Women of Waves 2016

Is there anything more delightful than time dedicated to celebrating women and their relationship with the sea? (If you happen to be a man, bare with me here, please) That is exactly what Women of the Waves, held annually in Cocoa Beach, is all about. Female surfers of all ages and all skill levels are invited to join together in Cocoa Beach for a weekend of community, friendship and sharing in the joy that is a life spent in the sea. Naturally, it is one of my favorite surf events of the year!

Despite having to be rescheduled once (Thank you Hurricane Matthew) and a somewhat dismal forecast for the new dates, this year’s event was just as special as years past. A less crowded event simply meant an even more intimate experience than usual and the opportunity to spend lots of time catching up with old friends. I dearly missed many of the friends who couldn’t make it this year, but was thankful for the chance to meet new ones and expand my growing network of surf sisters.

After a ridiculously fun surf session at home Friday morning, I jumped in the car and hit the road for the longest three hours of my life. Surf fatigue and driving are not friendly with each other! I did eventually get there, meeting up with my friend and weekend roommate Allison, just in time to head to the Friday night surf movie. This year we were treated to the Sisterhood of Surfing by Dr. Diana Wehrell-Grabowski, a film that captured the essence of what it means to women when they get to share waves with other women, completely comfortable, without competition, communing with each other and the ocean. The film heavily featured women from around the state of Florida (with a pit stop in Sayulita, Mexico) and the audience cheered and clapped whenever a familiar face graced the screen.

We awoke Saturday morning to the glaring reality of that dismal forecast and could see the tree tops blowing from our hotel room, but we were here and would not be kept from the highlight of the weekend, the surfing social. This is usually a time to jump in the water with about a hundred of your closest surfing girlfriends and trade as many stories as waves. Mother Nature decided to mix it up this year by throwing hard NE winds across the surface of the Atlantic, creating choppy surf conditions and a swift drift that swept almost everyone down the beach. I opted out of the drift session and was thankful that I did as I ended up making a couple new friends who also chose to relax on the sand. Mid morning someone suggested we might check out Jetty Park, a spot just north that had a jetty and might block some of the wind. The waves were smaller, but much cleaner and Allison and I, our new friend Ana, and a handful of others ended up having a fun surf session.

When the afternoon came around and Ana suggested lunch with some other surf sisters at Surfinista, Allison and I jumped at the opportunity. Surfinista is a funky, surf themed place in downtown Cocoa Beach with a menu filled with juices, smoothies, sandwiches and the adored acai bowl and walls filled with surf art. They also have a little retail space with boards by Tom Neilson and Stu Sharpe on display. We had a great time sharing stories of surfing and traveling and finding out what each others different interest were (three out of six have had very good luck growing eggplant!). We followed lunch with a quick stroll around downtown and a bit of shopping before heading back to get ready for the Saturday night potluck.

This year’s potluck was at Manatee Sanctuary Park, overlooking the sunset on the Banana River, with plenty of oohs and aahs to go around. The tables overflowed with an assortment of dishes and music from local band, The Aquanuts, filled the air. The raffle and silent auction are always a hit, with participants anxiously clutching their tickets and waiting to hear themselves announced a winner. At this point in the weekend, we’re all old friends, laughing and story telling the night away. Smartphones were pulled out and selfies galore were snapped to commemorate the fun of the evening. With stars twinkling overhead, plans are made for one last surf the next morning. The wind was still not cooperating, so Jetty Park was the call.

A perceived extra hour of sleep (thank you time change!) was more than welcome after a full weekend and allowed Allison and I to make the agreed upon 8:00 a.m. meet up time for the surf. Unfortunately the weather would not listen to our pleas for light winds and cleaner conditions. If anything, she persisted in blowing harder than the previous day, adding more chop to an already tumultuous ocean. It was our last day and we were all together, so in we plunged and despite the conditions, marveled in the beauty of the sea and the powers that be that brought us to gather, in celebration of ourselves and the sea.

My deepest thanks to Melody De Carlo and Sharon Wolfe Cranston for their commitment to this event and for the work they put in each year to provide us with an opportunity to come together in the name of women’s surfing. Thank you to Dr. Diana Wehrell-Grabowski for her work on the Sisterhood of Surfing and sharing it with us and to Teri McCutchen for the beautiful artwork for this year’s event. If you are a sponsor or donor to this event, thank you too! Sandy Lee, Ana Joly, Meredith Hackwith-Edwards, Judy Taylor-Gorman and Patricia ‘Sissy’ Dittrick, it was a pleasure to spend extra time with you this weekend. Allison, thank you so much for being my roomie, an all around awesome person, and hanging with me all weekend!

