I was in my late 20s when I first started surfing. Growing up in Malaysia, I didn’t know much about surfing other than what I had seen in movies or on ESPN. Sure, it looked impressive, but I also knew it was highly unlikely that I would ever be capable of doing what these (mostly male) pros were doing. So, I never gave it a second thought.
That all changed when I moved to Australia at the age of 17. I spent a couple of years in Melbourne and realised how much Australians loved the outdoors. It wasn’t hard to see why. After spending a couple of years in Melbourne and Perth, I moved to the coastal city of Sydney and immediately fell in love with the beaches. I also found the surfers to be the most fascinating group of people to watch. I loved watching them lined up in a row, sitting up on their boards, and patiently waiting for that perfect wave. I’d watch in awe as they paddled into position, pop up onto their feet and start ripping up and down the wave. It was just incredible.
And it wasn’t just men out there; there were women, too, and kids of all ages, boys and girls, playing around in kiddie’s corner having a go at catching a wave. I knew instantly that this was something I wanted to learn.
I started looking into surf schools and asked a couple of my girlfriends if they were interested. That’s when I realised how hard it was to find women surfers. Even in Australia, where surf culture has been around for decades, it’s not easy to find women interested in learning to surf, especially if you live in the city. It wasn’t just my girlfriends I asked; I also asked my guy friends if they were interested. Most of them already knew how to surf and for those who didn’t, the prospect of learning with a girl just didn’t appeal to them, for whatever reason. It took me years before I finally found a girlfriend who wanted to surf and who was also a beginner. Unfortunately, I moved overseas before we had a chance to surf together.
So, I started to look online for other options and that’s when I came across women’s surf and yoga retreats. This opened up a whole new world for me, and it was exactly what I was looking for: a perfect combination of yoga and surfing, and I would get to meet other like-minded women. My first retreat was in North Stradbroke Island (40 minutes away from Brisbane), with a group of about 10 women who ranged in age from 8 to 60. I loved the fact that there was a community of women out there from all across the country (or world!) eager to embark on a journey that they never would have thought possible on their own. I loved the sense of camaraderie that I found from this supportive and nurturing group of women, most of whom were learning to surf for the first time. I knew I was hooked.
I’ve since gone on two retreats in different parts of the world and plan to go at least once a year. These retreats have instilled a love of surfing within me and I would love more women to experience this for themselves. If this piece hasn’t convinced you to give it a go, here are my top three reasons why I think more women should take up surfing:
#1: You don’t have to worry about the way you look.
Women spend so much time trying to look their best, spending countless of hours and money on makeup, hair, clothes, etc. Even when we’re working out in the gym, there’s the worry of having the right apparel and shoes. But when you’re learning to surf, all that goes out the window. Literally. Looking good is going to be the least of your concerns. In fact, you’re probably going to emerge from the water with bloodshot eyes, sunburnt in areas you never thought possible and your hair will not only resemble a bird’s nest, it’ll feel like one, too. If this doesn’t sound appealing to you, take it as a lesson in self-confidence: you’ll learn to be comfortable in your own skin and to embrace your natural beauty.
#2: You’ll face your fears.
Apart from looking a fright, many women fear drowning in the surf. This is a very real fear and one that I can relate to, especially if you’re not a good swimmer. However, most beginners start by learning to surf in the white wash, where the waves are small and have already broken, and the water is shallow (usually hip high). Of course, you could still get sucked under or caught in a rip if you don’t know what you’re doing, which is why it’s essential that you take lessons from a professional instructor or an experienced surfer who knows how to teach. Many women also worry about sharks in the water, but I can assure you that sharks are extremely unlikely to cruise around the shallow surf. You’re more likely to be attacked by your own board than attacked by a shark. And even it that does happen (which it won’t!), check out female surf icon Bethany Hamilton’s inspirational story about getting back in the water after her shark attack (again, it won’t happen to you!).
#3: You’ll feel amazing.
Whether it’s from standing up for the first time, or catching a wave on your own without being pushed, that feeling, that natural high, is something that will stay with you for a long, long time. There’s an adrenaline rush that will leave you feeling vigorous and wholesome. When that happens, it’s like you’re one with the wave, and nothing else matters. It’s a feeling well deserved after all the hard work of paddling, swallowing saltwater and at times struggling to catch your breath. The kind of exhilaration that you’ll feel is something that I still struggle to describe, other than to say that it is an absolute joy and completely worthwhile.
So there you have it. I’m still a beginner myself, but surfing is always going to be something that I will continue to seek out until the day I am no longer physically able. I hope this post will at least spark a curiosity within you that will make you want to give it a shot. Surf retreats are always a great way to start; not only do you get professional instruction but you are learning in a supportive and nurturing environment with people on the same level. You also could find a surf school, a coach, or even just find an experienced surfer willing to take you out.
The point is to just get out there. Surfing is such an amazing experience and I hope more women will start to take up.
Written by: Leona Tan