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Wahines Through The Ages. The History of Female Surfers

Mar 23, 2008
History and female surfers. Do you automatically think of Gidget? Either the blond Sandra Dee or the brunette Sally Fields? Those old fashioned bikinis and the enormous surfboards. The sun was always shining on that Californian beach with perfect waves with plenty of good looking guys and gals strutting around in their swimwear.

Gidget the movie was released in 1959, and the TV series in 1965. However, did you know that there are actually records of female surfers in Hawaii dating back to the 1600's? Back then, apparently the females and males were all equally fond of surfing and there was no discrimination between the genders while out in the waves.

The first famous female surfer was considered a Polynesian demi-god, or kupua. This extraordinary surfer was known as Mamala, and she was recognized as being a fantastic and brave surfer in the wildest of waves. Mamala could appear as many creatures including a great shark, gigantic lizard, and not the least, as a beautiful female. Beautiful and fearless, sounds much like the latest crop of contemporary female surfers, doesn't it?

In 1905, a surfboard dating back to the 1600's belonging to Princess Kaneamuna of Hawaii, was found in her burial cave. Centuries before Gidget! There are also many traditional Hawaiian chants about female surfers.

Mary Ann Hawkins was a famous female surfer in California in the 1920's. Faye Baird Fraser was the first female to surf in San Diego.

The first person to surf in Australia was a 15 year old girl called Isabel Letham. She was famously chosen by Duke Kahanamoku to surf tandem with him in 1914 at Freshwater Beach, just around the headland from the world famous Manly Beach.

By the late 1970's the A.S.P. annual circuit had a division for females. In this era, female surfers like Rell Sunn, Linda Merrill, and Jericho Poppler came to fame for their surfing prowess.

Surfing for girls didn't really seriously take off until the late 1980's. Prior to this, girls were expected to be decorative on the sand in their bikinis, working on their suntans. Their boyfriends surfed and the girls watched. That's just the way it was. Until this time surfing was considered by many to be a male's sport. In many surf breaks girls were not welcome. Their place was on the sand, or possibly on a boogie board or surf mat out of the way, closer to the shore with the kiddies.

By the late 1980's female surfing was really emerging. Lisa Anderson from Florida started a whole new surfing fashion by wearing board shorts with her bikini top. Today this seems like a sensible option while out surfing and the surfing companies all have huge ranges of board shorts for the surfing girl.

Surfing wear is now worn by all and sundry. You don't have to live anywhere near the ocean or surf to wear labels like Roxy. Female surf wear is now synonymous with good healthy living and vitality. Teenage girls the world over aspire to look like the Roxy poster girls. All the surf companies have been very quick to spot this and bring out their own labels for female surfers. This marketing campaign has been a roaring success with females all around the world.

Female surfing in the US is the fastest growing sport. There has been a dramatic increase in female surf camps like Surf Goddesses and SwellWomen and female surf schools like Maui Surfer Girls. Female surfers have come into their own and are an industry on their own. Now when we think of female surfers, images from the movie "Blue Crush" fill our minds. Gorgeous, healthy, strong girls in bikinis and board shorts surfing their hearts out. This movie has been responsible for inspiring and motivating another generation of young female surfers. "If you want to feel the rush you have to take the risk" was the film's motto.

No article on female surfers would be complete without a mention of Layne Beachley. As of early 2008, she has won a breathtaking 7 World Titles. She has the best statistics for any female surfer ever and has ridden a 50 foot wave, the largest wave ever ridden by a female. Layne Beachley's motto is "Never give up". Great motivation from a great role model for all girls out there.

The new crop of emerging and successful female surfers includes Australia's Stephanie Gilmore who is the current reigning ASP Women's World Champion. Sofia Mulanovich from Peru is the current leader on the 2008 ASP Women's World Tour. (As at March 2008.) Megan Abubo is holding up Hawaii's long reputation of producing world class surfers.

With Hawaii's long history of surfing it is fitting that the term for female surfers "Wahine" actually originates from Hawaii. Blue Crush was filmed there. Surfers from around the globe aspire to surf or watch Pipeline at its biggest. Hawaii is a prime location for perfectly situated female surf camps.

Female surfers have been around for centuries. Luckily for all us girls, female surfing is now perceived as a mainstream sport and industry. Today, female surfers are recognized and their needs and wants are being catered for. Feel the rush, take the risk, never give up. Inspiring words for all girls everywhere.
About the Author
Me-Shell Mijangos (http://www.swellwomen.com/founder/html) a surfer who first began surfing at the age of 30. She is the founder of an all inclusive women's surf camp called SwellWomen. Two years ago, she started SwellCo-ed, a Surf and Yoga Experience for women, men and couples. She hopes to surf with you in paradise soon! Visit her SwellBlog!
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