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Surfing's Popularity With Girls, Women Is Up

More than 300 are expected to participate this weekend in Malibu water-sports event.

August 17, 2003|Julie Tamaki | Times Staff Writer

A mix of fear and excitement filled Arrian and Niema Maize as they used their arms Saturday to paddle into the water off Malibu, with their godmother, Anita Meacham, in tow.

Within moments, the trio took their first stab at surfing as the blue waves off Surfrider Beach bounced around them.

"I fell off the board three times," said Arrian 10, as she made her way back to land. "It's not as easy as it looks."

"It was fun except for the rocks," Niema, 12, said.

"It's like facing one of my first fears," added an exhilarated Meacham, who paddled out on her board but never quite managed to pop up on top of it. "I'm really afraid of the ocean."

Meacham and her goddaughters, who rose at 4 a.m. to travel from Fontana to Malibu, are among a growing number of women and girls, no longer content to hang by the beach, who are plunging into the ocean with surfboards in hand.

Organizers of the fifth annual Wild Woman Waterday, a two-day event that continues today, expected more than 300 women and girls to show up at Surfrider to learn to surf, swim in the ocean, paddle and compete in surfing, running and other events.

"We help to make them feel less self-conscious," said event producer Mary Setterholm, founder of the Hermosa Beach-based Surf Academy. "Instead we say: 'You go, girl.' "

Setterholm credits Title IX, the 1972 law that created new sports opportunities for women and girls, for changing attitudes about females as athletes and helping generate interest among women of all ages in surfing.

"There are a lot of mothers that didn't get the opportunity seeing it there for their daughters. And they're going to make sure they go through that door," she said.

Others credit Hollywood movies such as "Blue Crush," about women's surfing and its lifestyle, and MTV's "Surf Girls," which follows a group of amateurs as they compete at surfing events.

Of an estimated 1.6 million surfers in the United States in 2002, about 25% were women, compared to 19% the prior year, said Marie Case, managing director of Board-Trac, an Orange County-based marketing and research firm that specializes in the action sports industry.

"Every year our enrollment has doubled," said Coco Tihanyi of the La Jolla-based Surf Diva school, which opened in 1996. Last year more than 5,000 people, mostly women, took lessons, said Tihanyi, the company's marketing and development director.

Surf Diva is among the growing number of surf academies, publications and clothing lines that have materialized in recent years to serve female surfers.

One of the vendors at Saturday's event was Surf Chick, a Ventura-based clothing line that makes board shorts, T-shirts and other surf accessories for women, spokeswoman Vanessa Comar said. To appeal to budding surfers, the company recently began manufacturing a Surf Chickie line for girls 2 years old and up.

"The girls are just getting younger and younger," Comar said.

Women from several generations gathered at Saturday's event. At one point, Setterholm, who has been surfing 35 years, lent her expertise to first-time competitor Mary Eaton, 27, of Pacific Palisades. Eaton took her first surfing lesson at last year's Wild Woman Waterday and later signed up for additional lessons at Setterholm's Surf Academy.

The sport had such an affect on Eaton, a graphic artist, that she switched jobs and homes so she could be closer to the ocean.

"I'm so nervous," Eaton told Setterholm on Saturday.

"Mary, I want you to trust what you know," Setterholm responded. "If you think, 'That wave's going to break on me,' it probably is."

Eaton attached a leash to her ankle and paddled out but popped up on the board only after her contest was over.

As Setterholm watched Eaton from the beach, 9-year-old Kirra Kehoe approached her to ask her how the competition was being judged.

Kirra, who started surfing when she was 5, then shared her latest surfing accomplishment with Setterholm.

"I got a wave on my longboard," said the bikini-clad youngster. "I was dancing on my board."

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