...........................IN THE Beginning there were women bodyboarders. When I started surfing the Northshore in 1989, it was a big deal to see another woman stand up surfer. There were only a handful of us, and we were scattered so we didn't even see each other very often. Basically, the women surfers stayed in the shadows and there weren't enough of us to make a statement.
There were however, an emerging bunch of women bodyboarders. These girls were strong, fiesty and hardcore and not just in the water. Back then, you had to have a hard edge about you just to make it on the Northshore. If you were a groupie or a pris the guys would eat you up and spit you out of town in about 2 weeks. The women bodyboarders trained hard; they were beautiful, but athletic and strong. They made it a point to prove women could be feminine, yet powerful in the water. They were party girls, but when it came to they ocean they were as passionate and serious as any guy out there and this sincerity earned them respect.
Amongst this pack of women, Northshore heavyweights like Jen Mar, Carol Phillips, Robin Cardoza, Guin Allen, Daina Pang, Gloria, and Harima, combined with top notch Brazilians like Stephanie Peterson, Leila Ali, Claudia Ferrari, and more made the women bodyboarders hard to dismiss. They surfed all over the Northshore, Pipe, Sunset, Waimea, and were even known to venture to the outer reefs during the roots of the tow in era.
When most of them were in diapers however, one women alone truly pioneered the Northshore on a bodyboard and her name was Phillis Demoran. Phyllis went big, 25 ft + Waimea, and even had a special bodyboard made to asborb the huge bumps that she says would knock her breath out. Believe it or not, she was one of the first three people to even own a bodyboard in Oahu.. I still see Phyllis surfing the Northshore on some of the best days every season, loving it, as much as ever.
The media began taking an interest in the women bodyboarders especially in Japan and Brazil where women were awarded full sponsorships for their emerging world tour. In all honesty, I was often frustrated by this because none of the women stand up surfers had any support or recognition at that time. The fact was however, that the bodyboard girls worked for that media attention. They dressed right, they acted professional in front of the cameras and they stuck together promoting their sport in every way possible. They treated it like a job, so they got paid. Bodyboarding became the most accepted way for women to surf all the way until the mid-late 90s. At one point it seemed to me that the women of the sport were getting even more coverage and attention than the men. In 1989 the women bodyboarders made history, obtaining a permit to hold the first women's event at Pipeline. The Pipe contest was another boost for women bodyboarders as girls from around the world now had a reason to come to the Northshore, and they did. At the height of the sport Aoi Koike flourished in Japan gaining movie star type status, huge commericial sponsorships and a lot of fans who would later pick up bodyboarding and become the Japanese kamikazes we know today. Aoi now lives in Hawaii which she considers to be a "special" place. Vicky Gleason was also making an impact on the sport in Australia at that time and later was able to form her company Candy, which specialzed in women's bodyboarding gear. Here in Hawaii Shawnee Oide from Sandy Beach got her own board model along with several Brazilian girls who were leading the sport at that time. The sport had become so popular in Brazil n Brazil, that it seemed to have their national sport.
In recent years however, womens bodyboarding has taken a backseat to women's stand up surfing and things seem to have gone full cycle. It's the bodyboarders who now have to lurk in the shadows of the Northshore. No matter how big they charge or how high they fly, nobody cares. I know that sounds terrible, but sadly, its true. I remember a couple years back when I would hear photographers saying Im not gonna shoot that, its a women bodyboarder, even though it was a 10 ft wave at Pipe and then I would see the same guys shooting girls who could barely stand up on longboards at 1 ft Pupukea.. The hard work women bodyboarders put into promoting their sport throughout the 1990s was laying the groundwork for their younger stand up surfing counterparts who are now rumored to be banking million dollar contracts.
Nonetheless, Most women bodyboarders are truly dignified in their own right for what they have achieved in their sport.
Claudia Ferrari states " I love bodyboarding and nothing makes me fell different. I am extremely healthy and happy person because of it and I achieved the most important things of my life with it: I traveled the all world meeting thousands of different people, I am popular and well recognized worldwide for all I have done for it, I am living in Hawaii because it and Ive got my American green card based on my bodyboarding career achievements.. I dont know if it will ever come back to the eyes of whom doesnt want to see, but for the bodyboarders it has never gone. As you can see, this 20 year veteran and 1st GOB champion bodyboarder from Brazil has no regrets!
Geraldine Gogin was not worried about the declining popularity of bodyboarding when she left her position as a lawyer in her homeland of Peru to pursue the dream of riding big barrels. Geraldine first came to the Northshore in 1999 and hasn't missed a season since. She has sacrifced her former high paying job and security to working odd jobs as she travels from barrel to barrel whether it be in Hawaii, Mexico or Indonesia. The experience she describes as "A style of life that allows me to improve as a person in many different ways apart from Bodyboarding" Geraldine and a marine biologist from Brazil named Adrianna are two of the main girls I see out at Pipe all season long. Geraldine says that although the number of women bodyboarders have decreased since she first got here, she feels positive that "there are new faces leading the new generation" .
Kira Llewellyn is definitely one of those faces. Kira is an incredible athlete who would have excelled in any sport she tried. She is strong, aggressive and extremely focused for someone who is only 20 years old. Last year Kira won her second victory at Pipe and is currently ranked #1 on the IBA tour. She holds free clinics to teach bodyboarding when she is at home in Australia. Her passion for promoting the sport is almost as powerful as her surfing and with such a strong leader I think it gives the sport a lot of hope.
Four time world champion and six time Pipe champion Stephanie Peterson from Brazil once told me that her secret to success is simply "My Love for the Sport". When I interviewed her just before she won the Pipe contest in 2003, she expressed the frustration that while she was once eagerly approached by 7 different sponsors at one time, she no longer even had the support to do the tour. Even after winning the event Stephanie stressed that the prize money would not even be enough to pay her way to the next tour event. One of the things that motivates her and other pioneers to keep competing and traveling on tour is the fear that if they stop it just might be an end to women's bodyboarding alltgether. Hopefully the fact that Stephanie recently won the Bodyboarders Paradise event in Australia is evidence that their is still a future for the sport. Karla Kosta Taylor a fellow Brazilian world champion shares the same feelings towards the state of womens bodyboarding saying ",The love is there, I can't take it away even with all the struggles. I have put a lot of years into it, I wouldn't change that, but I was hoping that today it would have better recognition, that's all. I feel that all we have done( myself and all the brazilian girls) was for nothing, I know it wasn't but that's how it feels. "
Unfortunately for bodyboarders in general, women or men, the professional aspect of being able to make a genuine living from the sport seems lost. Most seem to agree that the decrease in the marketability of the sport steamed from surf companies who were losing a valuable part of their market share to bodyboarding products. The discrimination towards bodyboarding today is almost like a form of racism where surfers take pride in putting themselves in a higher class above another surfer just because of the vehicle they ride. Its disgusting to me that people who have only been surfing a year or two and aren't very good still think they are better than a bodyboarder who has been riding waves for many years and truly understands the ocean. I hope the new generation of women stand up surfers will learn to respect their bodyboarding counter parts not just because of the foundation they laid for waterwomen, but for the passion and dedication they still have towards the ocean which is not determined by money or fame. I hope they will watch as these bodyboarders paddle out to huge Pipe and other big wave spots taking notes on what they are doing and what they did to get there. I hope they can one day share the experience the comradery and the incredible moments you share with other women when the waves are as good as it gets and build a sisterhood that will promote their own sport to its fullest potential. I hope one day all the women can learn to respect one another and help each other grow.
by Lane Davey