Out of the dark ages and into the Glory days?
(featured in Surf Life for Women)
15 years ago when I started surfing, women surfers were on their way to extinction.The majority of men in these days seemed to view women who surfed to be more of an object of entertainment. They liked to laugh and make fun of us while we tried to do something that only men were suppose to do. The tour back then was not something you could really make a good career out of nomatter who you were, there were no womens surf magazines, with very little coverage of women surfers anywhere. This era is now being defined as the “dark ages” of women’s surfing.

At the turn of the century Cosmopolitan magazine declared surfing to be the “womens sport of the new millenium” We now have about 7 magazines abroad dedicated to our sport and a 13 million dollar movie out in theaters Aug 18 portraying the lifestyle of women surfers.

But in what might seem to be the glory days of womens surfing, why are our top two ranked women in the world right now, without any monetary sponsorships, on a tour that seems to have been diwindling in size and stature for the past two years.

The big bomb that changed women’s surfing was the evolution of the womens boardshort. This brought forth womens surf fashion for the first time from the big mens surf brands forcing them to see $$$ dollar signs above their beloved boys club and finally give the women a piece of the action. Unfortunately the women they chose to dump millions of advertising $$ into seemed to represent anything but the real women surfers of our sport.

You might see cute young girls, with sponsors plastered all over their boards, who are just learning to surf, next to girls who are totally riping with no sponsors at all.(like our #1 and #2 women in the world) . Disparagingly, this advertising campaign got so twisted out of hand at one point, that some of the so called “surfer-models”, were actually being mistaken by outsiders, as the world champions of womens surfing.

It sometimes makes me wonder how Mia Ham and the World Championship Soccer Team would react if industry leaders put a model with a soccer ball on the cover, of the years biggest sports publication to represent them, and then say, “well, she really does play soccer, you know”. If you saw the latest collectors edition of Surfer Magazine you can see how much this type of image still haunts us in our sport today. Although this dark age male mentality may never cease within surfing, there is still hope for us girls. If we can keep producing pro surfers like Keala Kennlley who win ESPN “cool jock” awards and 4 time world champions like Layne Beachly, who tow into mountains during their free time, we may be on our way to grabbing the attention from the outside world while leaving our dark age, male mentality, surf industry beside itself.

These supersurfers of today, however, were inspired, trained and breed by a whole different pro tour format. Do you think a qualifying tour(WQS) made up of 4 beach breaks, and 1 Hawaiian event at Haleiwa will inspire future champions like Layne Beachly? I dont think a venue made up of 80% beach breaks(which you will be lucky to get a 2ft) provides a good selection of the best girls, nor does it provide the preparation needed to compete alongside surfing’s eilite at places like Teaupoo, on the world championship tour(WCT)

Almost all the women who represent our best on the WCT now, were at least inspired by a tour format which had about 40-60 girls, all competing together in one diversified circuit ,where as todays format seems to be somewhat of a closed shop. Nowdays you have a qualifying tour (WQS) with almost a 100 girls competing which includes the 17 who are already on the world championship tour(WCT). The 17(WCT) girls are already seeded 1-3 rounds higher than everyone else, in these qualifying rounds which makes the mere 5 spots available tougher than ever to get, and this is just to get a shot at competing in the real money making, attention getting events.

1997 marked the last day of a long record in history where local Hawaiian surfers consistantly defeated surfings world best in the big surf at Sunset Beach. After that, it was restricted to only the top 15(WCT) surfers on tour and last year we lost this event all together. This event in itself helped make Layne Beachly the big wave hero she is today and gave other women who didnt care to surf the small beach breaks on tour an opportunity to compete in more demanding surf and make a name for themsleves. Today, unlike in the men’s events at Teaupoo and other locations, there are no trails heats for women who want to pursue professional surfing in this manner. Local Northshore girls cant even compete in their own Haleiwa event without going to the mainland first, and earning tour points, through competing at the beach breaks that are so foreign to them.

With the loss other events such as Jbay, Bells Beach and a much dimensioned purse in some of the WQS events, it seems almost obvious that the only thing to do that will keep intrest in the womens tour from audiences, sponsors and especially future competitors is bring the tour back together again and make one really strong, diversified tour.

If we are not able to harness the attention of such promising times, for the majority of serious women surfers, we may all look back at these glory days wishing that our little Blue Crush could have been something BIG.

by Lane Davey