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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, March 1, 2002

Bodyboarder's dedication to sport is unwavering

"When you go in the water, not just on a bodyboard, just to be in the ocean, you're in another world," Carol Philips says. "All your issues leave you. It's so healing. You're in the planet, not on it."

Billy Diggs • Special to The Advertiser

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

Carol Philips held up the sculpture. A mermaid on her back, raising her baby over her stomach. So motherly, so womanly, she raved.

Which is exactly why she chose to use the sculpture by Angelika Veach as the perpetual trophy for the Turtle Bay Resort Women's World Championship of Bodyboarding on Feb. 6.

"It's perfect," she said, beaming.

The 13th annual event boasted 62 competitors from 15 countries, all vying for the $10,000 prize at Pipeline.

The winner's circle illustrated the event's international flavor: Australia's Kira Llewellyn, who hurt her back during a practice before the event began, took first place. Brazil's Karla Costa Taylor came in second. Heloise Bourroux from France placed third, and Japan's Aoi Koike finished fourth.

At the beginning

Philips, who grew up in Kahalu'u and on the North Shore, organized the event, touted as the only women's competition at Pipeline, and the longest running women's wave sport event since its inception in 1990. This year it was the first stop on the women's professional tour.

Carol Philips grew up in Kahalu‘u and on the North Shore, but learned to bodyboard while a student at Leeward Community College.

Billy Diggs • Special to The Advertiser

She handles everything from finding sponsors to writing press releases, from dealing with insurance to hiring event-day staff. She has to find judges, lure competitors and raise enough money to put the event on. Just getting beach permits alone is difficult.

"It's a massive coordinating effort," she said.

The $10,000 prize money comes from the sponsorship with Turtle Bay Resort and entry fees.

Philips works on the event all year, stealing time away from other commitments to work on the competition.

Case in point: Over black-and-blue ahi at Hale'iwa Joe's she was coordinating the haku lei pick-up with her mom.

And she thinks of everything: "Regular lei would cover the sponsor logos," she said with a knowing smile.

Organization not easy

Planning any surfing or bodyboarding event can be a nightmare. But coordinating a women's event makes the situation doubly difficult.

Lack of interest from sponsors in women's sports has made it difficult for coordinators to put on high-quality, professional events. And as with professional golf and tennis tournaments, the purse for bodyboarding competitions is always less than that for the men, despite consistent, if not growing, participation among female competitors.

"Even with a lack of sponsorship, the competitors still come," Philips said, "because I market to women."

It's a simple case of supply and demand, she said. Demand for events for female competitors is high, but the supply for contests is low.

"I don't think collectively we're disillusioned," she said. "We're not insane. But traditionally women are less valued in society, except for motherhood."

And the reverse is true: If supply is down, demand dips, too.

Because of the lack of competitions and financial perks, many women skip going pro to go to college, start a career or raise a family. Of the 62 competitors in the meet, only three were from Hawai'i (including Philips).

While many competitive bodyboarders have chosen college over a professional career, some are apprehensive about surfing at Pipeline.

"It's growing up in Hawai'i with the Pipe Hype," Philips said, referring to the ferocity of the waves at Pipeline. "But I think (surfing at Pipeline) is safer than driving on the road. It's safe if you know what you're doing."

A 'subculture'

The female bodyboarding community is built on a camaraderie that spans cultures and languages.

Philips finds support in this global group of bodyboarders, about 5,000 of whom are professional competitors, and many from South America.

"I identify more with other women bodyboarders from other countries than with anybody else," said Philips, who has been competing since 1988. "We're a clan. It's a subculture."

What lured Philips to the waves 14 years ago is what keeps her coming back.

"When you go in the water, not just on a bodyboard, just to be in the ocean," she said, "you're in another world. All your issues leave you. It's so healing. You're in the planet, not on it."

Trained in horseback riding, various martial arts, even lion dancing, Philips has always led a very active, outdoor life, a lifestyle that naturally led her to the ocean.

She learned to bodyboard while a student at Leeward Community College. And though the sport got in the way of school for awhile, she has a renewed interest in getting her master's degree soon. And having coordinated 13 bodyboarding contests will definitely enhance her application.

She doesn't want the competition to take over her life, but how can she help it? Teaching bodyboarding has taken a backseat. And in the month before the meet, she had only been in the water once.

"It's not who I am," Philips said. "But when I see what it does for the competitors, for women, when I get a great barrel and pop out, I say, 'Now I know why I'm here.' To do it. That's what it's all about."