Making waves with the elite female surfers

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Joy. This was the word used by James Cook, the first European to arrive in Hawaii.

Making waves with the elite female surfers
Always at the top

Making waves with the elite female surfers

Always at the top

Making waves with the elite female surfers

He used the word to describe the exploits of the locals, who were able to dance on the waves on simple (surf) boards. Dancing and having fun. Surfing, yes. We quote Point Break, a masterpiece directed by Kathryn Bigelow: «It’s a state of mind, it`s that place you lose yourself and then find yourself». A constant search. A challenge. A romantic one, in the sense of perpetual restlessness and drive. To the infinite, the absolute, the limit (and beyond). Basically, what frightens and seems uncontrollable - like a gigantic wave - becomes beautiful - and appeals. Surfing, above all, is a woman. It always has been so. The Hawaiian and Polynesian legends are full of female figures, even goddesses, who are very skilled at riding the waves with a surf board at their feet. One of them, Mamala, managed to escape from a rather vindictive white shark (they were in love: but that’s another story). Yet, in spite of such a rich and varied cultural background, these women have had to struggle for a long time to make their way in surfing. Against common prejudices, the bullying of colleagues and, in general, a male-dominated sports culture. In the late seventies and mid-nineties, for instance, female surfers were marginalized: minimal sponsorships, laughable prize money, and no media exposure. There was no market for them. And whenever the girls came out to ride a wave as high as four storeys high, well, the boys came in packs: «Go home, we’re the only ones who can stay here». The more extreme version of the sport, big waves, was off limits to them. Preposterous. There was no room for women. Not unless they showed their bodies to the photographer on duty. And then, driven by the spirit of Mamala, they decided to take that space. A challenge within a challenge. Beyond the limit, remember? Bianca Valenti, Keala Kennelly, Paige Alms and Andrea Moller found a gap between the waves full of stereotypes and clichés. Surfer and filmmaker Dayla Soul, on the other hand, proved that there was more to these girls than just attractive bodies. They also had injuries, terrible struggles against natural forces, bruises. But the struggle, the true one, was well away from the sea. In 2016, the Committee for Equality in Women’s Surfing was founded. It called for, and got, equal treatment, along with compensation. «I love the sound of giant waves, it’s like a bomb that explodes and unleashes its energy on you», Valenti’s words. The reality, they say, exceeds dreams. Today, after the pandemic, women’s surfing (excuse the cliché) is finally riding on the crest of a wave. It is now an Olympic discipline, but more importantly, it no longer makes a distinction between men and women. «I would have never expected equal pay to become a reality», says Tatiana Weston-Webb, 25, among the world’s top athletes. She is one of the queens of the professional circuit. She is a melting pot of nationalities that have never known borders: she is Brazilian, but also American and British. «It means a lot», she adds mainly talking about equality, especially because the echo generated has drawn companies, brands, strong names in luxury. And so the struggle has become an opportunity. The opportunity has become a story, also via social networks: wonderful places, celebrity shots, endless waves. Beauty distant from exploitation. In 2019, the World Surf League, the governing body of professional surfing, warned photographers not to focus on the bikinis of female athletes. A lot, in any case, still remains to be accomplished. Big waves professionals, for example, still receive fewer endorsements than males. But thanks to social media, female surfers have been able to express themselves. And to display that happiness Captain Cook talked about. Point Break again: «It’s a state of mind, where first you lose yourself and then you find yourself».

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