Unafraid of Wet Hair

San Diego's Surfer girls

Erin Bala, La Jolla Shores. I got a second-hand longboard. It is eight feet, six inches long.

Erin Bala, La Jolla Shores. I got a second-hand longboard. It is eight feet, six inches long.

The first time I tried to surf was almost three years ago — during the summer after freshman year in high school. I was 14 years old and had no idea what I was doing. I went with three friends; I knew Garrett from school and he had introduced me to his friend Anthony about a month before and we had been talking on the phone ever since. Garrett brought his girlfriend, Meg, who was becoming a good friend of mine. Anthony was the only one of us who had surfed before, and he brought his two longboards for us to use. We almost cracked one of them while strapping them to the top of my mom’s van; none of us had our license yet, and so we were at the mercy of our parents for transportation to the beach.

Gabrielle Clifford at Swami's: "Even if you don’t know anyone out in the water, it’s easy to have a casual conversation with someone."

Gabrielle Clifford at Swami's: "Even if you don’t know anyone out in the water, it’s easy to have a casual conversation with someone."

My mom dropped us off in La Jolla, and we hauled our gear to the sand. I was adamant about carrying one of the boards and teetered all the way down to the surf. I am not the tallest person, so my little arms had an awkward grip.

Anthony began our surf lesson by making us lie down either on the boards or on the wet sand to practice standing up. He demonstrated a push-up motion with his legs assuming a skateboard stance on the board. After 50 of these exercises, he deemed us ready to try the waves.

Jennifer Smith. Jen’s dad noticed something in her foot. She broke open the wound and found coral growing.

Jennifer Smith. Jen’s dad noticed something in her foot. She broke open the wound and found coral growing.

Because we had two boards, we alternated time in the water. After about an hour or two of falling off, I thought that I would never get the hang of it. I’m not sure if it was my stubbornness or desire to show off for Anthony that made me keep trying. The sun was approaching the horizon when I saw a set of waves coming. I paddled as hard as I could, did the push-up movement for what seemed like the millionth time, and all of a sudden I was standing up and sailing toward the shore. I could see all the people on the beach and the water below me, and I could feel the board carving through the wave. I looked next to me and saw that Anthony had caught the wave. My dismount from the board was less than graceful, but the feeling of standing up put a smile on my face.

As soon as I saved the money, I got a second-hand longboard. It is eight feet, six inches long. My dad bought another board, slightly longer, but I don’t use it as often. Those are the only boards I’ve ever had, but they’re perfect for me. I usually don’t go surfing in the winter because I don’t have a full wetsuit and because I work and can’t get to the beach before dark on most days. During the summer, though, I’m at the beach three or four times a week. I prefer to go to the beach for most of the day. I like to go in the morning and beat the traffic. I drive an F-150 truck and bungee-cord my board in the bed, so I like to get a big parking space. I usually stay until three or four in the afternoon; later, if my friends want to have a bonfire.

I surf at La Jolla most often, probably because it was the first place I surfed. My favorite place, though, is Hawaii. I went with Meg last summer. Each place we went on Oahu was the best of everything — beautiful white sand, clear water, warm and decent waves. In Southern California, my favorite spot is Carlsbad. I love the waves there, and the atmosphere makes it easier to lose yourself completely to surfing. I try to stay away from reefs and cliffs.

One of the things I like best about being at the beach so much in the summer is that my arms get toned from paddling out. I usually have a great tan on my back, too. The summer I started surfing, I had bruises on my hips. Last summer I took a nasty fall and hit my head on the board. Also, I got an ear infection.

When I am done surfing in La Jolla, I like to go to a nearby restaurant and get a gyro. The first day I surfed we stopped there to eat. Surfing, like running or other exercise, has never made me any more hungry than I normally am, but I usually don’t eat lunch while I’m out there, so I can polish off a whole gyro and fries at the end of the day. Smoothies are also great if I’m in a hurry to get home and need grab-and-go replenishment.

I’ve noticed that since I’ve started surfing, I have a lot more to talk about with guys. I met a guy named Justin the other day, and he was receptive about my love of the sport. He told me that he thought it was great that I wasn’t afraid to give surfing a try — he said that girls who are afraid to get their hair wet aren’t as much fun to be around. I’ve never had a guy be rude to me in the water or say anything offensive about me being a surfer.

Once in a while a guy will compliment my body or whistle at me when I’m surfing. The most risqué thing anyone has ever said went along the lines of “Can I get some of that action?”

— Erin Bala, Helix H.S.

I’ve surfed on and off for the past three or four years, beginning in Cocoa Beach, Florida. I went to surf camp and practiced on war-torn longboards and brightly colored foamers. That was my surfing background before I moved to Encinitas three years ago.

