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Have Swimsuit, Will Learn

July 19, 1999|BEVERLY BEYETTE

Out there riding the waves, "there's a whole pecking order," says Isabelle "Izzy" Tihanyi--and it's not a guy-girl thing. "If you're a good surfer, you're going to get the good waves. And you're not seen as a threat, especially if you're cute."

Turning out good women surfers is the idea at Tihanyi's La Jolla-based Surf Diva Surf School, where an all-female staff teaches the fine art of hanging 10. And where, she says, you can flunk "only if you're not having fun."

Tihanyi, 33, an "avid surfer" who, while at UC San Diego, was a national collegiate champion, has taught teenagers, housewives and even a 68-year-old woman from landlocked Kansas who was definitely "going for it."

Surfing, Tihanyi acknowledges, "is very intimidating for a lot of women. They're more easily embarrassed. They think everyone's looking at them. But when they have a female instructor and all females around them, that melts away."

Women, she adds, have different challenges, such as less upper body strength. "We suggest swimming [one must be able to swim to enroll], push-ups and yoga, which is very good for flexibility. You can surf at any age, as long as you have flexibility."

On the plus side: "Women tend to listen better. They're more open to instruction. The best surfer is the one having the most fun, and women are more in tune with that. We don't try to outsurf each other" but, rather, to encourage one another.

"I don't like to say we're as good as the men, but we are catching up very quickly. Our top women are starting to surf the big waves."

Some women are able to stand up on their first try, while others take several months. "It takes about a minute to start having fun," Tihanyi says. "It takes about a year to where you're controlling the board."

Some women do worry about sharks, but Tihanyi likes to believe, as she's heard, that sharks are attracted to testosterone, not estrogen. Besides, she asks, "when do you ever hear of a surfer girl getting chomped? I'd be more worried about getting a sunburn than being eaten by a shark."

Surf Diva Surf School offers weekend clinics year-round, private lessons, summer teen and adult camps, and bachelorette surfing parties. And, she says, "if a guy wants to learn, we're not going to turn him away." For the men, there's "Boys on the Side," private or group sessions with a male or female instructor.

Surf Diva Surf School: (619) 454-8273.

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