Words Ellie Wainwright

Like many people all over the world I am completely gripped by the ocean. Her immense power and beauty is both intriguing and intimidating, and I find myself drawn back to her shores again and again. Swimming in the pink and purple hues of an ocean at sunset, diving underneath to be completely surrounded by the big blue, or riding along and rolling with the waves on her surface, the possibilities of enjoyment are endless. The ocean is a muse for people all over the world; her healing properties clear the mind, give joy and for some, a purpose to carry on. Surfing is a sport that has a way of connecting people to the ocean whether as social enjoyment, an individual release, or both.

Growing up on the Welsh coast, being in and around the ocean is something I’ve done since I could walk. When a massive swell rolled in I’d be drawn to the shores, watching surfers crowd the beaches, dropping in on different waves and carving the faces with turns and tricks. Quiet evenings would sometimes offer completely empty line-ups or lone surfers gliding across long green waves that never seemed to break. I don’t think I noticed back then that I’d only ever seen a handful of women and girls entering the water.

Growing up watching surfers, it’s clear that men dominate the surf culture in a lot of places around the world. Surfing may be intimidating because at an age when young people, especially young girls, feel self-conscious and prone to criticism, jumping feet-first into a male dominated sport can be all too daunting. Young people are impressionable and society leads people to feel pressures to fit in. Instead of surfing and being outdoors exploring, young girls around me seemed to shift their attention towards what society deemed more acceptable to prioritize: makeup, clothes and a focus on appearance, sometimes highlighting insecurities and a lack of confidence.

I spent some time with Jen and Outer Reef Surf School in Pembrokeshire, Wales, on one of their Women’s Surf & SUP Weekends. Jen is a surf instructor with Outer Reef and is originally from Swansea. Speaking to Jen, she explained, that she found a passion for surfing when her sister encouraged her on a surfing holiday to Morocco four years ago. Even after getting her surfing up to a good level, living and surfing in Morocco for a year, and becoming a surf instructor, Jen expresses an uncertainty about surfing in the UK. “Being the only girl in the line-up does make you feel less confident; it’s almost like we feel this obligation to prove ourselves in front of the guys. This isn’t necessarily because of the guys themselves; most of them are so supportive! But I still feel like I have to catch a wave and make them think: “Oh, actually this girl can surf!”

Through companies like Outer Reef Surf School and organisations like Surf Senoritas, there is some support in Wales, and across the UK, for women in surfing… but there definitely could be more. Jen mentions that all of her colleagues are guys and that there seems to be more family encouragement and support towards guys pushing their surfing from a young age.

But instead of letting being the only girl in the line-up feel scary and intimidating, why don’t we let it empower us? As humans we have a true connection with the ocean, and separating ourselves from something that makes us feel alive, will only leave us feeling empty. Using the power of the ocean to empower us is a good place to start; to translate this conquered fear into other areas of our lives, to not surrender to societal norms but to follow our own unique journey, and to ride our own wave.

It’s clear that the female surf culture in Wales could be improved, but there has been a global shift around women’s place in society. I believe that this equality is beginning to translate to areas of our lives that were once seen as male dominated. Let’s see some more diversity in the line-ups; after all, the future is most definitely (more) female!

Ellie’s article appeared previously in an edition of SurfGirl Magazine.