Surfer Girl Lesson: Beyond Beaches, Bikinis and Boards

Surfer girl ads and reality vary. The images blasted across TV, magazines and billboards can be intimidating. It’s easy to assume that every girl out on the water is going to leave you flailing in the water. I bit off more than I could chew on this surfing trip to Mexico, but experienced surfer girls taught me how to keep at it. First lesson, it’s not all beaches, bikinis and boards.

How to be a Surfer Girl
Photo: Emilie Bottiglieri – La Roca

The Surfer Girl Look

I fantasized myself as a surfer girl model, striding across the beach in Cerritos, with what I hoped looked like confidence in a cheeky, long-sleeve shorty wetsuit. My borrowed 6’4” surfboard was precariously tucked under my arm. A balmy breeze trailed my long blond hair out to tickle my back as I headed for the waves.

Reality Check

Classic beach boys – colorful board shorts, the visible crunch of dried salt in their hair, flirtatious smirks and sporty sunglasses – stopped us in the hot sand to talk about surfing, our boards and the waves. I tried to not look awkward as my fingers began to pop and stretch against the surfboard’s suddenly apparent weight. My feet burning in the hot sand. With my hair now blowing into my eyes and mouth, and my arms aching, I took a moment to appreciate how easy every surfer girl ad makes this look so breezy.

Finally, we lugged our way to the edge of the ocean. I swallowed deep and took a breath, my attempt to push the butterflies back down into the pit of my stomach.

How to be a Surfer Girl
Photo: Laurissa Cebryk – San Pedrito

“See where the waves come out from the point? They rebuild right along those rocks there, so if we hug them and the long boarders get out of the way, we’ll be able to snag some waves.” Suddenly, I became aware of just how loud the waves were when they smashed against the rocks, spray skyrocketing from the impact.

“Sounds good!” My squeaky reply was hardly optimistic. The shorter length of my board left onlookers with the illusion that I was a better surfer than I was. In reality, I had only been beyond the stage of whitewash and 9’ foamy boards a couple times.

How Did I Get Here?

When I finally met some girlfriends in town who suggested a surf trip to Mexico, I’d convinced myself I’d make more time to be surf trip-worthy before we left. It turns out I’m a fantastic procrastinator. Standing at the shoreline and outfitted like I should be, I felt far from being the surfer girl I’d hoped to be.

How to be a Surfer Girl
Photo: Katlyn Durocher – La Pastora

We counted sets and waded into the baby-blue waves during a break. My stomach rose and fell with the cadence. As if on cue, the four of us slid our bellies onto our boards, me a half-second behind, letting the ocean flood over and caress our skin as we cut the warm water with our hands.

Beginner Surfer Girl – on the Water

For the first forty minutes the only sensation I felt was the tense muscles of an animal whose flight-system was fully engaged. The first set wave washed, anyone too slow to get away, clean out. Sound ceased to exist, replaced by pressure and the ripping of water, as the wave rushed over my head and into my ears. I emerged from the swirling remains like a drowned rat, flailing for my board and gasping for breath. My head ached and I realized the dull thud I’d heard below the surface was someone else’s board connecting with my skull. I hardly had time to hope no one on shore was watching when the next wave approached.

With all the grace of a seal on land, I lugged myself back onto my board and proceeded to paddle for China, feeling comfortable only when I was so far from shore I didn’t stand a chance of catching a wave or, more importantly, having one break on me. I danced along the line of relative comfort/safety and where to catch waves. Then, one of my travel buddies caught my eye. She waved me back to the lineup where she was. With a quick inhale for courage, I paddled back into the mayhem.

From Mayhem to Ecstatic Surfer Girl

Had I been surfing with my boyfriend, I probably would have been lying on the beach. Instead, I watched my wave form and to a chorus of, “PADDLE PADDLE PADDLE!” I felt myself take off. The next sensation was of stand up. Elation loosened my muscles and eradicated any ounce of fear left from those first forty minutes. I angled down the wave and smiles. All it took was one good ride. I paddled back out to the girls, ready to take on the ocean, ecstatic at my accomplishment.

how to be a surfer girl
Photo: Katlyn Durocher – Cerritos

Round Two

We weren’t done yet. Rattling down another dirt path in our rental car, we headed out to find more beaches: La Pastora and San Pedrito. Today the nerves were back. I spent the start of the day, floating off to the side. I had decided I was content to watch the seasoned surfers get barreled by the waves.

That plan changed when, tired of watching me sit on the sidelines, an old surfing veteran called me into a wave, lecturing me about timing along the way. My first failure left me panicked, but unscathed. My second attempt tossed me off over the falls. Like a massive hand upon my back, the ocean disdainfully threw me forward into the teeth of the rocks lurking below the surface. Keeping my board clear of the treacherous ground, I dragged myself, defeated, from the ocean’s grasp. My sea visit was done for the day. 

How to be a Surfer Girl
Photo: Laurissa Cebryk – San Pedrito

Earn your Waves

After tending and re-tending to the gash in my leg, a local beach boy’s words rang in my head, “You need to earn your waves.” This, he’d said as he pointed to his various scars, flecks of soft, permanently white flesh against dark brown. I frowned, watching the hydrogen peroxide bubble. Seeing my discouragement and realizing the waves were literally putting us in way over our heads, the girls came up with the next plan to get us in the water and my confidence back on board.

How to be a Surfer Girl
Photo: Joanna Moore – La Roca

Not Done Yet

As it turned out, back on board meant an 8’6” long board rental and a beach known as La Roca. This beach was scheduled for a breezy south swell of waist-high waves. Like a sprawled out display of Starburst, we paddled out into the waves on our colorful boards. I already sensed a change in myself as I watched how this beach moved and the waves formed. It was much more tolerable, compared to the last three beaches we visited. With confidence and laughter, party waves became the name of the game. Wave after wave I was up, tracing my right hand along the blue face. Usually accompanied by one of my girls as we cruised together.

I knew I couldn’t be that bad at surfing.

We stopped only when our stomachs growled louder than the breaking of the waves off the rocks. The relief of finally having a fantastic day of surfing, mixed with the joy of finding girlfriends who helped track down suitable conditions, made for an unforgettable trip. How different would my trip have been if boys in the group were insistent on staying to ride the big swell? How much less would I have surfed without the confidence and encouragement of a good crew of girls?

Was I truly a surfer girl now?

How to be a Surfer Girl
Photo: Katlyn Durocher – San Pedrito

Back home from Mexico, in Ucluelet, B.C., I felt the call of the ocean more than ever. Despite winter wet suits and a colder Pacific Ocean, I found the surfing “froth” I discovered in the Baja, to be ongoing. While I’m still not exactly an easy, breezy magazine-worthy surfer girl, the wearing of wet suits and holding of surfboards has become a well-versed part of my life.

How To Be a Surfer Girl

My how-to for being a surfer lay far from having the short board and the cute, cheeky bikini. It lie in confidence building, surrounding yourself with the right people, and good ol’ time spent in the ocean. Thanks to the women I’m proud to call my friends, I felt more prepared than ever to paddle out after our trip – even by myself. Without them, I would probably still be playing in the whitewash on a 9’ foam top board, or worse, not surfing at all.

Time and time again, I find that what truly opens doors is empowered women, empowering other women. Whether it’s starting up a new business, testing out a design, trying to drop a few pounds, or getting better at a sport that you think everyone already crushes, you can always count on a girl gang to push you beyond where you thought you could be – to be your cheerleader. Even with a boyfriend who surfs and wanted me to get out there, it was truly the women in my life who made it possible.

Can’t get enough surfer girl? Learn to surf and explore the magical island town of Tofino next.

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