Betsy gets a… shortboard?!

2016 is my ten year ‘Surfaversary’. What is a surfaverasary? Well it’s when you celebrate your relationship with surfing! I even gave myself a surfaversary present. I’ve spent my first decade pretty dedicated to longboarding, telling people who harass me about getting on a shorter board that I’ll move to a smaller board when I master my log. Then I follow that by explaining that I don’t think I’ll ever do such a thing as there is too much to learn and even when you think you have a decent grasp on it, the creativity you can bring into logging never ends. From lines to footwork, where you can go with your longboarding is limitless. Plus, I could talk all day about how beautiful, graceful, and timeless I think logging is.

All of that being said, three things happened over the last year that put a couple of fissures in my rock solid devotion to logging. The first was having some local girls come to Surf Camp, get super stoked on surfing and (mainly due to their stature and definitely NOT because longboarding isn’t the coolest thing around) promptly start riding short boards. Technically I suppose they’re mostly funshapes and midlengths, but still they’re all at least two feet shorter than anything I’ve ever tried to ride. Striving to be the best coach I can be, I wanted to be able to relate better to these girls and their experience in the water. It was easy to talk with them about looking for the peak and determining wave direction, but I couldn’t relate to their struggles with simply paddling into the wave. I would try to paddle with them in an attempt to set a paddling pace, but two strokes on my 9’2 and I was five yards ahead of them on their smaller boards. I started to paddle out on our 7 ft camp board in order to be closer in board size to the girls. And then, to my surprise, I started to have fun on it.

The second thing came about from that Surfaversary gift to surf with the lovely Leah Dawson in Puerto Rico. Leah spent most of her time on a singlefin shortboard, drawing the most beautiful lines and showing me that shortboarding doesn’t have to comply with what the surf media tells us it is. I thought of shortboarding as fast, tight turns with lots of ugly pumping in between sections. Leah showed me that with the right equipment, you can draw really smooth lines on shortboards and get just as creative with your surfing as you can on a longboard. As inspired as I was by Leah on her shortie, I came home and ordered a new, but very traditional longboard, still focused on improving my logging. I’m stoked on my new log, but I couldn’t help but keep thinking about the potential of a smaller board and all the days I could surf that aren’t conducive to longboarding (because we all know that I don’t surf enough already, right?!)

The third and final breakthrough was meeting Justin Laird. I met Justin, of Laird Surf Craft, in the water last year, right around the time that Surf Asylum Surf Camp decided to set up at Log Cabin, basically taking over the spot closest to his house (and shaping room). He was kind enough to let me try one of his displacement hull boards one time which piqued my curiosity about his shaping. I’d never ridden a hull and didn’t appreciate the differences between his longboard and mine until I paddled for a perfect wave, spun out on the take off and lost the board. What was this hull and how did it manage to toss me off on a glassy thigh-high peeler? Justin gave me a couple of pointers and I managed to hang on to a couple of speedy lines, but was more than happy to hand off the board, still trying to wrap my mind around how a board could be SO different than anything I’d ever ridden. Since that day we’ve always taken a few minutes to chat about waves and boards when we see each other out. I knew Justin was making his own boards and was really enthusiastic about the hulls, but recently I had noticed him and some other local surfers on other less traditional shapes, mainly fishes and weird, short, stubby looking things that he was making. That’s when it crossed my mind that Justin might be the guy to make my first shortboard. So I asked him if he was interested. Five minutes later we had a design plan.

A week later I was in his shaping bay, watching him bring my 6’6 Wayne Lynch inspired singlefin (You didn’t think I was going to get one of those potato chip thrusters did you?) to life. He told me before we got started that he believed in positive energy and vibrations and that he felt really good when he was cutting the initial outline of the board. I told him I believed in the same types of things ¬†and watched, mesmerized, as Justin took a barely recognizable chunk of foam and turned it into a functional piece of art. It’s apparent in each stroke of the planer and brush of the sandpaper that Justin is not only really talented, but genuinely loves shaping. He had a smile on his face the whole time, pleased with the harmony between his movements and the resulting shape of the foam. I had a smile on mine reveling in how cool it is when being in the right place with the right people and being open to new experiences can bring about great things.

Justin’s gonna put a cool acid splash on the bottom and the board should be ready for the water soon. Stay tuned for more as I try to chronicle my attempts at learning to ride a (MUCH) smaller board. Deepest thanks to my students and Leah Dawson for the inspiration, to Justin for being genuinely excited to make this board and putting some heart and soul into it, and last, but never least to David for always encouraging and supporting me, wherever surfing take us.