Where the women at?

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?

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13 Comments

  1. Good comments ,however you have failed to mention Layne Beachley ,who is very prominent(at least inAustralia) with working towards forward thinking as adult female surfers, she is involved in bringing surfing and other exploits to women as a whole .
    Heartily agree with doing away with the little goddie two shoes Roxy approach !

    1. You are so right, Von. Layne has done much for our sport. I guess I’d just like to see women like her getting more coverage in the mainstream mags (I haven’t seen much of her in US surfing magazines since she stopped competing, really). Thanks for bringing her up!

  2. Isn’t Quiksilver the parent company for Roxy? It’s good that they’re making an effort to change things, but I kind of worry that maybe they’re just trying to capture another portion of the market by convincing people that they’re stepping away from the stereotyping they see in Roxy branding.

    Really good post, a lot to think on…

    1. Thanks Nathan. Yup, Quiksilver is the parent company of Roxy. You’re right, of course their motivations are purely business oriented and meant to wrangle an existing market into buying their things, but, at least they are acknowledging the market of “women” that exists. Better than just ignoring us, I guess?

  3. I’m with you 100 percent. Even the routine use of the word “girl” in surf media when the person is more than 18-years-old annoys me no end. And don’t get me started on companies such as Reef and its objectification of women in its ads.

    My response is to not buy anything from companies such as Roxy and Reef. Whenever possible I buy surf clothing made by women-owned companies such as Mooloolaba or from stores such as Title 9. The downside to this is that I pretty much have to buy these products on-line because surf stores generally don’t carry them, which is a problem because I try to support local business as much as possible.

    The Steph Gilmore campaign seems like a step in the right direction.

  4. Being an, a hem, elder woman of the surf culture of sorts and recently being asked to help generate images for several surf brands as a fine artist I feel compelled to broaden the spectrum for women. I purposely & very intentionally placed Rell Sunn in artworks for a show this summer. When discussing this very topic with a fellow artist who does indeed work with Roxy, she too said to me, “I’ve had pressure to paint it pink for them” to which she also said, “I just can’t”. I said to her, “don’t you dare, broaden the spectrum”.

    I’m doing my best to be mindful of images I create as a visual artist and to be well aware of the power of visual imagery. This blog post is very timely for me as I venture into new works for several brands this year so thank you. All women, all ages and all shapes and sizes (to me) are beautiful in the water surfing and well deserve a voice. Viva women like Linda Benson, that silver streak of hair flying down the line getting tubed!

    1. Hi Susan,

      Thanks so much for commenting. Thank you also for your mindfulness in helping to creatively craft women’s surfing culture. Imagery is so influential and it will take women like you to help shift the light of women’s surfing to include a broader spectrum of experiences, not only those of young girls.

      lovingly,
      Lauren

  5. i am still saddened by the approach of surf culture towards women. referring to women as “girls” sends a message of inherent weakness. it’s up to us, who know the difference, to make our voices heard. as a consumer one has a choice. i decided a long tome ago that i surfed but was not going to buy into much of the surf culture because of the sexism encountered in most magazine ads and features.

    and i too buy from Title Nine – by women for women. at least, as far as i know. 🙂

  6. Enjoying… the art of surfing…cultures our world…one baby girl and baby boy at a time…Thankfully …It is FREE-STYLE !…Creating equality for our children in the ocean…celebrating …one wave at a time….free .
    Corporate surfing… is at the heart of changing too…. Consume simplicity…it is abundant …as You know …and….oh so nourishing. !
    We are “AT”… ” the eye of the hurricane ” during this whirlwind time of change…centered and peaceful.
    Go team ocean spirit …girl’s and boy’s,…mermaiden and mermen…everywhere !
    …one perfect love ….equal.
    Pink is a color in the beautiful morning and afternoon sky… Radiant ! angelfish wear it too…. Mahalo , lovely lady of the sea .

  7. Hi Lauren,
    I just came across your blog and the article and I felt compelled to comment. I agree with what you have written. My best friend Ali and I felt so strongly for quite some time that surfing lacked a more independent female brand that could truly evolve women’s surfing, and most importantly, be relative to ALL women (and men). So much so, that we both put our heads together, and with a big deep breath said goodbye to our past employers and started a brand called Tallow. Please check our website http://www.tallowgallery.com. I trust this can be of interest to you and your readers in light of the article and know we’re one group that are doing something about it : )

  8. Hi Lauren,
    I just got the good news 2 days ago that I have the “green light” to go ahead with some beautiful images of you surfing that the very talented Todd Glaser took for some original oil & encaustic (wax) collages I’ll be creating for my next Spring show at Surfindian in Pacific Beach, CA. It’s been such fun working with Todd for this project & when the images of you longboarding popped up on the screen I had to have them to work with. We’re also doing a few pieces on Joel Tudor, Rob Machado and others. May I do you justice with the new works. I’m a fan.
    http://www.susanwickstrand.blogspot.com or http://www.susanwickstrand.com
    Peace to you,
    Susan

    1. Wow, I can’t really imagine a more flattering message. The fanship is mutual, Susan. I feel so honored to get to play a small part in some of your stunning creations. I hope that I can be there for the show–can’t wait to see what else you’ll dream up.
      Lovingly,
      Lauren

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