feb-18-impactzone1-thMon, 18 February 2013

Back in the 80s, there were few females surfing, writes Spike based on his experience up the East Coast. In Cape Town, a small following has burgeoned into record turnouts for grom trials, and beaches filled with surfers of the fairer sex.


Back in the days of twin-fins and tikkie boxes, surfers in South Africa were a male-dominated breed, at least from my perspective, having not had the luxury of living in Cape Town at the time.

I don't remember seeing a girl surfer in the 1980s anywhere from St Mikes on the KwaZulu Natal South Coast to Coffee Bay in the then Transkei; from Queensberry Bay near East London to Port Alfred down the drag, from Millers Point in PE to the rolling cylinders of Supertubes in Jeffreys Bay.

It was me and my 5' 6" Larry Levin twin fin, a kombi load of reprobates rattling up and down the East Coast and the future stretching ahead of us like corduroy lines.

My memories - not always played out in crystal clarity, let’s be honest - put me out in the lineup on my trusty twinnie, a purple-and-red marvel made with klinkers and channels and a fat swallow tail that swept in from a 21 inch girth, but there were no girls there. Or none that I can remember. Countless trips to Kowie, J-Bay and other spots did not yield contact with the fairer sex, barring beach parties, and sometimes some body surfing or boogie boarding the shorebreak.

wendybothaWe knew that women surfed. Some had even surfed with them, but it was rare. Guys who surfed the East London spots regularly shared the waves - from Nahoon Reef to Igoda; from Gonubie Point to Yellowsands - with a young Wendy Botha, who later became world champion as a South African (1987), and a three time world champion as an Australian (1989, 1991 and 1992).

I only saw her on the cover of a surfing magazine. However, Wavescape reader Ian Williams, who was in Wendy's biology class at school, reminds me that she also graced the cover of another magazine, though you wouldn't call the Australian issue of Playboy a surfing mag (September 1992). With the cover story of that issue, I guess it become a surfing magazine for a while.

Fast forward 21 years to Muizenberg, Cape Town. On any given weekend day, you'll see hordes of girls and women taking to the waves, with surf shops and clinics abuzz with bookings. Steadily increasing numbers appear to have suddenly spiked in the last two years.

Last weekend, the new president of Western Province Surfing, Karen Elkington, the first female president "in a long time", presided over a record entry of girls at the Western Province Grommet Trials. A total of 36 girls entered. It took the entire day to run their heats in fun little waves at Muizenberg. Four rounds were needed to complete the trials for the Under 14s.

Spectators on the beach marvelled as the youngest girl, Lisa Van Heerdan, 7, came second in the U8s with a heat score of 14.5. "She paddles on to clean waves and has the makings of a real star. She nearly beat all the boys in the competitive mixed heat!" says Elkington. "This year, we've really seen some girl power. To think that just two years ago, we struggled to field a full team at the national championships."

Now they're spoiled for choice. The challenge now is to kick on with the right training, technique and contest nous to challenge the best in South Africa. Two trials are still to come before a team is selected to represent Province at the Billabong South African Grommet Games over Easter, and the Hurley SA Junior Championships in September.

Part of Elkington's mandate is to develop girls surfing in the Province into a dominant national force

Part of Elkington's mandate is to develop girls surfing in the Province into a dominant national force, and she has teamed up with former Springbok Roxy Davis to set up the WP/Roxy U13 Surfergirl Club. Davis says that the club consists of 25 enthusiastic girls aged between seven and 13. They convene at the Surf Emporium in Muizenberg every Sunday at 12.30, where Roxy and province surfer Craig Johnson provide skills clinics that take them beyond beginner level.

Another WP initiative is the WP Comp Surfergirl Squad, which takes it a step further – to groom girls for the rigours of national surfing competitions. Chris Bond, the ISA level 2 surfing coach, runs the squad beyond his duties as the WP junior team coach.

Overseas, our girls are making inroads. Rosanne Hodge was a respected member of the elite women's tour for four seasons from 2007 to 2010, while Bianca Buitendag heads into her rookie year on the tour in March. Sarah Baum got a fifth place in the recent Breaka Burleigh Pro in Australia – an event in the Women’s Star series. Others who are rising through the ranks are Faye Zoetmulder, Tarryn Chudleigh, Nikita Robb, Heidi Palmboom and Tanika Hoffman.

Elkington says that any girls interested in surfing have some great options at Muizenberg Corner where they can learn to surf, including Surf Emporium, Surf Shack, Gary's Surf School, Learn 2 Surf and Stoked School of Surf, among others, including the Lifestyle surf shop.


It's interesting to note that of course women surfing has been around for a long time, as affirmed by Therese Russell who says that women such as her and Bernie Shelley have been surfing in Cape Town since way back.

"We started surfing around 1964 and surfed through the sixties, representing W.P. at S.A. Champs. Some of us stopped and a few continued into the seventies. We lost track of the following then as most of us married and had children and followed other sporting roads.  A couple of us started again in 1994, and are still surfing (longboards mostly) and again representing WP."


0 #3 Brentus 2013-02-22 12:00
Supporting girls who surf ! Well done Steve.
If anyone needs to borrow a big longboard to practice at Muizenberg or Long Beach I have a couple of them at my home (Fish Hoek area). :-)
Also have a Roxy wetsuit age about 13.
brent 0834374347
+1 #2 Margie 2013-02-21 15:36
I started surfing 6 years ago due to an injury! I am female, age 60 and I absolutely love it, most fun way to exercise.
Eddie Glass
+2 #1 Eddie Glass 2013-02-18 13:54
The young Zaffers are a mighty impressive bunch.
I wish Bianca well as she embarks on her debut year on the big stage and hope to see her and one or two of the other South African girls on tour again in 2014.
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