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Wahine World

These are no ornamental bikini babes. They're women who can shred the left breaks and shoot the tube. And as their numbers grow at O.C. beaches and elsewhere, so does their influence.

September 11, 1996|LAURA ACCINELLI | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Girls have come a long way since Gidget.

They travel into outer space. They sit on the Supreme Court. And they surf the world's waves--confidently and in new shorts that stay in their place, unlike the women who wear them.

Surfing is being forced to confront its contradictions: Avowedly countercultural, it is also traditionally chauvinistic. Long regarded as ornamental sand maidens in a male-dominated sport, women have evolved from surfer chicks into assertive wahines--Hawaiian for "women"--who will not waive their water rights.

Now with their own grass-roots organizations, their own specially designed gear and their own magazine, more and more women once beached in bikinis are paddling out to shred and carve up the sea. They're surfing despite the whines--and occasional whacks--of territorial dudes who still view women on boards as "kooks," who "snake," or steal, their waves.

"The first time I went surfing, the towheads in the water were all male, and I felt like they were vibing me--'Eewww, it's a girl! It's a geek!' " recalls Elizabeth Glazner, 32.

Glazner had always wanted to surf, and when she met Marilyn Edwards in 1993, she found her teacher.

As a teenager in Long Beach, Edwards, 43, used to paddle her red Gordie down the San Gabriel River, past the jetty, through the marina and across two channels to surf at a special spot off Seal Beach called "the Crabs."

"When I complained about the bad vibes from the guys," Glazner says, "Marilyn shrugged and said, 'Oh, it's always been this way.' And that just infuriated me."

And so did surfer magazines, with what Glazner calls their soft-core representation of women.

In August 1995, Glazner, a journalist and self-described "eco-feminist," and Edwards, a speech therapist, launched Wahine, the first surfing magazine for women.

"We assume we have a place in the water, not that we have to fight for it," Glazner says.

*

Their place in the waves is sizable. There are 1.75 million surfers in the United States, and 260,000 are women--a figure growing by 15% a year, according to the Surf Industry Manufacturers Assn.

"There are some enlightened guys, but then there are those male egos that feel threatened by women and take it personally," says Deb Hopewell, whose biweekly Surf Check column has been appearing for a year in the San Jose Mercury News.

Stories of miffed males abound, says Hopewell, who started surfing four years ago. Recently, she says, a surfer burned her on a wave and she kicked back to avoid a collision. He did it again, saying: "What are you going to do about it, Petunia?"

"It was so hilariously sexist, I laughed," she recalls.

Women and men alike credit Lisa Andersen, the first women's world champ from the United States since 1988 and the first mother to win a surfing title, with breaching long-standing barriers.

Andersen is tanned, blond, photogenic and, not coincidentally, has seized the attention of corporate marketers, such as Quiksilver and Motorola. Consistently named "favorite surfer" by young women in the National Scholastic Surfing Federation, she has inspired women to take to the waves. In less than a year the number of females in the Huntington Beach-based organization has doubled.

*

Surfing has been encrusted with macho attitudes since it entered pop culture in the late 1950s and '60s. Surf sounds and beach movies established a lasting image of tanned, rebellious boys on waves and tanned, submissive blonds on shore.

"The girls were on the beach working on their tans; that was their job" recalls Dean Torrence of Jan & Dean, who, along with the Beach Boys, were icons of surf music in the 1960s. His music, he says, reflected the reality on Will Rogers State Beach--his beach.

But in her movies, says Annette Funicello, women crossed the line in the sand. Funicello's character, Dee Dee, caught waves right alongside Frankie.

It happened, of course, only through movie magic.

"A pro tried to teach me to surf, but it didn't work. I am not a surfer," Funicello says.

Still, she adds, "women have come a long way, and it's about time. It does my heart good to know they are out there surfing."

It's not bad for business, either. At Jason Senn's Endless Summer Surf Camp, all 15 students enrolled in a recent weeklong session at San Onofre State Beach were female. The youngest was 12, the oldest 50.

What's transporting many women into the sport is the long board, which began a strong comeback in the 1980s and has taken off this decade. The mellow long board is easier to use. And it doesn't weigh a ton anymore.

Most liberating, however, has been the advent of women's board shorts, cut to reveal only the wearer's strength and skill. Men, say female surfers, have no idea how uncomfortable and humiliating it was to surf in a swimsuit.

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