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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 8, 2003

Surfing's popularity with women hits new heights on North Shore

By Will Hoover
Advertiser North Shore Writer

Heather Love of Santa Cruz, Calif., stood on the shoreline at Sunset Beach on Friday, the final day of the Rip Curl Cup competition, and watched the wave action intently.

Nari Takekawa, an amateur surfer from Japan, taught herself to surf despite her father's disapproval.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

"I love surfing," said Love, 18, as she fondled her sterling silver surfboard necklace. "I'm thinking of moving here next year."

Love is among the women who have flocked to the North Shore in unprecedented numbers in recent months, drawn in part by the popularity of the surf movie "Blue Crush."

They come from all over, many for the first time. Few have aspirations of becoming professional surfers. All are drawn to the waves and the lifestyle.

Veteran O'ahu lifeguard Capt. Pat Kelly refers to it as "the girl phenomena."

"It's almost like a rebirth of surfing," said Kelly, who thought he had seen it all in his 30 years as a North Shore lifeguard. "It's like the excitement of the '60s all over again. It's girls from 12 to 40 all coming down in droves."

It's too soon to say whether the phenomenon is here to stay. But folks in the surf business expect it.

"It started with the movie 'Blue Crush' and then moved on to the MTV 'Surf Girls' show," said Allison Hutchings, 26, a marketing representative with Roxy, one of the world's leading female surfwear and accessory companies.

"I think it's only going to grow because there is so much opportunity for young women with the fashion industry and the magazines," she said. "Girls, they look at that. They're out there and they want to be part of it. And they are not ever going to stop shopping."

Worldwide attention has focused on surfing recently because of Bethany Hamilton, the 13-year-old surfer from Kaua'i whose left arm was bitten off by a shark. And the unflinching way she has faced what happened to her and her courage — she's already surfing again — may well inspire even more.

Trendy and healthy

Jodi Young, media director for the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, said nothing in the past compares with the number of young women surfers who have flocked to the North Shore this year.

"It's a very trendy, healthy, outdoor, futuristic kind of environment to get into," said Young, who hears regularly from girls worldwide yearning to associate with the surfing scene.

"I have one serial caller from the Midwest — a girl about 15 — who e-mails and calls me every day," Young said. "Today I got an e-card from her. She's never been to Hawai'i. She's never seen the ocean. But she's trying to talk her parents into going on vacation to Europe without her and let her come to Hawai'i on her own."

The influx of female surfing enthusiasts has occurred so quickly that no one has had time to attempt an accurate head count. But Joe Green, owner of Surf-N-Sea, one of the North Shore's largest ocean sports shops, said the numbers are up dramatically.

"I'm seeing more and more girls of all races here on the North Shore — triple, maybe four times as many, in just the last year," he said.

Green's conclusion is supported by statistical evidence regarding women's surfing in general. A study completed recently by consultant Mike Markrich includes excerpts from a 2003 report by the Surfing Industry Manufacturers Association, which estimated that the percentage of girls who surf has increased by 280 percent during the past four years.

In the past two years, the report goes on to say, participation in surfing among teenage women worldwide has grown by 163 percent.

Markrich said the North Shore has benefited from the phenomenon, largely because of the international popularity of "Blue Crush," which was filmed at Pipeline and other nearby locations, thanks in part to tax breaks the film's producers got from Hawai'i's legislative Act 221.

" 'Blue Crush' was some of the best money Hawai'i ever spent," Markrich said. "The number of female Japanese surfers alone coming to the North Shore is thought to have doubled since the movie was released."

No longer 'man's sport'

Nari Takekawa of Chiba, Japan, was also on Sunset Beach on Friday. It was her second trip to attend the Triple Crown of Surfing in as many years. She will be returning next year and the year after, she said.

In addition to loving the waves, Takekawa said women surfers are accepted more here. When she asked her boyfriend to teach her to surf 12 years ago, he refused, saying it's a "man's sport." When she borrowed a board and taught herself, he dumped her. Her father also disapproves, saying surfing presents a bad image for women.

None of which matters to Takekawa, 30, who says Japanese women are taking up surfing by the tens of thousands regardless of what men in her country think.

That's precisely the attitude that makes many observers believe that women are in surfing for the long haul.

"There are younger girls coming," Hutchings said. "We're talking 8-, 9- and 10-year-olds. They're making it a lifestyle for themselves, something they can grow up with and have as part of their whole lives, not until they're 18, but until they're in their 50s and 60s."

And some, such as lifeguard Kelly, believe the trend was inevitable with or without a popular film.

"We're all saying it's because of 'Blue Crush,' " he said. "But that movie happened for a reason. There's a resurgence of surfing. And more women are getting involved, and there are more surf lessons and more surf competitions.

" 'Blue Crush' sparked something that was already happening — and whoosh — it just took off. This sport is getting female friendly."

Reach Will Hoover at 525-8038 or whoover@honoluluadvertiser.com.