Girls Gone Wild – The Rise Of Women’s Surfing

They’ve been ignored long enough. Shit on by contest organizers who throw them out into crappy conditions when nobody’s watching and replaced in advertisement campaigns by skinny model types who can’t surf, the girls of the pro tour have been given the shaft by a male-dominated surf culture.

But things are changing. Girls now make up a quarter of the surfers in the water-a staggering 280-percent increase over the last four years-and their products, like boardshorts, bikinis, and wetsuits, are a four-billion-dollar industry. We recognize this movement, phenomenon, revolution, or whatever you want to call it, and decided to do something about it.

To be honest, it was an experiment, and some were vehemently opposed to it. But we said screw it to the naysayers and loaded up a boat in the Mentawais with seven of the most influential and ripping female surfers on Earth-the immediate past, present, and future of the women’s surfing movement.

The results were more than impressive: Beautiful, athletic, sun-kissed girls bronzing in between sessions, dance parties that lasted well into the night, Sofia Mulanovich hitting the reef with her butt and me rubbing lime on it, Keala yanking Rochelle’s pants off in front of everybody, and the best display of women’s surfing ever-with the photos to prove it. Believe the hype surrounding women’s surfing-they’re better than ever, and there’s no sign of them slowing down.

We’ve got the retired guru Lisa Andersen; present-day world-title contenders Rochelle Ballard, Keala Kennelly, Megan Abubo, and Sofia Mulanovich; the future of the movement, two-time U.S. Open Champ Chelsea Georgeson; and air-master Melanie Bartels all profiled by the luckiest guy around-me. Ten days in a boat with seven gorgeous girls and perfect waves-it’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it.

Lisa Andersen

The Champ

Four-time world champ. Teenage runaway. A Suburban-driving soccer mom. The woman behind the multimillion-dollar company, Roxy. The leader of the girl’s surfing revolution. The hottest chick in the Mentawais for ten days in July.

Lisa Andersen has been all of these people.

At the age of sixteen Lisa ran away from home in Florida and relocated herself in Huntington Beach, California. When she first arrived, she was sleeping on the patios of vacant, beachfront vacation rentals by night and surfing the Huntington Pier by day. She quickly became one of the best surfers on the NSSA circuit and by 1987 was named rookie of the year by the ASP. In 1994 she won her first of four consecutive world titles, cementing her name among the best women ever.

Her contribution to women’s surfing isn’t measured in world titles, however, it’s measured in something much more girly-clothes. After getting sick of wearing men’s boardshorts, Lisa helped design the female boardshort, which became an instant success and to this day earns millions for surfwear giant Quiksilver. While putting a dollar figure to the amount of clothing sold would be difficult (and include a lot of zeros), it’s fair to say that Roxy wouldn’t be what it is today without her.

Lisa’a talent earned her numerous accolades, including being named one of the greatest sportswomen of the century by Sports Illustrated and a cover shot for Surfer magazine-the first woman on the cover in fifteen years.

TransWorld SURF: Every girl I’ve talked to mentions you as a role model. What’s up with that?

Lisa: They’re either drunk or seasick.

No, really.

I don’t know, because I’m old? I guess you could say I’m a mentor because I’ve been around longer than them.

Do you know what a MILF is?

(Laughs) I just recently found out what that means. Keala said it to me a while ago, and then I saw American Pie, so …

It seems like you’re going in a new direction now. What’s in the future for you?

I really don’t know. I would enjoy being somewhere where I can see the girls (on the WCT) again-like a Roxy contest director or a boat tr or something. I have to keep connected to these things or I’ll become real unhappy. I love my kids and everything-they’re my whole life-but I’m a surfer, and I have to keep that part of me going.

Lisa won’t say it, so I will-she’s a legend. She changed the world of women’s surfing with her powerful approach that favored big maneuvers over wiggles, was the driving force behind a whole fashion movement, is a great mom, and proved to the world that chicks can rip and look good at the same time. Not bad for a teenage runaway.

