Surf's Up for Women

Move over, dudes. The surfer girls are here.

In the last decade, women have been cutting up the waves more than ever. And with the sexy, teen movie Blue Crush coming out Friday, experts say girl surfing will soon be even bigger.

"The sport is visually dramatic and glamorous. It's done in beautiful places, and the people doing it are half naked and look great," said Susan Orlean, who wrote a short story that became the basis of the movie. "So it has a flash that's very alluring. Even though seeing people wipe out is a little scary, it makes you think, 'how cool to be out there on a surfboard.'"

Bill Sharp, the editor of Surf News and a former member of the U.S. national team, thinks a good surf movie can even spur people to abandon their cubicles in big cities for life on the beach.

"I think it happens all the time," Sharp said from Newport Beach, Calif. "People are attracted to beach lifestyle through a movie like Blue Crush. And once you actually get into the water, catch wave and ride shoreward with the wind in your hair, people do pack up and move from New York City to Newport Beach."

The glamour of surfing, with its crushing waves and sun-tanned stars, has never been in question. But women's participation in the sport -- recreationally and professionally -- has increased dramatically over the last decade.

"The biggest single trend in the sport in the last 10 years is the attraction of surfing to a female audience," said Sharp. "It used to be a bastion of young males. Even though Gidget was a cliché of the '50s and '60s, there weren't many girls involved."

There's no mistaking the girls of Blue Crush for Gidget. They're tough, and can surf better than some of the men in the movie. In one scene star Kate Bosworth teaches Matthew Davis, who plays a hunky NFL quarterback on vacation in Hawaii, to take on the waves.

"In the '70s, the average surfer guys at a beach could smoke the top girls in the world," said Sharp. "And that's not true anymore."

The rise in women's professional surfing has been helped along by the invention of smaller, lighter boards and women's surf gear. Quiksilver, a leading brand, created the Roxy women's surf line in 1991. They made the first surf shorts for girls in 1993.

"Surf clothes made girls feel comfortable in the surf world," said Sharp.

Roxy's profits are one of the best indications of just how big women's surfing has become: Sales have jumped from $1.1 million in its first year, 1991, to a projected $130 million this year.

"Men's surf sales have been fairly flat and women's have been through the roof, " Sharp said. "It's here to stay. And we'll see an additional surge of interest with Blue Crush."

And Orlean, who never actually braved the big waves of Maui herself, called surfing a natural sport for athletic girls.

"It's fast, it's cool, it's exciting and it doesn’t have to be competitive," she said. "It’s not so much that it's suddenly attracting girls, as much as it used to exclude them."

And will the average surfer dude "go aggro" if he's shown up by a female peer? Sharp thinks not.

"I think there's a lot of encouragement nowadays. People would rather see a cute girl out there than another ugly dude."