Not many parts of our culture encourage us to trust our bodies; to believe in the competence of this magnificent creation, the “now” point of millions of years of the creative experimentation called evolution. We are taught to clean up our bodies, to make our bodies smaller, to accessorize them, to perhaps consider surgically altering them.
But surfing requires us to trust our bodies; to move into an intuitive understanding of the shifting watery world around us. It’s the gift of play in a spontaneous environment that shakes us out of our heads and back into our incredible bodies. How we play is saturated with the ideas, ideals, and mores of the world in which we live.
It’s a dead-end road trying to compare men’s surfing to women’s surfing. Sure, some women have come to mimic the styles of men that are judged (mostly by other men) as “good” surfers, but generally speaking women and men just surf differently. And that’s something to be celebrated, not compared and contrasted.
Outside of the narrow crowd who experience surfing as a sport, most of us live into riding waves as a playful dance, an art, a fluid exchange of pulsing energy that animates every living thing.
While watching a Cirque du Soleil performance, a thought I’d had about surfing was reaffirmed. I watched as men acted out impressive, powerful, and intricately choreographed acrobatic stunts. Then I noticed that there weren’t any women performing those stunts. Rather, women tended to be in roles that highlighted flexibility and grace: those roles that generally focused on form. No one wondered, “Why aren’t the female performers doing the tricks the men are?” No one was making assessments about men or women being better or worse performers than another. It’d be totally irrelevant to do so. If the whole show were a feat of only flexibility or daring acrobatics, it’d be much less impressive. Diversity of movement and bodies therein is key to the show’s success.
One of the powers of women’s surfing is its ability to redefine femininity before our very eyes, to reconstruct it as something built of strength and competence, agility and power, but without sacrificing the traditional characteristics we’ve developed, like grace and flexibility.
Surfing might contribute to reimagining womanhood as something more about ability and less about fragility.
None of this matters much when we are fully present in the moment of utter bliss that surfing allows, playing in the magic of a clean, lively ocean. Still, surfing is more than just riding waves.
In the ocean we have the opportunity to choreograph our own sliding steps on every wave, to move as we feel, to flail and to samba however we choose. And it’s these authentic, creative moments, where we’re fully embodied in who we are and where we are that are cracking the rigid, old definitions of a passive womanhood and the newer, perhaps equally destructive, definitions of a consumerist womanhood. These embodied moments beg us to topple patriarchal systems, because when we’re in our bodies it’s so easy to feel the hollowness of division and oppression. Wholeness, connection, strength and creativity invite us in.
We’re more than what we wear, who we love, how we surf, what we produce. Those attributes may be part of us, but none define us wholly.
Ultimately, there is no “right” way to ride a wave; surfing allows us infinite creativity and diversity.
Similarly, there’s no “right” way to be a woman. The only wrong womanhood is the one that’s unrealized, oppressed or withheld.
There’s no “right” femininity. It’s up to us to shirk the silly systems that might have us believe otherwise, and to embody our passions and our lives without apology.
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Author: Lauren L. Hill
Editor: Katarina Tavčar
Photo: Dave Rastovich & Ming Nomchong