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It's a New Wave: Surfer Girls Get Their Feet Wet

October 20, 1994|ELIZABETH GLAZNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Another hot morning in Palm Springs, and Dana Simrin's father is in the garage again listening to Jan and Dean on a scratchy transistor radio, standing perpendicular to the neat stripes of his Hang Ten T-shirt. A pharmacist stuck in the desert with a surfer's mentality, he can dream.

Dana turned out to be the surfer in the family.

"My dad never actually went surfing," says the 21-year-old graphics student. "When I was a little girl, he was into the surfing culture--he dressed like a surfer and listened to all the music, but surfing seemed unreachable to him."

A tiny wave slaps the sand in front of Simrin, who has walked down to this spot at 9th Street from her apartment adjacent to the Huntington Beach pier. She says her father visits occasionally, and watches her surf from the beach through binoculars.

More and more women are taking up surfing, in spite of strong gender biases that would have them beached forever in thong bikinis. They represent a swell of young female athletes claiming a place for themselves in a competitive lineup already loaded with male egos in the form of radical body surfers, body-boarders, long-boarders and teen-age boys on short boards.

Raul Duarte, who has taught the surfing class at Golden West College in Huntington Beach since 1971, says there were no women in the class when he started, but since the mid-'70s, their numbers have been steadily increasing. Now, "if there are 20 beginners in my class, 15 of them will be girls," he says.

Duarte, who also coaches the surfing team, says of eight spots on the team, one is reserved for a woman, and "a lot of girls want that spot."

Mary Lou Drummy of the Women's International Surfing Assn. says the increase of females in the water is because their parents are less inclined to discourage their daughters from taking up the sport. "They don't seem to think it's just a guy's sport anymore," she says.

"In the last few years we've seen more women in the water than ever before," says Drummy, who founded the Endless Summer Surf Camp in La Jolla three years ago. "There are more and more girls learning to surf--maybe one in five."

Jodi Holmes of the Assn. of Surfing Professionals, the Huntington Beach-based organization that conducts professional surfing contests worldwide, agrees in part with Drummy's estimate.

"As far as the new surfing population--those who are learning to surf--such a ratio is pretty realistic, especially for recreational surfing in Southern California," she says.

An increase in the number of female recreational surfers, however, isn't yet translating into more female competitors. Holmes says in the ASP, there are 582 men to 57 women, or about 1 in 10. Of the 1,200 amateur surfers competing this year in the National Scholastic Surfing Assn., only 25 to 30 are women, according to Janice Aragon, executive director of the Huntington Beach-based group.

There's a push by the ASP board to increase the number of competitions including women, which would bring a lot more of them into professional surfing.

But "sometimes (male surfers) still look at you as if you're from outer space," Holmes says. "And, in that regard, women are still a novelty. But the education process has improved our acceptance in the lineup. The guys seem to rate your surfing abilities," rather than just automatically moving in on your wave.

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In Hawaii, they call a surfer girl "wahine" (usually pronounced wa-HEE-nee)--a special word that connotes beauty, strength, stamina, fluidity and balance. Yet surfing has always been dominated by territorial young men, perhaps because there are too few waves on God's blue Earth, and too many kooks (surfer's lingo for unskilled surfer) in the water.

"In surfing, you get to be perfect for like one second," says Simrin, dreamily.

"Surfing allows women to explore their strength, their natural affinity with the ocean, and their beauty," says Debbie Beacham, 1982 world champion surfer who lives in La Jolla.

Lisa LeMasurier began surfing a few years ago and says it's one of the most difficult activities she's ever pursued.

"It's a lifestyle, not really just a sport. It goes deeper than that," says LeMasurier, 18, of Huntington Beach. "You practice and practice and then one day it just clicks, and you have this realization that you can surf. . . . A lot of people beginning are either before that point or just at that point where they decide if they're gonna go for it or not."

LeMasurier was a body-boarder when she entered Huntington Beach High School. She wanted to be a part of the surf team because of her affection for the ocean, and surfing coach Andy Verdone encouraged her to give it a try.

A lot of girls wanted to join the team, but many were intimidated by the huge learning curve the sport presented. LeMasurier pushed herself, joining the "dawn patrol" every morning on a $30 board she bought a garage sale. By her senior year, she was voted female most valuable player.

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