Elevate Difference

Surfer Girls in the New World Order

I was twelve years old when my mom moved to South Florida and I was first introduced to surf culture. My step-dad’s shed was filled with boards all different shapes and sizes and on the few rare occasions I did paddle out, it was always with him by my side—and with his help navigating the powerful ocean. I was interested and wanted to learn, but I was scared. I wouldn’t be good enough, I wasn’t strong enough, the boys would make fun of me, I’d get in their way, they wouldn’t like me. I had never been one to be intimidated before, especially by boys, but standing on the beach in my first bikini made me acutely aware of myself and of the dozens of boys that dominated the landscape. No matter how I longed to rush into the water and ride waves, my feet remained planted on the beach.

Krista Comer recognizes these and a host of other issues and arguments related to girls’ experience in surf culture. But rather than positing girls as victims of alienation, Comer explores the innovative and inspiring way in which girls have participated in a traditionally male-dominated sub-culture and what this means for women’s presence in the growing global economy.

Immersing herself in girl surf culture, Comer has constructed an accessible body of research that, while very readable, offers a fiercely intelligent commentary. Seeking a deeper understanding of women’s relationship to surfing as play and profession, and how this constructs and re-constructs traditional female gender roles, Comer focuses her research on the emergence of female professional surfers and their role in developing surf camps and trainings that enable girls and women to learn to surf. Positing surf culture as a unique site where community, play, environment, and economy intersect in a common narrative shared by most who participate in the culture, Comer pays specific attention to how female presence in the growing surf industry is part of an increased presence in the greater global economy: “Surfing thus constitutes rhetoric of optimism about the potential of globalization to advance the greater good.”

Beginning with an analysis of Gidget and the Las Olas Surf Camp, Comer deftly articulates how participation in surfing offers girls a space for the “expansion of gender norms related to femininity,” while also remaining critically aware of the traditional gender boundaries that remain intact, granting access only to a certain type of surfer girl. The author calls into account the privileged position of those who fit the “babe” archetype, such as World Champion and a-typical “California girl” Lisa Anderson, while offering examples of talented surfers such Mexican native Sofia Silva Sanchez, whose opportunities for professional development are hindered by their “non-babeness.” While the bulk of the industry has been created in Mexico, Comer points out not a single Mexican women owns or even manages a surf business and even as recently as 2004, no Mexican women or girls surfed the local break, the first being Sanchez.

Surfer Girls in the New World Order is thorough and acute; Comer situates her argument in the lived experiences of surfer girls and women while also drawing important connections to surfing’s place in the broader context of social and economic ideologies. By dedicating a significant amount of her process to exploring gender construction in the surf world as it is related to girls, her work continually celebrates the “playfulness of girl culture.”

Written by: Alicia Sowisdral, December 21st 2010