Rochelle Ballard

The Boss

Rochelle has a problem. It’s fixable, but it’s still a problem (at least in her eyes). It’s that whole barrel-riding thing-she’s really good at it. Some of us would have a sex change to be known as the best female barrel rider ever, but not Rochelle. She wants to be recognized as a great all-around surfer, not just a tube specialist. That’s fair enough, but she has a habit of getting spit out of draining barrels that cannot be ignored. Case in point: We’re surfing Lance’s Right and the crowd was thick with dudes who paid top dollar to be where they were. Most of the girls were frustrated with the crowd and had returned to the boat, but Rochelle hung in and waited for a wave. And what a wave she got-a solid six-footer that barreled from the outside takeoff point all the way through to the “Surgeon’s Table” with Rochy locked in the whole way. As she came flying out in a flurry of spit, the channel erupted into a chorus of howls-from both men and women. So, I’m really sorry, Rochelle, but it looks like the tag is going to stick.

I’ve known Rochelle since the seventh grade, when she spent a year away from her home on Kaua’i attending my junior high school in California. She was the best girl surfer I had ever seen, and I was totally captivated by her stories about surfing and growing up in the Islands. She disappeared after one year, and I didn’t catch up to her until a couple years ago, but as I came to find out, she hadn’t changed much, she was still the same super surf-stoked grommet, just making money following her passion.

TransWorld SURF: Where do you see women’s surfing going in the next few years?

Rochelle: I’ve always had such big sights for women’s surfing. I knew it would eventually get to a place where people would respect it. I love when guys go, “Oh my gosh! Did you see what that woman just did?”

I did that a lot on this trip.

You know, it’s (women’s surfing) taken some time to get to where it is today-just because the way society is. Once something is accepted, especially involving women, it accelerates at a tremendous pace.

What do you have to say to all the girls who look up to you?

Go have fun. Be inspired and inspire others.

Rochelle was called “Boss” by the rest of the girls on our trip, and true to her title, she was the shot-caller for the ladies. Surf Lance’s or back to Macca’s? Better ask Roach. Now that Lisa isn’t on the tour, Rochelle is the girl the other girls go to for advice and encouragement-the elder stateswoman of the tour, if you will (she’s gonna hate that). Right now, Rochelle is the world’s best female tube rider, but damn, the girl can turn, too.

Pull quote: “I’ve always had such big sights for women’s surfing. I knew it would eventually get to a place where people would respect it.”

Megan Abubo

The Waikiki Beach Girl

Born and raised on the shores of Waikiki, Megan Abubo is the essence of a surfer girl. Coached by Waikiki’s famed “beach boys” in various forms of wave riding, including canoe surfing, tandem surfing, and longboarding, Megan’s upbringing is reflected in her graceful, very Hawai’ian style. At age fourteen, Abubo was introduced to professional surfing in two ways: meeting Sunny Garcia and seeing an MTV special on Lisa Andersen.

“I used to watch and look up to Sunny a lot when I was a kid-he’s the epitome of Hawai’ian surfing with his back-foot power. I looked up to Lisa Andersen a lot, too,” recalls Megan. “I remember watching this special on MTV about her, and that was the day I decided to become a professional surfer-or at least try.”

Her first attempt at professional surfing was at the Op Pro in Huntington Beach, where she ended up surfing against her idol and inspiration, Lisa Andersen. “I totally got my ass kicked, but that was when I went, ‘Wow, I think I can do this!'” says Megan. After two years of battling through the WQS, she made the big time-the WCT-and became a regular finisher in the top ten, highlighted by her second-place finish in 2000. “I’ve never been one of those super-naturally talented surfers-I just worked really hard,” says the 25 year old about her success.

TransWorld SURF: What’s the difference between men’s and women’s surfing?

Megan: I think it’s just like any sport-nobody ever compares Venus Williams’ serve to Andy Roddick’s. Venus will never serve as fast as Andy Roddick-that’s just how it is. If you have ten-percent body fat and you’re a guy, that’s kind of a lot, but if you’re a woman and you have fifteen-percent body fat, you’re skinny. That’s the difference to me-guys are bigger and stronger.

Can you tell me about the eleven-year-old phenom Carissa Moore?

Last winter we were out surfing Hale’iwa, and we’re both bailing our boards on six-foot, maybe bigger, waves-and she’s eleven! I was getting hammered, and she would pop up next to her dad and me, and be like, “I made it!” With that kind of commitment and drive, and by watching girls like Keala and Rochelle charge these huge waves, I think girls are going to realize they can surf eight-foot (Hawai’ian) waves. It’s all about seeing another girl doing it.

As you can imagine, Megan has tons of young girls looking up to her, including my fifteen-year-old sister, who was nearly stalking her at Pupukea Foodland last winter. She has some advice for these gromettes (besides “Don’t be a stalker”): “Be whoever you are, whether it’s a girly-girl or a tomboy-who cares? Just go out there, surf, and have fun.”

