I’ve had a couple of really heated discussions with friends about the ways in which Roxy, the most well known women’s surf brand, might undermine women’s surfing by infantilizing women. With baby pink as the staple, and hearts, rainbows, and flowers the mainstays of Roxy products, women surfers are doomed to girlhood by our most supportive brand (if we choose to buy their products). Even if we don’t, Roxy still has the most media power of any women’s surf brand, and thus are a major player as a culture maker. There’s a serous lack of women’s voices in mainstream (or any stream, really) surf culture, and part of that has to do with the stereotypes of what “girl” surfers should be (giggly, smily, perpetually fun loving, light hearted, pastel donning, but still sexualized etc.). Matt Warshaw writes a really thoughtful section about the Roxy Girl image in his book The History of Surfing. It’s a wonderful book.
That’s not to put Roxy down, really. They’ve done heaps for creating notoriety for women’s surfing in general, are responsible for some innovations in women’s surf wear (like women’s boardshorts–Lisa Andersen has said that the creation of fitting boardshorts changed so much for her in the water), and they are one of the only brands that consistently support the perpetuation of women’s surfing through events internationally. But they have tended to be geared for girls, not necessarily women.
I want to see competent women, with personalities, vision, opinions, and voices (they can still be sexy) being supported by and contributing to surf culture. How many women surfers (let’s say over the age of 30) can you think of that play an active role in any surfing media source (magazines, videos, ad campaigns, etc) ? Maybe I’m a little bit out of the loop, but I can’t really think of any. Rightfully, we, as a culture, still exalt Rell Sunn and Lisa Andersen, but what about all of the other women? Where’d they go? We had some pretty solid, interesting characters in women’s surfing in the 1990’s even, but where are they now that they are rich with the experience of womanhood?
It seems like Quiksilver might be heading in the direction of making things for women, actually. I recently read an interview with Stephanie Gilmore (who is one of those women, read more about her extra-surfing accomplishments here), in it she discusses her recent sponsor switch to Quiksilver women, for whom she is the only sponsored female surfer. The rest of the “team” consists of an amalgamation of writers, musicians, stylists and –as they put it– “do-gooders.” In the interview, Gilmore says “Quiksilver women’s is kind of different. Its about the whole lifestyle and different kinds of women – from the city to the surf. There are 13 different women on the team who do all kinds of different things. It’s a really creative team. I’m the only female surfer. It really aligns well with my ambitions in life.”
With that said, the Quiksilver women “targeting 18-24 year old young females.” But, it’s an interesting step in a different direction for our culture. Perhaps other companies will follow suit and start including women (not just girls) in the surfing world?