The surfers had been in the water since before first light. The Pacific was as gray as the sky above it. The air was still, and the surf was glassy. On the sand was a girl, 15 years old, with sun-bleached hair and a sunburned nose, waxing her board in silence. Down the beach, a dog was barking. This was Saturday in Southern California, at San Onofre State Park, at a famous surf spot called Old Man's, a gentle break, a friendly beach.
At 7 a.m. the Roxy/ Quiksilver Wahine Classic began. One-hundred-and-forty surfers competed and all of them were female. Two contestants discussed this fact in surfspeak:
"Hey, what up?"
"This is killer."
In mood, the Wahine Classic—wahine is Hawaiian for "woman"—was a throwback. There was no purse; there was barely any merchandise. The event's mellow announcer, Jim Irwin, had praise for everybody who stood on a board, which included his wife and daughter and granddaughter. Somebody was playing a ukulele. (Ukulele is Hawaiian for "jumping flea.") In the parking lot were campers and VW bugs and one old Chevy with a license plate that read BUM. More than one bumper sticker urged PRAY FOR SURF.
Surfing women have always been on the fringes of their sport, shoved off the face of the big waves and out of the prime time. That's changing. There are now two women's surfing magazines, Surfer Girl and Wahine. There are shops in Southern California, such as Water Girl and Girl in the Curl, dedicated to women surfers. On Saturday, at Old Man's, in waves that measured four feet or so, women were the show. It was most excellent.