essays by shé

Wahines on the Waves

Bethany Hamilton. At Maureen’s this morning, a break I surfed all February, March, and April. Wow!

I grew up in L.A, so celebrities don’t usually thrill me. But I am still smiling hours later after watching this professional surfista paddle out one-armed. Part of it has to do with gender. I didn’t know any girls who surfed when I was young, only boys. I didn’t even know I wanted to surf until I caught that wave at Otter Rock in August 2017. This is for ME!

There were clues. As a water woman, I’ve always known and been friendly with surfers. Then — hunh — my next door neighbor in Olympia was a female surfer. When I evacuated the Pacific Northwest, I ended up in Pacifica one day, and watched a woman paddle out into big waves. I left a card on her windshield asking about lessons. Who, me?!

After returning to L.A. County, I happened to read every surfing book in the library system. In particular, I kept checking out Louise Southerden’s Surf’s Up: the girl’s guide to surfing. An Hermosa Beach neighbor gave me his Wavestorm, and when he changed his mind and took it back, I cried.

Then — just for the heck of it — I signed up for a free surfing class in Manhattan Beach on my 52nd birthday; taught by women, in honor of International Women’s Day. But by the time we got to it, I was too scared to stand up. Turns out I don’t like to be pushed into waves. (Actually, I don’t like to be pushed at all, which is pretty funny considering how hard I push myself.) But, I caught two rides on my belly. And that was enough stimulation for one day. I went back to bodysurfing and swimming, which I’ve been doing since I was a kid.

But the universe kept saying, surfing surfing surfing. I replied, Not me, I can’t do that. But slowly (near-death is a great incentive), I allowed my inner surfista to emerge. Which is why I love wahines on the waves, all ages and abilities. Including me.

Wahine Wave by Shé, acrylic on paper, 11.69″ x 16.5″, 2022




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