While women’s surfing is now a highly regarded sport, it wasn’t always that way. Surfer dudes were highlighted in magazines, with women in skimpy two-piece swimwear lounging on the beach, watching them. Before the 1980s, males dominated the sport, showing up in competitions, glossy photos and even as the professionals who photographed the sport. If a woman was depicted in a surfing magazine, she was usually sunbathing on the sand.
Although women were surfing back then, they weren’t always showcased as strong, courageous, athletic types the way the men were. Sure, there are etchings by Mark Twain showing female surfers back in the 1800s. Hawaiian legends tell of women surfers. But surfboards and wetsuits were mainly designed for men until the 1990s. Cash prizes for women’s surfing competitions were lower than those for men’s.
The surfing industry has changed since then. Established in 1997, Paradise Surf Shop was one of the first surf shops that catered to women in northern California. The Women on Waves Surf Fest is one of the many festivals an fundraisers devoted to encourage women’s participation in the sport.
Now, products for water sports have categories that are aimed specifically at women, and professional surfers are even recruited to endorse them. Women’s rashguards are designed to fit a sleeker torso and conform to the body, providing protection from chafing and UV rays. Swim leggings can take over for wetsuits in warmer weather.
Women are making strides in the water sports arena, and surf culture is catching up. In celebration of International Women’s Day earlier this week, we’re honoring the women who made their mark to bring awareness to feminism in the sport, as well as the women who are working to expand the community of women surfers further than ever before.