''Ladies, your heat has started.''
At the quarterfinals of the OP Pro, a proving ground for California surfers on the amateur circuit, Richard Langen is plunked in a beach chair on the sand, his eyes fixed on the tattered waves. Just off the Oceanside pier, four surfers bob on the water as the Isley Brothers' ''Who's That Lady?'' floats over the loudspeaker. One of those ladies--chestnut hair, freckles, Hotline wetsuit, yellow jersey--is Langen's daughter Kyla. And so far the community college student and national collegiate surf champion is acing the competition.
''Last wave for yellow, 5.5,'' the announcer bellows.
The conditions this morning are lousy; the surf is windblown and small. One after another, the women take off only to see the waves collapse into mush. Langen, an affable guy of 53 clad in a sweatshirt and jeans, teaches the surfing class at Oceanside High. He's been coming to contests like this since Kyla was 15 and ripping for Carlsbad High's surf team. Even so, ''it's so nerve-racking for me that I'm thinking about not going'' anymore to her competitions.
Yes, Langen is the one who first pushed Kyla into the waves at the age of 12, the one who saw that magical moment when she popped up and he knew she was a natural. He encouraged her to compete, and when she asked for surfboards for Christmas, he bought them. He still loves to surf with his daughter, but things are different. Now his 20-year-old baby chases the big waves in Hawaii. ''I'd never do that,'' he says.
After a few dramatic moments when a fin suddenly snaps off her board and she has to race to shore to grab another one, Kyla manages to land first in the heat. She's made the semifinals. Langen grins, but right now he's too busy to celebrate. He's hunched over in the sand screwing a new fin in his daughter's board.
Kyla's ascension as top surfer in the family is a sign of the times. When she first started paddling out in the waters off the coastal town of Carlsbad, she was usually the only girl out there. Despite its veneer as the apogee of everything cool and free-spirited, surfing was chiefly male terrain. Ian Cairns, founder of the Assn. of Surfing Professionals, once described it in less-than-flattering terms as a sport ''run by a lot of rad male chauvinist pig dudes.''
Well, pig dudes, welcome to the revolution.
If you haven't set foot on a beach lately, you haven't seen the revolution in women's surfing that's sweeping the California shoreline. While no one can cite precise statistics, most observers agree that of the roughly 1.5 million hard-core surfers in America, about 10% to 20% are female and that women's surfing is growing exponentially. ''I never thought I'd see so many girls in the water in my life,'' says Jessica Trent Nichols, a marketing manager at Billabong, the surfwear company that launched its girls' line only three years ago.
Evidence of the revolution is everywhere. A few weeks ago, on an overcast Sunday at Oceanside, I counted a half-dozen women and girls in the water, including a surfer mom in a rash guard and board shorts whose shaggy-haired husband played with their two small children on the shore while she surfed. Five short summers ago, that scene would have been rare. For many guys, who used to disdain the idea of sharing their male-dominated turf with a female, it's actually cool to have a girlfriend who surfs.
Female surfers are also changing the marketplace. In the last two years at least a dozen new surf schools with names such as Just Sisters and HB Wahine have cropped up along the coast. The already established schools are being flooded with students--from 7-year-old boogie boarders to middle-age moms. Isabelle ''Izzy'' Tehayni, the force behind Surf Diva, one of the best-known schools catering to women and girls, has seen enrollment in her surf camps double every year since 1996, when she founded the La Jolla school. This summer she had to hire 15 more instructors just to keep up with demand. Mary Hartmann, who has been running Swell Time Surf School in Dana Point since 1987, used to get one or two girls in her surf camps in the early '90s. This year the camps filled in a day, and of the 220 kids who signed up, 210 were girls. The groms are also getting tinier. At last fall's Roxy Wahine Classic, an amateur surf contest in San Onofre where girls mingled with the female pros sponsored by Roxy, the youngest competitor was 4.