-back page celebration of just that. We take a look at some of the most adept women in surfing–not focusing how they stack up to their male counterparts, but how their unique perspectives and experiences shape their approach to riding waves and following their passions. We spoke with six women who are carving distinguished paths in the realms of competitive surfing, shaping, slab hunting, longboarding and beyond (“A Line Of Their Own,” pg. 50). We also heard from some of the best female surf photographers about the inspiration they find documenting women’s surfing today (“The Female Gaze,” pg. 58). I spent time with pro surfer Bethany Hamilton, who, despite being one of the most well-rounded and proficient surfers on earth, is still trying to escape the shadow cast by her shark attack 15 years ago (“More Than a Survivor,” pg. 30).

When editor Todd Prodanovich first asked me to introduce this issue, my mind started reeling. As a representative of women in the lineup, but also women as a whole, I felt responsible to address the many issues women face in 2018, like gender discrimination, unequal pay and sexual harassment–things that would be impossible to unpack in the confines of a single page. But at the core of all those issues is a lack of respect for women and a culture failing to celebrate them as unique individuals.

So if there’s one thing I hope this issue accomplishes, it’s that you–whatever gender you identify with–will take a moment to appreciate the women in these pages and at your local surf spot. This issue is meant to be–plain and simple–an ode to the many women who make up the world’s varied lineups and a celebration of the fact that the concept of good surfing knows no gender.

Article courtesy to Surfer Magazine

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