Nothing has stoked my feminist fire like the experience of being a female surfer. And I’m sure I’m not alone in the things I’ve experienced over the years:
- I’ve had a man in a CANOE tell me to paddle harder.
- I’ve been the only woman in the sea of 40 + men on many, many occasions.
- I’ve been told the waves were too big for me, even though the man speaking those words had no clue of my ability.
- I’ve had to prove myself with every new crowd before I am taken seriously as someone who can surf.
But as I like to find the lesson in everything – even the tough stuff – it’s not without reason that I always say surfing has been my best life teacher. In fact, I’d go as far to say that surfing is one of the most powerful and effective forms of female empowerment out there.
For me personally, surfing has been nothing short of a crash course in empowerment. I don’t recognise the shy and insecure girl I was before surfing came into my life. And I know I’m not the only one. I’ve seen friends’ lives be completely and forever changed by surfing. It’s unlocked deeply-hidden creativity, given them the strength and confidence to pursue their dreams, and made them feel like anything is possible.
How is this all possible from a board sport? Well, here’s my take on what surfing teaches us about empowerment:
1. Be resilient and never give up:
When I started surfing I was comically bad. I was even coined “a spectacularly shit surfer” by a local surf teacher. Right, I thought, if there is one thing I’ll do in my time on this planet, it’s that I’ll learn to surf with some amount of grace.
It took time. I did NOT take naturally to surfing. I flailed and stumbled. I got frustrated and cried. I fell time and time again. But I never gave up. And then something clicked and it snowballed from there: once I was off, I was off.
A year later I was standing on a podium holding a trophy for winning a surf contest after doing my first ever manoeuvre on my surf board. WTF? I learned that that’s what happens when you persevere and don’t give up.
And I love this as a philosophy for life: there is no such thing as an overnight success. Instead, success blossoms from failure and picking ourselves back up again.
2. Take action before we are ready or know the outcome:
Surfing provides us with a perfect training ground for learning that growth comes from acting first and thinking later. If you wait around for the perfect conditions to catch the perfect wave (not too big, nor small, no one in your way, wind in the right direction etc) you’ll be waiting forever.
Have I taken many waves I instantly regretted because they landed me in the white water washing machine and then paddling back to the point for 15 minutes? Hell yes! But I learned something on every single wave, and anyway it’s all the paddling that makes you progress as a surfer anyway.
Transposed to life in general, this teaches us that clarity and progress comes through taking messy action, learning the lessons and course-correcting.
3. Be assertive:
I learned to surf in Peru at a time when there were literally a handful of local women surfing at the best of times. More often than not, I was alone in a literal sea of men. This was intimidating at first and there was often WAY too much testosterone flying about. But I wanted waves, so I had to get my game face on and fight for them.
As a female surfer I had to, and still have to, prove myself before being respected in the water. I learned this the hard way after being dropped in on one too many times. Now, if a wave is mine and I’m paddling and I see someone dropping in, I’ll shout loud and clear to claim it.
This art of being assertive, using our voice and claiming what’s ours is at the centre of being an empowered woman.
4. Anything is possible:
It’s widely accepted that surfing is one of the hardest sports to learn, let alone master. As anyone who’s learned to surf knows, it takes blood, sweat and tears to get anywhere with surfing. Only the super committed and potentially a little crazy ever make it past “beginner” level.
Surfing once seemed completely impossible to me (balancing on a small board while a moving body of water carries you along and you try not to fall off – what!?), but now feels almost as natural as walking.
That means that once you reach that magic milestone of actually surfing an unbroken green wave, you genuinely know that anything is possible if you put your mind to it. You’ve embodied it, so you know it’s true.
5. Small consistent actions add up:
I always say that I’m not a good surfer in the technical sense but I have spent a LOT of time in the water. Like A LOT.
Back when I was learning, there were many, many sessions when I literally caught no waves. But that was not time badly spent. You see, a wise teacher once told me “your toes must touch the water every day”. In those formative surfing years I was lucky enough to go surfing every day. Sometimes I didn’t feel like it but I kept his advice in my mind every single day.
You see, there are no wasted surf sessions. Something clicks every single time you get in the water. And that is true of everything. Consistency is key: little and often, starting small, keeping up momentum. That’s how we grow, become experts and flourish. Bit by bit: that’s how we become a little more empowered every day.
I hope this article has provided you with the inspiration to try (or continue) surfing once the world opens up again. It may just been the best thing you ever do on your journey to becoming an empowered woman!