Women making Waves: Impactful female surfers and their stories

This are only a few of the many women you should know about
Elena Lopez
Elena Lopez

Wave Wordsmith

Surfing has long been associated with tales of male prowess, but it's time to shift the narrative. In this article, we celebrate the fearless women who have not only mastered the waves but have also reshaped the surfing world. From pioneers who paved the way to modern-day icons, join us in exploring the impactful stories of female surfers who are making waves both in and out of the water.

1. The trailblazers

From the legendary Joyce Hoffman to the trailblazing Rell Sunn, these women shattered barriers, leaving an indelible mark on the sport and inspiring generations of female surfers to follow in their footsteps.

Photo by Ron Stoner

Joyce Hoffman, a trailblazer of her time, emerged as a beacon of inspiration in the 1960s. As one of the first women to conquer the formidable waves of Pipeline in Hawaii, Hoffman showcased not only her exceptional skill but also the undeniable truth that women could excel in the male-dominated world of big-wave surfing. Her fearless approach to challenging breaks paved the way for women to be recognized as formidable surfers in their own right.

Rell Sunn, affectionately known as the "Queen of Makaha," further propelled the legacy of women in surfing. Hailing from Hawaii, Sunn not only demonstrated prowess in the water but also became a symbol of resilience and grace. In an era when women's participation in professional surfing was still evolving, Sunn's achievements transcended the waves.

Photo by Jeff Divine

A founding member of the Women's Professional Surfing Association, she played a pivotal role in establishing opportunities for female surfers on the competitive stage.

The stories represent a defiance of societal expectations and a celebration of the sheer joy and freedom found in riding the waves. By breaking through gender barriers, Hoffman and Sunn laid the foundation for the diverse and flourishing community of women surfers we see today. Their enduring influence echoes in the achievements of contemporary surfers who continue to challenge norms and redefine the narrative of women in surfing.

2. Triumph in the competitive Scene

These athletes have not only conquered the waves but have also become iconic symbols of strength, determination, and unparalleled excellence.

Photo by Simon Dean

Layne Beachley stands as a beacon of accomplishment, dominating the competitive surf scene with a remarkable seven world titles to her name. Her relentless pursuit of perfection and unwavering commitment to the sport have left an indelible mark on women's competitive surfing. Beachley's achievements not only reflect her extraordinary skill on the waves but also serve as an inspiration for aspiring female surfers worldwide, showcasing that dedication and talent know no gender boundaries.

Photo by Ben Thouard

Carissa Moore, the first female surfer to win four World Surf League (WSL) titles in the new millennium, continues to redefine the landscape of competitive surfing. Moore's dynamic and progressive approach to the sport sets her apart, making her a trailblazer in the realm of high-performance surfing. Beyond her achievements in the water, Moore advocates for inclusivity and equality in surfing, using her platform to uplift and inspire the next generation of female surfers.

3. Giants

In the terrifying but incredible world of giant wave surfing, names like Maya Gabeira and Paige Alms come to mind. Maya Gabeira, a Brazilian surfer, holds the record for the largest wave ever surfed by a woman.

Photo by Ricky Nomad

Her feats at infamous breaks like Nazaré in Portugal demonstrate a level of fearlessness that transcends gender norms in big wave surfing. Gabeira's determination to push the boundaries has not only earned her accolades but has also opened doors for future generations of female big wave surfers.

Paige Alms, a Hawaiian waterwoman, has made significant strides in the male-dominated arena of big wave surfing. As a pioneer, Alms has fearlessly taken on the colossal waves of Peahi, commonly known as Jaws, showcasing not only her technical skill but also her unwavering determination.

Her commitment to mastering one of the most challenging big wave breaks exemplifies the resilience and tenacity that define the spirit of these women charging into the untamed power of the ocean.

4. The women shaping surf culture

In the realm of filmmaking, women like Crystal Thornburg-Homcy have played a pivotal role in portraying the richness and diversity of the surf lifestyle. As a director and producer, Thornburg-Homcy's work goes beyond the surface, delving into the deeper stories that define the surfing world. Through her lens, she captures not just the exhilaration of riding waves but also the cultural nuances, environmental challenges, and the profound connection between surfers and the sea.

Photographers such as Fran Miller and Lucia Griggi have contributed to the visual narrative of surf culture, bringing their unique perspectives to the forefront. Fran Miller, based in Australia, is known for her soulful and intimate portraits of female surfers. Her work challenges traditional representations and celebrates the strength and grace of women in the water. Lucia Griggi, with her global lens, captures the breathtaking beauty of surfing in diverse corners of the world, showcasing the universal allure of the sport through her captivating imagery.

Photo by Franz Miller

Beyond the creative realms, women have emerged as influential environmental advocates within the surf community. Ocean conservationists like Easkey Britton and Belinda Baggs have made significant strides in raising awareness about the importance of protecting our oceans. Easkey Britton, an Irish surfer and marine social scientist, combines her passion for surfing with environmental advocacy, emphasizing the profound connection between the health of the oceans and the well-being of surfers worldwide. Belinda Baggs, an Australian surfer and environmental activist, uses her platform to address issues such as plastic pollution and climate change, inspiring surfers to become stewards of the oceans they love.

Photo by Lucia Griggi

5. The future

Whether through surf schools, community programs, or grassroots movements, these women are not only passing on the skills of wave-riding but also fostering a culture that empowers and uplifts the voices of emerging female surfers.

Leaders like Keala Kennelly, a big wave surfer and LGBTQ+ advocate, have actively engaged in mentoring programs aimed at cultivating the talents of young surfers. Keala's commitment extends beyond the waves, as she works to create an environment where aspiring female surfers feel supported and encouraged, irrespective of their background or identity. Her mentorship initiatives underscore the importance of representation and diversity in the surfing community.

Community-based programs led by women, such as the Wahine Project, founded by Mary Setterholm, provide a platform for girls to discover and embrace surfing. The Wahine Project not only introduces young girls to the joy of riding waves but also instills confidence, environmental awareness, and a sense of camaraderie. Setterholm's initiative illustrates how mentorship in the early stages of a surfer's journey can have a transformative impact, shaping not just their skills in the water but also their confidence and resilience.

Grassroots movements like Brown Girl Surf, founded by Farhana Huq, address the intersectionality of surfing and social justice. Through mentorship, surf camps, and community-building events, Brown Girl Surf empowers girls and women of color to access and enjoy the ocean. Huq's work recognizes the barriers faced by underrepresented groups in the surfing world and actively seeks to create a more inclusive and equitable space.

As we reflect on the incredible journeys of these impactful women in surfing, it's clear that their stories extend beyond the waves. They are not just surfers; they are trailblazers, champions, and advocates who have redefined the possibilities for women in the sport. The tides of change continue to roll in, the legacy of these women becomes a guiding light for the next generation of women, ensuring that the seascape remains a safe space for all.