Pull quote: Nobody ever compares Venus Williams’ serve to Andy Roddick’s. Venus will never serve as fast as Andy Roddick-that’s just how it is.

Keala Kennelly

Kaua’i Girl

“I think she surfs like a man-and that’s the best compliment you could give a woman surfer.”-Kala Alexander on fellow Garden Isle resident, Keala Kennelly

Kala is more apt to throw a right hook than a compliment, but in the case of Keala, he’s all love: “F-k, I’ve seen her pull into huge barrels-all of her life she’s been doing that. What I like about her is her individualism and she doesn’t take shit from anybody, and that’s what Kaua’i people are all about.”

Not many people can say they’ve beaten Andy Irons in a heat, and not many people can say they were in a bike club with the Irons bros when they were kids. Keala Kennelly can.

Keala, which means “the path” in Hawai’ian, is a remarkable woman, not only because she surfs waves like Teahupo’o and Pipe at critical size, but also because she is so damn strong. Not so much physically strong, but mentally. Credit her mentality and strength with growing up and hanging out with Andy and Bruce.

Keala recalls: “They were really hard on me because I was a girl, but at the same time, they let me hang out with them. I learned a lot and got strong from them because they pushed me so hard. They would do brother-type stuff to me, like tell me to go on a wave that they knew I was going to eat shit on, just so they could have a laugh.” With the influence of two of the world’s best surfers and her own inner strength, Keala has become known as the hardest-charging woman ever.

TransWorld SURF: Women’s surfing-where has it been and where is it now?

Keala: In the past, it’s been really restricted. But I think the new judging format and the new girls getting into it have brought it to where it’s at today-everybody’s ripping and it’sp to Lisa Andersen a lot, too,” recalls Megan. “I remember watching this special on MTV about her, and that was the day I decided to become a professional surfer-or at least try.”

Her first attempt at professional surfing was at the Op Pro in Huntington Beach, where she ended up surfing against her idol and inspiration, Lisa Andersen. “I totally got my ass kicked, but that was when I went, ‘Wow, I think I can do this!'” says Megan. After two years of battling through the WQS, she made the big time-the WCT-and became a regular finisher in the top ten, highlighted by her second-place finish in 2000. “I’ve never been one of those super-naturally talented surfers-I just worked really hard,” says the 25 year old about her success.

TransWorld SURF: What’s the difference between men’s and women’s surfing?

Megan: I think it’s just like any sport-nobody ever compares Venus Williams’ serve to Andy Roddick’s. Venus will never serve as fast as Andy Roddick-that’s just how it is. If you have ten-percent body fat and you’re a guy, that’s kind of a lot, but if you’re a woman and you have fifteen-percent body fat, you’re skinny. That’s the difference to me-guys are bigger and stronger.

Can you tell me about the eleven-year-old phenom Carissa Moore?

Last winter we were out surfing Hale’iwa, and we’re both bailing our boards on six-foot, maybe bigger, waves-and she’s eleven! I was getting hammered, and she would pop up next to her dad and me, and be like, “I made it!” With that kind of commitment and drive, and by watching girls like Keala and Rochelle charge these huge waves, I think girls are going to realize they can surf eight-foot (Hawai’ian) waves. It’s all about seeing another girl doing it.

As you can imagine, Megan has tons of young girls looking up to her, including my fifteen-year-old sister, who was nearly stalking her at Pupukea Foodland last winter. She has some advice for these gromettes (besides “Don’t be a stalker”): “Be whoever you are, whether it’s a girly-girl or a tomboy-who cares? Just go out there, surf, and have fun.”

Pull quote: Nobody ever compares Venus Williams’ serve to Andy Roddick’s. Venus will never serve as fast as Andy Roddick-that’s just how it is.

Keala Kennelly

Kaua’i Girl

“I think she surfs like a man-and that’s the best compliment you could give a woman surfer.”-Kala Alexander on fellow Garden Isle resident, Keala Kennelly

Kala is more apt to throw a right hook than a compliment, but in the case of Keala, he’s all love: “F-k, I’ve seen her pull into huge barrels-all of her life she’s been doing that. What I like about her is her individualism and she doesn’t take shit from anybody, and that’s what Kaua’i people are all about.”

Not many people can say they’ve beaten Andy Irons in a heat, and not many people can say they were in a bike club with the Irons bros when they were kids. Keala Kennelly can.