I met one of my best friends in summer school the first year, and we longboarded Beacon’s every day. I started working at Encinitas Surfboards after my 15th birthday, and my life became filled with surfing and nine-to-five workdays among the North County surf community. I discovered the locals I loved and looked forward to seeing, those I respected and the ones I didn’t, and those of whom I am still not too fond.

In my garage right now is a 9 ́ Hobie, a 6 ́8" Channin minigun, and my favorite 6 ́2" Rawson shortboard. In my truck is a 6 ́8" twinfin Kiesfish because the northwest swell has been slowly fading. I’m a packrat and have sold only two boards in my time.

While surfing daily or every other day is the norm, this year I’ve had a dizzying schedule; work and school have kept me out of the water. For this reason, an average week- day session is an hour, unless school loses priority and I find myself get- ting sucked into that front-row parking space instead of English class. Then, I’m wrapped in a towel, kicking off my jeans with the tailgate of my truck down, wriggling into a wetsuit, and squinting at the sets.

In the summertime or on days with perfect conditions, it’s not unusual for me to surf for six hours straight or all day, getting out long enough for a smoothie or burrito before hitting the water again. As far as surf food goes, I would have to say Mexican takes the taco there. It’s inexpensive enough so that you can poke through your buddy’s console and find enough change for a bean-and-cheese. It also tastes good. There’s also been many a time when someone claims a full refrigerator at their house, in which case everyone charges there for home- cooked eats. Health is a fairly significant priority in the surf community in general, and all-natural, organic foods are popular. Sushi also vies for the title of most-preferred grinds.

I usually surf year-round, although this winter ten-page essays and D Street glass-offs competed for my attention. Because of the increasing popularity of surfing that has every yuppie running to the beach with their 7 ́10" egg, most of us are grateful to the cold water for keeping it clear of excess company. I stick mostly around D Street/Moon- light in the summer and Swamis/Cardiff in the winter, with Oceanside Pier somewhere in between.

I remember paddling out with some friends on a sunny day, eyeing an aggressive old longboarder on an approaching right who seemed bitter about all the darned kids on their potato-chip boards...I remember beginning to duck-dive, watching the nose submerge, feeling my knee on the stomp pad, and realizing that this surfer was shouting over his shoulder, not looking where he was going. I was stunned when his noserider kissed my chin. I paddled a bit further outside before sitting up and watching the kook catch a wave to the beach. The amount of blood made the cut look worse than it was. “Whoaaa...” was the general response to the hole under my lower lip where my tooth had poked through, and it generated a small crowd. I wonder if the long- boarder would have apologized had I been a burly guy.

Sexism in the surf world has decreased incredibly, and I see it more in the surf shop where I work than in the water. You’d be surprised by how many guys, when they walk in, bypass the girls with their inquiries about things like Solarez or leashes. And God forbid we should be able to answer questions about shapes or custom ordering. You should see how many guys are caught off guard when one of the girls behind the counter states that the FCS G-3000 fin has more flex than the MRX, which is best as a twin-fin setup. Girls are underestimated in the surf world, although that has been changing. It’s not always easy for guys to overcome that primitive, manly sense of territorialism, although most everyone adopts their game face in the water.

— Gabrielle Clifford, La Costa Canyon H.S.

I began surfing four years ago, in the summer before I started eighth grade. However, subtracting the fall and winter months during which I don’t surf, I have surfed for about two and a half years.

I had always been interested in surfing because my dad and uncle surfed when they we re younger, but I don’t think they ever thought of teaching me. My friend recommended that I go to a surf camp at La Jolla Shores. I invited one of my close friends to take the lessons with me, and I have to admit, it wasn’t the best experience of my life. My friend and I were the oldest in the group and were ignored for almost the whole week. However, while our instructor was helping out the younger kids, we “taught” ourselves the basics. I remember the first time I stood up on a wave...and promptly fell down after losing myself in excitement. It took a while before" I could stand up and stay up.

After I knew I would stick with surfing, I got a 7 ́8" longboard for my 16th birthday and paid for half of it. My friend/hairdresser recommended that I go to Bob’s Mission Surf shop; not only did I get a great deal on the board, but the owner gave me tons of information on surfboard care. I only own one surfboard, but due to my laziness and dislike of cold water, it has been sitting in my garage. The only thing that keeps me from surfing more often is the fact that I am cold-blooded. My hands are permanently ice cold, and since I don’t enjoy wearing wetsuits, the winter months are never a time when I think about surfing. So, spring and summer are ideal.

When I started surfing, I would get out to the beach maybe three to four times a week. Most of the time, I enjoyed being by myself, but sometimes loneliness would get the best of me. I didn’t have any friends who surfed, and I didn’t think I was good or “cool” enough to surf with the locals. What I do enjoy every summer is taking part in a surf camp. The last one I went to was the best. It was at San Elijo State Beach, and the instructors took a lot of time with me to break my habits. When I go to a camp, I feel as if I’m improving, rather than just surfing when I know I could be better.

