original article as a part of Daughter's of the Sea magazine, issue 002
Written by Laura Ward, Co-owner of Shaka Surf Women, Feb 23
Last spring, Holly Skyrme started a women's surf school in her home county of Pembrokeshire. Holly had one goal when she started Shaka Surf: to bring women together to share in the joys of surfing. She and I now run the school together and have had the pleasure of watching a thriving community of women blossom around our local breaks.
Around the same time Shaka Surf Women was launched, Pembrokeshire Women's Surf Society and Gower Women's Surf Society were also founded, proving that the need for women-only spaces is felt throughout the wider surfing community.
These clubs are connecting and inspiring countless women in their communities through the medium of surf. Their popularity, particularly amongst beginner surfers, begs the question: why have so many women waited until now to learn to surf?
The answer is gradually being revealed to Holly and me as we get to know the women on our lessons. Many say they feel intimidated and self-conscious when paddling into a crowded lineup. Others have tried surfing but stopped because they couldn't find anyone of a similar ability to get in the water with. The opportunity to learn alongside other women seems to break down these barriers to entry, giving women the chance to try something new in a welcoming, judgement-free setting.
Women's clubs also serve as an invitation to women who may not see themselves represented in the sport. Mainstream surf brands have a habit of portraying female surfers as young, thin, white, straight, cisgender, able-bodied bikini models- an image few women can relate to. This representation is not only boring and one-dimensional, but exclusionary, since in the words of civil rights activist, Marian Wright Edelman, "you can't be what you can't see."
Not only do women's groups encourage more women to try surfing, they may also be more conducive to learning. Studies have shown that women studying STEM courses and other male-dominated subjects participate more and perform better when they have more female peers and/or a female instructor. The presence of other women sends the message that women belong in any given group, whether it be an engineering class or a surf club. A sense of belonging boosts confidence, resilience and healthy risk-taking- all essential traits for someone hoping to stick with a sport as challenging as surfing.
If it is true that a culture is a reflection of its people, then surf culture is in the midst of an exciting shift. The rise of the women's surf club is just one example of how more and more women are stepping up to shape their communities in ways that reflect their values. The result is a culture that is more inclusive, playful, lighthearted and celebratory. Isn't that how something as silly and pointless as sliding down the face of a wave should feel?