National Bikini Day and the Still- Entrenched World of Surfing
I had no idea. The announcement landed in my inbox. Apparently we were supposed to be celebrating the invention, by Louis Reard, a one-time engineer of all things, of the tiny two-piece that flat out scandalized everyone when it first appeared July 18th, 1946. Named after the island that America had just blasted with an atom bomb, the skimpy swim suit had about the same effect on the beach scene.
That was seven years before I made an appearance on this blue marble.
And it was a very long time before-even growing up in Florida- I was brave enough to wear one.
These days those early bikinis look downright tame. With thongs being all the rage -although I have yet to enjoy a thin piece of floss getting stuck in the mailbox- these days (the BF looks superb in one) it’s hard to recall a time when the exposure of the belly was considered scandalous.
The problem is that today, not a whole lot of us look particularly good in a bikini, especially since Krispy Kreme Donuts managed to move West past the Mississippi. That rather put the damper on the beach bod, as it were.
Beach Boys, Bikinis and Surfer Culture
When I was growing up in the Sixties, the Beach Boys (https://www.thebeachboys.com/) and bands like them extolled the California surfer life, and girls in skimpy bathing suits. I am not going to stoop to saying those were simpler times, because that decade had its own set of horrific issues, ranging from assassinations to Civil Rights unrest to the Vietnam War. If we only listened to the music, it would sound as though all we really had to worry about was catching the next wave. California had not yet been Californicated, and the beaches were endless experiences of carving waves, impressing the beach candy, and getting laid after the evening bonfire. Disney made a string of beach party movies (http://mentalfloss.com/article/29007/party-frankie-annette-7-official-beach-party-movies) starting in 1963 which set the tone for the conversation about girls, boys and waves. Girls don’t ride them, they don’t make them. They make the sandwiches.
Still, it sounded magical. When I was in my teens growing up in Central Florida (where there most certainly is a surfing culture) a handsome kid from Malibu visited our church. I was completely smitten, if for no other reason than where he was from. California. I was thirteen, a farm girl. I had a small concrete garage where I practiced my skateboard moves- all of ten feet total, and the rest of the road was sandy clay. To say the least, the idea of a true Beach Boy was beyond the beyond.
Malibu. It sounded exotic. The town’s name spoke to me of Beach Boy heaven. It didn’t hurt that this kid had turquoise eyes, and a surfer’s body. I was in love. Or so I thought. Then he went back to that elusive, exotic place and I stayed in Florida.
The Ugly Underbelly
There was a nasty underbelly to all this fun, especially because the drug culture, which really took hold during the Sixties, has continued its grip on the surfing community, most especially those who are pros. Far too many of the world’s top surfers were high on something illicit while competing and others have died horrific deaths as a result (https://www.tracksmag.com.au/news/are-professional-surfers-using-drugs-426346.) Cocaine, heroine and other drug use have been woven into this culture from the very beginning, belying the healthy-looking bodies and sunshine culture that the sport promises. Many of those healthy-looking men have died lonely deaths from overdoses far from the beauty of the beaches they love, leaving wives, kids and broken families behind.
The surfing community, while denying its existence, has long been plagued by drug use, which, as a movement born in an anti-establishment period, they never grew out of. Surfing aficionados heartily believe in the Endless Summer. Many travel all over the world in search of the Best Waves. I’ve been on some of those southwest Australian beaches which end in ragged rock. Seen the huge breakers off South American shorelines. A mistake is brutal, just like skydiving. Water is just as unforgiving as hitting the ground at 120 mph. As a skydiver who has lost her main parachute twice, I can speak to both the thrill and the chill of the Oh SHIT moment your chute won’t open or you’re tangled.
Let me be clear. If you’re on drugs right then, it might keep you from panicking, but it also might well keep you from reacting appropriately. Right about the time you start thinking OH SHIT the drugs could well impede your ability to react. Suddenly you’re smashed into the sand with all the power of tons of water, and that, as they say, is all she wrote.
Getting Old as a Surfer is Tough on a Guy
As surfers age, or age out of competition, the hard truth of their existence can sometimes be hard to bear. It’s fascinating to me that surfing terminology still uses the nearly ancient terms “FAR OUT” or “GNARLY” to describe a superb experience. I was in my teens when that was popular. That was more than forty years ago. To me that’s an indication, to a degree, of a sport stuck in time, people who refuse to age, and especially of men who have grave difficulty moving forward with the times.
