Before I had children, a local barista in my home town asked me if I really surfed, “or do you just drive around with a surfboard on top of your car all day?” I took this question, and the smirk and raised eyebrows that accompanied it, to mean that a 21-year-old girl couldn’t possibly enjoy surfing – I must have been doing it to impress a guy or look super cool. This could not have been further from the truth. For me, surfing was about solo adventuring and clearing my mind. My reasons for surfing may have been different to guys competing against each other or perfecting their airs but it was just as legitimate. And yet, I felt completely alone as a female surfer not surfing to be noticed. I loved to catch a wave, any wave. I loved to sit on my board and close my eyes. I loved long rides that I could relax into. But I was too stunned to tell the barista that; I just started buying my coffee from a different cafe.
Fast forward 13 years and I am a mum with two children aged seven and five. My surfing has not improved much but my love for surfing burns even brighter. I live with my family in Crescent Head, paradise for a lady who loves long, slow right handers and pandanus trees. Surfing not only brings me joy and exhilaration, it provides me with a meditative space to process the rest of my life and my roles as mother, wife, journalist and homemaker. Surfing is my ‘me time’ where I can challenge myself to tackle bigger waves, try something new or simply sit in the ocean. The lessons I learn in the surf transfer to the rest of my life and build my confidence as an individual who is more than the sum of her roles.
There is another dimension to surfing I experience as a woman that I missed out on in the surfing culture I grew up in as a girl – the camaraderie between women in the surf. In the line-up, I meet other mums having a break from their families. I meet teenage girls who cheer each other on, their fresh, innocent joy is what I hope for in my own daughter when she hits teenager-land. As a girl, I paddled into an intimidating sea of men trying to give me handy hints to improve my surfing. Now I feel confident that I will be welcomed with smiles and respect from both men and women – not because I am a good surfer, but because we share the same passion for the ocean and love of the sport. If we’re lucky, we might catch sight of a surfing dolphin or spouting whale – experiences that are enhanced by sharing and do not depend on surfing ability.
There has never been a better time to be a woman and surf. I never dreamed that I could be a stay at home mum and still surf – my lifeline when the kids were small. Back then, I belonged to a surfing mums group that allowed me to not only keep my surfing alive but make friends with women who shared an interest that went beyond nappies and sleep times. Even nowadays when I surf with my mum friends, we all cheer when someone catches a great wave. There is no competition, no seriousness, just pure unadulterated love of the ocean. For me, surfing is a prayer, a time of peace where I never fail to feel spontaneously grateful for my big, messy life. As I slide off a long, glassy wave and see my kids climbing the pandanus trees with their friends, watched by a couple of trusted mums I feel incredibly grateful to live at a time and place where women are not defined by their roles and responsibilities to others. Surfing enhances my individuality, ties me to a healthy community and cleans my soul. If the barista from my home town ever asks a girl these days if she “really surfs”, I hope she surprises him with an enlightened answer and leaves him speechless. Or perhaps he’s tried it himself and now knows that the joy of surfing is not reserved for the handful of talented boys on the cover of Tracks. Surfing is now for everyone, and our children, communities and souls are better for it.