Keala, which means “the path” in Hawai’ian, is a remarkable woman, not only because she surfs waves like Teahupo’o and Pipe at critical size, but also because she is so damn strong. Not so much physically strong, but mentally. Credit her mentality and strength with growing up and hanging out with Andy and Bruce.

Keala recalls: “They were really hard on me because I was a girl, but at the same time, they let me hang out with them. I learned a lot and got strong from them because they pushed me so hard. They would do brother-type stuff to me, like tell me to go on a wave that they knew I was going to eat shit on, just so they could have a laugh.” With the influence of two of the world’s best surfers and her own inner strength, Keala has become known as the hardest-charging woman ever.

TransWorld SURF: Women’s surfing-where has it been and where is it now?

Keala: In the past, it’s been really restricted. But I think the new judging format and the new girls getting into it have brought it to where it’s at today-everybody’s ripping and it’s super progressive. When I first started (surfing professionally), I’d surf through the trials, and there were girls in there who could barely turn. Now, when you surf in a WQS event, you don’t want to surf in the first round-you might get your ass knocked out.

Where do you see it going in the future?

Wherever the next generation is going to take it. I already see girls like Chelsea, Sofia, and Melanie Bartels stepping it up a level. Their surfing is so progressive and critical, and that pushes the older girls. They’ve come onto the Tour and given it a fresh look.

Keala is amazing. She brought her mixing machine on the trip and literally rocked the boat every night, ripped off my clothes several times, told the dirtiest jokes imaginable, and completely ruled every time we surfed-this girl is the real deal.

Sofia Mulanovich

South America’s Big Hope

Sofia Mulanovich is on a roll. After winning three WCT events in a row (she has a commanding lead over Rochelle Ballard-who is in second place), Sofia is looking to become the first South American ever to win a world title in surfing. She’s already become the first Peruvian to win a WCT contest-three times over. It’s safe to say that Sofia, who refers to her 5’8″ Al Merrick as her “beeger board,” has become a superstar in her native Peru-although she would never admit it.

Sofia grew up outside of Lima, the capital of Peru, in a little town called Punta Hermosa. It was there that her mother, father, and friends first introduced her to surfing at their local break, La Isla. Because there are so many long, perfect lefts in Peru, Sofia has a lethal backhand and links together multiple turns smoothly-an ideal formula for winning contests.

TransWorld SURF: You’re the most successful Peruvian surfer ever. You must be famous, as well as a sex symbol, in Peru.

Sofia: Not really. I’m just a normal girl who likes to surf, and that’s it.

Where do you see women’s surfing headed?

No more five-point rides. All the rides are going to be like eight-and nine-point rides. It’s like the men’s now. I’m not saying we’re as good as the men, but we’re getting better.

Who’s the future of women’s surfing?

For me, I’d say it’s about Melanie Bartels and Chelsea Georgeson-they’re going nuts and really pushing the limits.

What kind of maneuvers are women doing now?

We’re starting to pull airs, bigger turns, and barrel riding is getting really, really good.

Let’s not count our chickens before they hatch, but if you win the world title, can I come to your party?

For sure you can. Everybody can. I don’t know if I’m going to win, but if I do, you’re going to see the hugest party ever. I’m going to rent a house and just go nuts-nothing but nuts!

Sofia was a machine in the Mentawais. She would surf for hours, come in for a water break, and get back out there. The girl truly loves surfing, and her dedication has gotten her to the top of the game. Even though it’s better than most Americans’, the only thing she has to work on is her English. For instance, when we were talking about sharks, she asked, “Is it shark or chark?”

She asked in such a genuine and innocent manner, we all had to laugh and say, “It’s chark, Sofia.”

Pull quote: “If I do (win the world title), you’re going to see the hugest party ever. I’m going to rent a house and just go nuts-nothing but nuts!”

Melanie Bartels

The Hat-Wearing Hawai’ian

The Westside of O’ahu has been known to produce amazing and brash surfing talent for years. The names speak for themselves-Sunny, Johnny Boy, Buffalo, Rell, and Brian Pacheco, to name a few. Add one more to the list of Westside all-stars-Melanie Bartels. Count Pacheco as a fan: “I wouldn’t want her in a heat. I’ve been watching her surf for a long time, and she’s always been ripping. She surfs better than a lot of guys I know and represents the Westside perfectly.”

The 22-year-old Bartels has become known as the best a