Drug use is rampant in the sport in part to handle the inevitable jitters that any mere mortal might experience while paddling out to catch a monster wave. Plenty of folks drown while trying, and plenty of professional surfers bite the bullet when they find themselves in the soup of a wave up to 80 feet high. Frankly that would scare the living shit out of me, too. There are plenty of stories of teen professional surfers, and those non professionals, in search of that ultimate experience who marched out into hurricane force winds to ride the ultimate wave. That resulted in the ultimate experience, too. https://www.news.com.au/technology/environment/promising-16yearold-surfer-zander-venezia-dies-after-catching-a-wave-during-hurricane-irma-in-barbados/news-story/cd79a047d722e41f074cd605f4dab549.
Supremely talented surfing legend Laird Hamilton, who was also beset by drug and alcohol use, is now 52. Married to Gabby Reese, the Olympic volleyball champion, his drug and alcohol use almost derailed their marriage. Hamilton has since come clean and now The Guardian writes about his workout regimen https://www.theguardian.com/global/2018/jun/10/why-laird-hamilton-is-still-making-waves-surfing-legend-lifestyle-guru?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WYM-06142018%20copy&utm_content=WYM-06142018%20copy+CID_c77eb6081cee38844e099b7ddfd8c35e&utm_source=campaignmonitor%20outsidemagazine&utm_term=with%20these%20ten%20tips. He’s the exception in a culture which lionizes a way of life that the sun set on some forty years ago.
In other words, we’re still lionizing male surfers.
The other major shift- which is broadly resisted, demeaned, scoffed at and ridiculed is the simple fact that times are changing in this still deeply-traditional sport. Where others, ranging from ski racing to endurance races, have begun to acknowledge the primacy of extraordinary female athletes, surfing suffers a vicious nostalgia.
One woman’s journey, albeit she isn’t a pro, is outlined in the following https://www.theliftedbrow.com/liftedbrow/women-in-sport-surfing-is-my-feminist-origin. Australia is a bastion for male domination. I lived there for four years in the eighties, and can speak to the extreme resistance to the rise of women in just about anything. It’s built some powerful women as a result, even as the surfing culture there- and worldwide- has tried to entrench itself against the encroachment of equally-skilled women on the waves.
They wear bikinis, mind you, but also wetsuits that a massive wave isn’t going to rip off their toned, athletic bodies if a bomb causes them to take a header.
True Beach Boy Attitude
Here’s how the surfing community felt about women surfers in 1963:
“Girls do fine when it comes to housework, raising children, doing office work, doing the twist and even riding the ankle snappers at Malibu,” wrote big-wave surfing pioneer Buzzy Trent in a 1963 article in Surf Guide magazine. “But one thing I can’t stand is girls riding (or attempting to ride) big waves.”
He went on: “You see, girls are much more emotional than men and therefore have a greater tendency to panic. And panic can be extremely dangerous in big surf. …Girls are weaker than men and have a lesser chance for survival in giant wipeouts.” *
Finally, he concluded by writing: “Girls are intended to be feminine, and big-wave riding is definitely masculine… Girls are better off and look more feminine riding average-sized waves.” source: https://www.outsideonline.com/2278221/sexism-big-wave-surfing-isnt-dead-yet
That passage makes me want to clock the arrogant SOB right in the face.
I starred his comment about panic above. Here’s my response you (now dead) arrogant asshole: I have lost my main parachute twice. Had scuba gear malfunction at 130' with a blown right eardrum leaking blood into bull shark- filled waters off the cost of South Africa. Been thrown from a horse at the full gallop and nearly stomped to death by another. Had a full grown male lion damn near rush me from the African bush and have me for lunch. Panic? FUCK YOU. My brain went stone cold deadly serious. As a result, every bit of the damned hard training I put into my competence immediately came into play. Otherwise I would have been long, long dead. Panic? Kiss my ever-loving 65-year-old ass.
Women today who brave twice the size of waves he rode in 1955 are as tough, focused, competent and dedicated as anyone who ever did the sport. They are awesome. And that is precisely the problem for those men. Besides, men panic too. It’s supremely insulting and breathtakingly ignorant to assign panic to an entire gender.
I’ll give you a classic example. A few years back while working on my kayaking skills, I was in white water in a river close to Grand Junction. One guy- about half my age- was breaking ranks and doing all kinds of foolish stunts to impress the guide rather than work on his basic skills. Half a mile down the river we hit some real white water for the level we were practicing. He and I ended up close together. He panicked and shrieked like an enormous baby. I focused on the water, my balance, paddled, and slid through the water and the rocks like silk. The Big Mouth shouted and yelled and hollered and complained, and then later bragged about how great a job he did. He was scared shitless in Class III rapids. GET OVER YOURSELF ALREADY. I would never, ever kayak with that moron again, nor would I ever trust him as a buddy. He was a big fat baby showoff with absolutely no skill or personal control, and as such, a danger to others in the water. Men panic too. I’ve seen it in every single sport I do from skydiving to horseback riding.
