The Girls of Summer
May 29, 2000 -- Growing up in a dusty, landlocked city in Texas, I listened
to the Beach Boys and yearned to surf. Years passed and nothing came of it.
Then last summer, after reading about Las Olas, an all-women surf camp outside
of Puerto Vallarta in Mexico, I decided to meet my destiny on a 9-foot piece of
Las Olas' founder, Bev Sanders, sees the program as somewhere between an
empowerment seminar and slumber party. In this kinder, gentler, girls-only
atmosphere, with no guys to impress, attract, or try to compete with, we were
going to learn to "hang ten" with the best of them.
In between surf lessons, we experienced a great side effect: camaraderie.
Ranging in age from 25 to 50, we campers bunked together in open-air
palapas overlooking the ocean. We stretched en masse in morning yoga,
paddled out together, ate, drank, and conga'd as a group. High-fives erupted
whenever someone caught a wave or cracked a joke about sex.
Sanders, who launched Las Olas in 1998, fosters the mood. She's the kind of
person you'd like to be when you decide not to grow up, and her mission is to
turn women into surfer girls. Her body is athletic and her organizational
skills impeccable. Her "surfer grrrl" rhetoric makes everyone believe
they will one day ride a frothy curl while "Surfin' Safari" plays on
But what really makes a women-only camp so special? Can it be that there are
no men around to be distracted by? It's more than that, says Pam Martella, a
Temple University doctoral student in sports psychology, who has studied
all-female groups in the outdoors.
Women-only groups are freed from the more male-centric approach of proving
one's self and living up to heroic imagery, she says. Women also tend to learn
well from each other, so that the model for the group isn't necessarily the
expert riding the waves; instead, it can be a fellow camper who's simply
learned to balance on the board.
What's more, says Martella, "women's groups are more fun, sillier, less
competitive." This is something to which I can personally attest. The boys
would certainly roll their eyes at the henna tattooing or jewelry-making
sessions. But in our group, even the three policewomen and the fire fighter
took turns getting suns painted around their belly buttons.
And let's face it, you stop worrying about how your bathing suit fits or if
that yellow zinc oxide flatters your complexion when you're paddling like hell
to elude a monster wave (OK, 4-feet-tall was monster to me) that's eager to
drown your inconsequential self.
For me, surf camp also gave me a new identity: I now can call myself a
"chick with stick" (slang for surfboard) and have since paddled out in
waters that were rife with testosterone. But I stay out of the experts' way, I
don't drop in or steal anyone's wave, and I only ride the little ones. The
thing is, now I can tell that some of them aren't any better than me. They're