When I surf, I’m usually out in the water between one and three hours. My mom usually drives me to the beach, and while I’m out there, I always feel guilty that she’s there, sitting on the shore, watching me go in and out with the tide. When I have money and a steady job, I will fulfill my dream of owning a VW Westfalia with a pop-up tent. It will also have plaid curtains and a Partridge Family–like paint job. If and when I get this car, I will tote my surfboard in that and my mom will not have to accompany me. For now, I use her car, an Explorer. I slide my board across the seat through the back, and the nose sits in between the driver’s and passenger’s seats. I wrap a towel over the end of my board so that it won’t bash through my mom’s window; it’s almost too long.

The beach I go to most often is La Jolla Shores because in the morning it’s never crowded and the waves are good enough that I can take my time and have a lot of room to surf. The downsides are the piles of seaweed and, by noon, kids every- where. My favorite beach is San Elijo. The beach is long and there are nice breaks. Despite the 100-odd stairs you have to walk down to get there, it’s worth it.

During my surfing sessions, I’ve taken a lot of dives, but I’ve never hurt my self too badly. Once, I dropped my board and one of my fins cut my toe. There have been times when I have fallen off my board and stayed underwater to the point where I didn’t think I’d ever breathe again. Other times, my legs have been cut up by some nasty reefs. The biggest mistake was going to a five-hour camp the same week I had volleyball training. By the end of the week, I was in great shape, but I’ve never been more sore in my life.

Since I started surfing, I have never had problems with any of the guys out there. I am independent, so I usually mind my own business, but I never feel as if I can’t talk to anyone. The cool thing about the surf scene is that, even if you don’t know anyone out in the water, it’s easy to have a casual conversation with someone. The only time I feel weird is when other girls are out surfing.

— Stefanie Perricone, Clairemont H.S.

At age 9, Jenifer “Grom” Smith moved to Pacific Beach and took to surfing. She practiced during her free time and started competing. Now 18, Jen surfs year-round. She’s traveled to Hawaii, Mexico, Fiji, and Costa Rica. Her favorite local surfing spots are PB and La Jolla.

Recently, Jen inherited a ’93 forest green Chevy pickup that was her dad’s and her older sister’s. It’s rough looking but drives well, which is all that matters to her. In the truck’s bed, you can usually find tide books, ding tape, wax, and her dog’s leash. Before owning the truck, Jen would get to the beach with two boards on a bike, propping one in the board rack and another tucked under her arm.

When she gets out of the water, Jen enjoys dishing on Mexican grub or PB&J sandwiches and soy milk. Her largest meal after a surf session was two Carl’s Junior western bacon cheeseburgers.

Jen surfs an average of two hours once a day, depending on the quality of the surf. On a good day, she likes to stay out for five or six hours. Surfing keeps her in shape, but she also works on upper-body strength to prevent possible back and shoulder problems caused by repetitive motion. She does crunches every day along with numerous cross- training activities such as skating, running with her dog, and yoga.

Once, Jen lost her board, and while swimming toward it, someone clueless shoved the board into her face. She had to have stitches sewn under her nose. She contracted one memorable infection while surfing Cloudbreak, a surf spot in Tavarua, Fiji; she cut her feet on coral, and the bacteria made her feet swell up for a few days. A month after she returned home, Jen’s dad noticed something in her foot. She broke open the wound and found coral growing. “It wasn’t painful,” she says, “but it was a little scary to find out that I had brought home a piece of Fiji in my foot.”

Jen owns six boards. She uses three South Coast longboards that range from 9 ́0" to 9 ́1"; she surfs those in con- tests. She uses a 5 ́4" fish that she says is easily ridden in any conditions. She has a 6 ́0" egg that a friend shaped for her. The board she hopes to have around forever is the 8 ́6" Skip Frye egg. Jen re members seeing Skip Frye surf at Crystal Pier when she was learning to surf, and he influenced her to ride longboards. Since she began surfing, Jen has owned about 15 boards.

Surfing is a sport dominated by males, but women like Jen help change that view. She ignores gender when in the water and feels that guys are friendly to girls...even more so than to other guys. She says the people that tend to be less respectful are generally older men who don’t like being outdone by a girl. She’s not afraid to call one out on a move he pulls in front of her, and if he has a macho attitude about it, she will stand up for herself.

Jen has won third place in the U.S. nose-riding championship in Malibu and a seventh place in Costa Rica for a women’s world title. She is sponsored by Billabong, Von Zipper, Sector Nine, South Coast, and Gorilla Grip.

— Honora Swanson Bober, Point Loma H.S.

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