There was a time that the idea of women surfing brought to mind Gidget, the Hollywood Beach Blanket icon. While cute and perky, she didn’t quite portray the most empowering image of female surfers.
In recent years, the presence big-wave riders such as Layne Beachley, Malia Kamisugi, power wahines the likes of Sofia Mulanovich, Keala Kennely and new talents like Chelsea Georgeson have made it quite clear that there is room for bikinis in the land of boardshorts. Whether it is in Australia, Hawaii or as far south as Brasil, women are definitely holding their own in the liquid arena.
Here in our neck of the world, more and more women are paddling out and taking waves in a sport more often than not designated for men. Point in case – the Philippine Surf Federation’s 2005 Circuit included an all-women’s surf competition was held at Siargao island’s Cloud 9, a right hander famous for its hollow barrels.Anyone who watched these Filipinas charge Cloud 9 that year came away with much respect for them. These girls grew up in a line-up peppered with boys. This is especially the case for Nildie Blancada and Manet Alcala (Siargao) and Mocca Edusma (Daet) where they are often the only females out with the boys.
The event was seen as a gigantic step forward in the arena of women’s surfing. This year, the competition saw an even larger contingent of participants, including Australian pro surfers Sheridan Shields, Lyndsay Noyes as well as local wahines hailing from all over the country. The ripple effect of seeing women taking on monster waves has inspired a younger set of girls to get on a board and get in there. Only months after the comp girls as young as 6 began paddling out with Siargao’s normally all-male grommet posse.
Even back in Manila, the number of wahine weekend warriors has tripled in the last two years. The membership roster of the Manila Surfers’ Association has a nearly equal number of men and women.
On a personal level, it is not only empowering to see more girls in the line-up. It is, quite simply, more enjoyable. I am no longer the only girl on a weekend road trip, having to put up with pranks, fart jokes or actual farts. Now, there is always at least one other female to talk to about the more substantial aspects of life, namely: shopping, shoes and spas.
Photo: Carla Sebastian, charging Eastern Samar in 2012
I am not a professional surfer. I am not even an intermediate level surfer. What I am is a chick with a waxed stick that enjoys every wave that she gets, whether it’s a wall that just keeps going and going or a party wave shared with four other friends. And it’s just fun that now, the chances are higher that those friends I share that one ride with are also fellow females.
From observations and conversations with other female surfers (and yes, even in the line-up, we girls like to yack it up), it seems that The Philippines is among the best places to be a chick in the line-up. The boys are less aggressive, more accommodating and actually quite encouraging. I don’t know if it is the way that Filipinos are raised to respect women, if it is the intrinsically mellow personality of Filipinos in general or a combination of both that makes these local line-ups a good place to be a woman surfer. Granted each line-up will have its fair share of macho men that will never see women as equals in the water. But they are, thankfully, the exception and not the norm.
My good friend Mille Fairhall is a free surfer who surfed competitively in her teen years. She shuttles back and forth between her two homelands of Australia and the Philippines. We were talking once about the state of women’s surfing in the Philippines and she said “There have been a few women who have dared to challenge the stereotype (that surfing is for boys). And I think that gender has no relevance on a wave. If women can get past that intimidation factor, the old guard thoughts and physical inhibitions there would be a lot more of us out there… enjoying surfing for what it is.”
By the way, Millie charges and rips so if you happen to be one of the rare aggro boys, don’t even think about asking her to move to the shoulder.