Meet The Women Bringing Body Positivity To Surfing - Women's Health

Meet The Women Bringing Body Positivity To Surfing

Around the world, a grassroots movement of women are fighting to see surfing become more inclusive and accepting of a diverse range of body types.

If you grew up watching films like Blue Crush, Into The Blue or Soul Surfer, you may have been led to believe that surfing was a sport populated solely by tanned, long-limbed individuals. The blonde hair may have been optional, but when it came to body types represented on the screen, there was little variation. Instead, surfing as depicted by Hollywood, magazines and swimwear labels, tended to focus solely on bodies that were slim or athletic. For many, such idealised images were more than problematic; they also presented something of a barrier. For young girls growing up wanting to get into surfing, being unable to identify or even see themselves represented out amongst the waves suggested it was no place for plus-size women. Now, that’s all changing thanks to a number of women who are bringing body positivity to the water. 

After seeing an image of plus-size fitness influencer Kanoa Green posing with a surfboard, Elizabeth Sneed was empowered to drive change in the sport of surfing. Having long wanted to get into the sport, she launched the channel @curvysurfergirl on Instagram, quickly amassing a loyal following that climbed well into the tens of thousands. Brands and modelling agencies were quick to take notice, and the support for Sneed was so widespread that she soon launched a website, a retreat and even consulting services to help create a community and advocate for other plus-size woman surfers. 

As Anna Diamond reports for Outside Magazine, Sneed even partners every few months with the Ohana Surf School to hose a Curvy Surfer Girl meetup and surf lesson, encouraging women of all sizes to learn and practice in a supportive environment and safe place, free of judgment. Whether it’s creating their own spaces in the outdoors or a community online, Sneed has inspired a grassroots movement of women to challenge surfing as we once knew it, seeing it instead become a place far more inclusive and accepting of diversity. 

It’s something artist and educator Brianna Ortega has also challenged. Launching Sea Together, an Instagram account, magazine, podcast and series of art installations, Ortega showcases women who don’t fit the typical surfer-girl image. As a mixed-race woman, it’s something Ortega has struggled with herself, having felt marginalised from the sport. As Ortega explained to Diamond for Outside, “I hear over and over from other women, ‘I didn’t think I was the type of person that’s allowed to surf, or who has the capacity to surf, because of my body type.’ When you’ve been marginalised from a system, you have to make your own space.”

While other sports have been rather quick to adopt a more inclusive outlook when it comes to participants – from cycling, running, and ultra-endurance events – surfing, by contrast, has been slow to change. Where a range of bodies are celebrated in running, surfing continued to resist such body positivity movements. It’s something Holly Thorpe, a sociology professor at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, believes is a result of where modern surfing came to originate – California, and even Australia. Here, Thorpe suggests surfing promoted a narrow idea of femininity. 

As she explains in an interview with Outside, “It is the idea of the super-sexy surfer girl. She’s a girl, not a woman. She’s young. She’s blonde. She’s beautiful. And she has a white, tanned body. This is a very narrow mode of representation which has been repeated and repeated and repeated and reinforced for decades. That has a major impact in terms of women around the world who think surfing’s not for them.”

Thankfully, women like Sneed are paving a new way forward and through their actions, surfing is coming around to the idea that any body is a surfing body.  

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