September 17, 2012

Surf's Up

When I was 13 I decided I wanted to learn to surf. I was going to be that all-American-suntanned-sun-bleached-wavy-haired-Roxy-wearing-flip-flop-sporting Surfer Girl. My life was going to rock. I'd grown up watching 60's surf films and listening to The Beach Boys tell the world that they wished every girl could be so lucky to be from my state. I remember I went to an audition for a tv show at Warner Brothers (Did you know Cher tried to have a morning talk show? I auditioned for it. Maybe she would have if she'd picked me and my mom for that singing-daughter-mother makeover. #notbitter) and the lady asked me to describe my personal style. I quickly answered Surfer Girl. I was wearing a stretch velour ankle length skirt, flip-flops, a blue tank top and probably hadn't washed my hair in a month (I was going through that phase as well). The real exciting moment of this time in my life was when a teeny-bopper fashion magazine I picked up showed how to use lemon juice to naturally lighten your hair for that California Surfer Girl look. The results were not so good, but luckily I grew out of the idea a few weeks later. Which is good because a) the moment I walk outside I burn to a crisp, b) going in the sun just makes my hair redder, c) I actually really hate sand. Like, a lot. Like, it gives me the heebie-jeebies just thinking about it.  I did eventually learn to surf (barely, I'm pretty terrible at it, but it is fun!) a few years later, but my days of wanting to be some mythical Californian ideal were long gone by then.

This is quite literally my 13 year old ideal self. I like to think she is singing this song while she boards.
Yes, I did go through a skate board phase too. Yes, I only ever learned to Ollie.

Then I moved to Oregon. I thought, psh, I got this I am so not a "California girl." Except I call everyone dude, and I am offended someone corrects me about Disneyland (they are always wrong), and I look up surf reports, and talk about how great the waves look, and say things like, Hey we've got 6 footers this weekend,  and I know how to drive like a maniac, and the list goes on. I may not be a fan of the heat and sun, but I am definitely a Californian. I still love those cheesy 60's surf films, and I really do adore the whole idea of surf culture (I actually once wrote a paper on a flip-flop ad for an English class and how it was reflective of surf culture as well as beach goer culture. and yes there is a difference).  And while the 60's version is often what people think of when it comes to surfing, the sport's roots go much deeper than that.

George Freeth was the father of Surfing in California

I was doing research for a totally unrelated project and came upon some old surfing ads from the 20's and 30's, some of them even featuring women! I am not one of those "all women of bygone eras were oppressed" people, but it is true that very few old sports ads show women participating in them. So these intrigued me. The origin of California surfing goes back to 1907, a time when women were fighting for the vote, and becoming more independent. So when I found this ad I was super excited!!

While I can't actually imagine surfing in a bathing costume like that, kudos to the women who did! (and yes this is the same Sunset magazine that is still around today) I began to look for more of these ads and soon found quite a few from the 20's and 30's. However don't be decieved. While surfing was something that was advertised as a hip, exotic thing to do, it did not have a huge following until post WWII. Apparently towards the end of the 30's/beginning of the 40's the Californian surfing population had grown to about 80 people. Which is seriously crazy to think about. There were so few of them that they all knew each other and could stop to greet one another on the street. But I do like to think that there were some carefree, bold women among them.

My favourite thing ever is the fatc that she is on her tip toes. Yes, that's really going to help your balance as you try to keep a giant wooden board from launching you into the surf. 

Of course this chick thinks she can surf in heels. Good luck with that.

The thing is, I really like the spirit the women in these ads portray. They don't sacrifice style (I mean, you saw the heels right?), yet they are sporting and active, independent and feminine. Sure they could ride tandem, but they choose not to. They aren't concerned with being at the beach to be seen (okay, maybe heels girl is), but are there to enjoy life and do something fun, and just a little bit terrifying at the same time. I can get behind that. I wish there was more information out there on these early female pioneers in surfing (powers that be, this would be an awesome documentary!!), but for now I am happy to take a little inspiration from the drawings above, and go make waves in my own way. I'm sorry, I had to. Lol!!

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