Izzy Tihanyi rubs wax onto her surfboard, a very girly-looking longboard adorned with flowers and koi fish. Then she tucks it under her arm and tromps off toward the ocean, pausing briefly to toss a Surf Diva Surf School slogan back over her shoulder: "The best surfer in the water is the one having the most fun."
That would be either Izzy or her twin, Coco, co-owners of the La Jolla school and co-authors of the 2005 book "Surf Diva: A Girl's Guide to Getting Good Waves."
"I'm the 'Surf,' " Izzy says.
"I'm the 'Diva,' " Coco says.
The twins divide duties too. Isabelle "Izzy" Tihanyi trains surf instructors and oversees classes, while Caroline "Coco" Tihanyi handles sales, marketing, the boutique in La Jolla and the company's clothing and swimwear line. Surf Diva runs camps for boys and girls in La Jolla and operates "surf adventures" in Costa Rica for women. It also sells such products as surfboards and clothing.
Now, after coaxing thousands of females -- and some males -- onto boards over the last 12 years, Surf Diva is looking to open its first surfing school in Los Angeles County, although it has not yet settled on a site.
Although many surf businesses have been struggling in a weakened economy, the twins say that sales were up 29% in their shop in the first quarter, compared with the same period last year, and that the school's revenue was 45% higher. The owners decline to release specific sales numbers.
"A diva never tells her age, her weight or her income," Coco says.
The twins' timing was right. Female interest in surfing swelled over the last decade as surf-wear companies cranked out more products for them and the media piled on the bandwagon. "Blue Crush," a surf movie starring women that Izzy saw in the theater five times, helped spark interest when it was released in 2002.
"They jumped on that very quickly," says Sean Smith, executive director of the Surf Industry Manufacturers Assn. in Aliso Viejo.
The number of women in the U.S. surfing population rose 25% in 2002 and 37% in 2003, according to research by Board-Trac, a marketing firm in Trabuco Canyon. Since then, the proportion of female surfers has held steady at about 33%, though recent surveys suggest that may have slipped to 28% this year, says Marie Case, Board-Trac's managing director.
With another movie, or maybe a reality show, "we'd see a spike again," Case says.
As Izzy and Coco paddled into a male-dominated industry, and one where authenticity rules, it helped that they weren't posers.
"They're not putting on an act and they're not outsiders trying to take advantage of a trend," Smith says. "They've definitely grown up with surfing, and it's very clear."
For that, they can thank their parents. Paul Tihanyi, an engineer from Hungary, first perched his twins on a surfboard when they were 3 years old. (A younger sister, Valerie Tihanyi-Gelencser, lives in France, where she and her husband operate a chocolate factory.) By elementary school, they were surfing. "The waves felt so huge to us," Izzy says, "but we felt safe because we were with our dad."
Their mother, Janette Tihanyi, collected the girls from school in a '66 Mustang that was packed with dinner (maybe salade nicoise with a croissant or pate on baguettes) and took them to La Jolla Shores.
"We'd spend every afternoon at the beach, surfing, doing our homework and hanging out," Izzy says.
Both girls surfed competitively. Coco stopped competing at about 15 and Izzy continued, collecting boxes full of trophies.
Their mother, nicknamed Jaja, nurtured their diva side as well with season tickets to the opera and violin, piano and ballet lessons. The twins earned degrees in communication from UC San Diego and Izzy got a second degree in literature and writing.
After college, Coco went to work in 1989 for the Reef sandals brand in National City, near San Diego. Izzy ran YMCA surf camps and had other jobs related to surfing and skateboarding. Inspired when an all-girls' surf shop called Watergirl opened in Encinitas in 1996, Izzy decided it was time for an all-girl surf school. Her sister agreed.
Others did not.
"It was the guys out in the water who gave us a hard time. They told us we were crazy because girls didn't surf and we wouldn't have any students," Izzy says.
"And boy, did we prove them wrong," Coco says.
Within the industry, they had support. And they weren't going to be denied anyway.
"Coco and Izzy are really, really smart," Case says. "They're sensitive to the environment -- both physical and the people around them."
While Surf Diva schools girls in the intricacies of surfing, it also helps them understand the pitfalls of the sport. Guys may enjoy seeing girls on the beach, but they don't always welcome them on the waves, especially in crowded waters.
Male surfers "tend to surf with buddies," Smith says. "For women, it can be a little tough."