Whatever the destination, and sometimes there's no destination at all, surfing keeps us in a kind of perpetual motion. It could be a drive from an inland surburbia to the coast or a trip across the county line to catch a magic swell or a four-flight epic across time zones to far-flung islands. We move across water and land, chasing swells and tides, and rarely staying in one place for long.
Until now, that is. For most of us, Covid-19 has redrawn our boundaries closer to home. No more far-flung islands. Fewer jaunts up or down the coast. Patio hangs and staying local are how we live now. All that means we need some alternate ways to scratch the travel itch and sooth our restless search for new experiences.
What better time, then, for a wide-ranging, photo-rich book on women's surfing. Written by Lauren Hill and published by Gestalten, She Surf reveals the diverse beauty of women's surfing around the world. The narrative shifts seamlessly between past and present, tying the experiences of present-day surfers to their ancestors.
"Surfing has been called the ‘Sport of Kings,'" writes Hill. "It has also always been ‘the Sport of Queens.'"
This is not a linear narrative, by any means. Nor should it be. Instead, the book winds and wanders as it weaves together travel, competition, fashion, and environmental awareness. Can't travel to France or Tahiti? Sit back on your couch, and allow Hill's book to transport you. It's the perfect companion for an afternoon lounge on the patio with your favorite chilled drink by your side.
Dip into a story about women surfing in pre-European Hawaii. Flip a few pages and arrive in Morocco. There, you'll meet Meryem El Gardoum, who after winning four national championships, wants to coach younger women to compete internationally. Learn that an "extended surf check" at Pipeline may well translate to "I might be shitting myself."
A diverse set of profiles provides the backbone of She Surf. Californians will find some familiar faces here with Kassia Meador, Anna Erhgott, and Ashley Lloyd among the women featured. But Hill casts a wide net: Flora Christin Butarbutar in Indonesia, Monica Guo in China, and Lola Mignot, whose family wandered the world before arriving in Sayulita, Mexico.
Taken together, these stories eloquently show the deep involvement of women in the surfing community. In an introductory essay, Hill argues that this involvement has long been overlooked. Instead, surfing's narratives have more typically focused on men's contributions to the history of the art and sport.
"Right now, women are reclaiming our natural place in the global sport, art, and culture of surfing," she writes.
To sum up women's surfing in a single volume is a monumental task. Each section could itself fill a book of its own. Hill wears the burden lightly, sliding smoothly from descriptions of surf breaks to history to the craft of shaping. There's even a brief history of competitive surfing, including the arrival of prize money equity.
If you love women's surfing, I'm pretty sure you will want to own a copy of this book. But I'll warn you: When I sought out a copy of She Surf, the book was sold out in the U.S. I have been smashing the refresh button ever since, hoping to acquire a copy. (I wrote this review from a pdf.)
I'm disappointed not to have a paper copy of this lovely thing (yet). But it's refreshing to discover that Hill is on to something when she claims that women's surfing is more popular than ever. It is a joy to discover that so many people want to read all about the beauty, athleticism, and grace that women bring to the waves.
And while we may not be able to travel right now, She Surf offers us a connection to a far-flung community of women who love the surfing just like we do.