We Work Our Butts Off
The simple truth is that as with nearly all things, when women make a commitment to get good at a sport, they put their all into it. They train hard, learn the rules, the ropes, and work like banshees. In fact, they tend to work even harder simply because of the resistance they face by men by their presence. It’s not just skill. It’s the mental resilience to deal with the jerks who want to deny them access to the same joys of the sporting world that they have had for years. Women take the sports very, very seriously when we want to achieve at them.
Problem is not much has changed. As with so many other sports, female surfers- many of whom ride bigger waves in worse conditions than many of their male rivals, are still considered nothing more than beach candy, suitable for screwing and delivering beer to the real surfers. Men, in other words.
Trent died at the age of 77. His obit says he will be missed by the surfing community.
Um, not by women.
Many of the world’s biggest surfing competitions still have a very hard time letting women compete. And if they do, coverage is spotty at best, if at all. Money is hardly equal (sound familiar?) and men still gripe, moan, piss and whine about whether women belong.
Surfing isn’t Unique
Let’s be clear, gentlemen. Women have mastered some of the hardest lines in the world in climbing, with only a few men ever to have climbed the hardest routes. Margo Hayes (https://www.outsideonline.com/2282396/extraordinary-effort-margo-hayes) who lives right up the road from me in Boulder, has sent a number of climbs that very few men would even attempt. Yet the women who have swiftly risen to the top have been plagued by male claims about their legitimacy.
Well of course they were.
When men do it, does anyone ask about the legitimacy of the send?
Of course not.
When women pee on the bushes of those who have previously dominated a sport, the first reaction is to attack the legitimacy. Margo Hayes is just one of a whole crop of supremely talented women climbers sending shock waves through the climbing world.
Well, she must have cheated.
Well of course. How could a woman possibly do as well as, or better, than a man in the same environment?
Yet in 2017-and I daresay from now on, women are going to be owning climbing just as much as men. https://www.outsideonline.com/2268021/women-are-breaking-climbings-glass-ceiling. This is happening in endurance sports where women are consistently outshining men. Seems we are built for endurance, ladies. Cycling, running, cross country, doesn’t seem to matter. After all, we do live longer. https://www.outsideonline.com/2169856/longer-race-stronger-we-get.
When the great Canadian ice climber Margot Talbot, now in her mid-fifties, first began her sport, she climbed with men. According to Talbot, “The men never lead me lead a pitch. They wanted a belay bitch, not a climbing partner.” It wasn’t until she started climbing with other, hugely talented women that she blossomed into a superb athlete.
As women athletes continue to smash the barriers set up by frightened men who are plagued by the notion that some chick might show them up, surfing remains pigheadedly resistant to the inroads women are making. There is something about a chick on a board — a really good, competent chick on a board- that offends the male ego in a way that apparently nothing else does.
Chicks belong in bikinis. Not competing. They’re considered jakes, people who are in the way of the real surfers. Guys, in other words.
When a superbly-talented female surfer is shacked (riding a great big barrel) this is uniquely offensive. Not admirable-just offensive. Much like when runner Kathrine Switzer blasted into the Boston Marathon in 1967 during the days when Neanderthals claimed our uterus would fall out with the effort. They lost that battle too, especially when Switzer came back at age 70 and did it again. Take that, gentlemen.
It is particularly challenging in surfing for the simple reason that the act of paddling out hard to reach the bigger waves takes significant upper body strength. For every one stroke a man makes, a typical female surfer has to make three to reach the same distance. Which makes it that much more admirable that they are reaching the same heights.
Huh. Sounds like the working world, doesn’t it?
It is a particular joy to me, then, as we celebrate summer in the Northern Hemisphere, note National Bikini Day (at least in passing) and being to see positive changes in women’s surfing. As women continue to go charging (to aggressively go for a wave) out to ride the barrels for that exquisite high that most of us who love extreme sports live for, they are slowly but surely being recognized. Even the media are being told not to take closeup ass-shots of those same women- some in bikinis- which sexualize these superb athletes.
As in so many other sports, women are making waves, in this case, by riding them.
All I can say is DUDE! FAR OUT!
When you hit the beach, your boyfriend can hand you your sandwich and a beer. Party on, sisters.