Tide is turning as record numbers of women take to their surfboards

The number of female surfers in the UK is set to double to 100,000, leaving men fighting for space. Jonathan Thompson reports
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The Independent Online

The surf's up on the British coast - but it's women who are making all the waves. In surfing hotspots, from Newquay in Cornwall to Thurso in Scotland, men are increasingly finding themselves fighting for space in the swell with a new breed of female board riders.

The surf's up on the British coast - but it's women who are making all the waves. In surfing hotspots, from Newquay in Cornwall to Thurso in Scotland, men are increasingly finding themselves fighting for space in the swell with a new breed of female board riders.

New figures from the British Surfing Association (BSA), the sport's national governing body, show that the number of female surfers in the UK is set to reach a record high, with double the number this summer in the biggest rise the sport has seen. By the end of this year, the BSA estimates that women will account for 100,000 of Britain's 350,000-strong surfing community.

Driven by the rise in women-only surf schools, weekend and holiday packages, as well as multimillion-pound advertising campaigns by leading brands such as Quiksilver and Rip Curl, women are swapping beaches for boards in their neoprene-clad droves. Magazines for "surf chicks'' have sprung up and sales of specialist female apparel have soared.

In recognition of this upsurge in interest, next month the UK will host its first event on the women's professional surfing world championship tour - the Roxy Jam at Perranporth, Cornwall. This is a major coup considering that only one European venue is selected by the tour each year.

Karen Walton, the national director of the BSA and herself a surfer, said the number of women passing through the organisation's 50 approved surf schools has risen dramatically. "It's definitely a major growth area in the industry,'' said Ms Walton speaking at the BSA's headquarters on Fistral Beach in Newquay - the spiritual home of British surfing.

"Women seem to be up for a bit more adventure and surfing is seen as both aspirational and accessible. It's not just participation that is up. We've seen increasing numbers of women getting into coaching, starting businesses and running competitions.''

One major beneficiary of this surge in female desire to rule the waves is clothing manufacturer Quiksilver, which has seen turnover from its women's line Roxy increase by an average of 47 per cent over each of the past five years.

Sophie Nicolet, Quiksilver's European communications manager, said that Roxy now accounts for as much as a third of Quiksilver's total $1.2bn (£626,000) annual profit.

"The whole phenomenon of women surfing has just been getting bigger and bigger,'' Ms Nicolet said. "Only 14 years ago, Roxy didn't exist. Now we're expecting it to become bigger than Quiksilver within five years.''

Rip Curl, too, has seen demands for its female clothing soar from 20 per cent of its total sales in 2000 to 40 per cent last year. Like Roxy, the company has started running female-only learn-to-surf weekends, and has been astonished by the uptake. This year it is expecting 1,500 women to take part in its "Girls Go Surfing'' weekend in June - double the figure who signed up the first time the event was run in 2003.

Down on the beaches of Newquay this week, it was a similar picture. At Watergate Bay, long-term resident Andreya Wharry, a 33-year-old professional kite surfer who teaches at the nearby Extreme Academy, said: "When I was a teenager you used to be able to count the girl surfers on one hand. Now about one in five of the surfers are female.''

Buoyed by Ryanair's expanding London to Newquay flights and ably assisted by a growing awareness among advertisers and film-makers, surfing has created a boom industry. The English Surf Federation (ESF), which holds its national championships at Watergate Bay next weekend, says that surfing is now worth as much as £66m a year to the Cornish economy alone.

The surfing mum: Lisa Barlow, 35



Surfing CV: Grew up in Watergate Bay, near Newquay, and discovered surfing at 14. A mother of two, she surfs regularly. She works at the nearby Extreme Academy surfing school.

She says: "I go surfing as often as I can, fitting it around my husband, my kids and my job. In the summer it becomes more of a priority. When I first started surfing it was all about the challenge and the lifestyle. Now it's more about relaxation."

The teenage hopeful: Corinne Evans, 16

Surfing CV: Attends the surf academy at Treviglas Community College, Newquay. She took up competitive surfing this year.

She says: "I started having lessons about three years ago and really got into it. At the surf academy we learn about the business side of the sport, as well as coaching, coastal processes and life-saving. Ideally I'd like to make a living out of surfing, one way or another."

The new arrivals: Charlotte and Vince Timson, 35 and 40

Surfing CV: Moved from the Midlands to Watergate Bay eight months ago to live the surfing lifestyle.

They say: "We'd been coming down to Watergate Bay on holiday for 13 years, but it just got to the point where we felt we had to be living it. We've got four kids and they all surf too; it's something we do as a family. It's about living by the sea - the whole lifestyle. The surfing is addictive, and we're here to stay."

The regular tourist: Roberta Greenhalgh, 50

Surfing CV: Lives in Kingston, Surrey, but travels down to Newquay to surf for regular holidays and long weekends.

She says: "There's just this ultimate feeling about catching the best wave. I love being in the sea, and the natural buzz of the outdoors. Surfing is never, ever boring; it's constantly changing. Each ride is different."

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