Women remain a rarity among Ocean City surfers


July 03, 1992|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

Ocean City -- The wind has shifted direction, breezing in from the north, making the waves choppy and pushing surfers southward toward the pier.

"It's a little rough out there, but I can handle it," says Kelly List, who is dressed in a black-and-purple wet suit, after several rides in the chilly surf. "It's still fun."

The beach at Eighth Street is deserted except for a group of kids who are splashing in the waves as part of a youth body-board camp. Someone counts only a handful of girls in their numbers.

"You just don't find many girls involved in this sport," says Jack Crosby, a sometime-surfer and owner of Bombers surf shop. "A lot of these girls will have fun with this, but they won't stick with it."

Kelly List, 17, is a rarity. She is one of a small number of girls and women who ride the waves along Ocean City's beaches.

"Historically, there never have been too many girls," says Kathy Phillips, administrative director of the Eastern Surfing Association. "You see more of them in other areas. There's a whole slew of them in New Jersey. I don't know what it is about this area."

As a rule, fewer women than men compete in contests nationwide, Mrs. Phillips said. There tend to be more female competitors in such places as Virginia Beach and parts of Florida, although of the few who surf locally, Amy Smith and Robin Forti have competed successfully in local and state contests.

Jeff Phillips, director of the Maryland District of the ESA, says few women surf because the sport "takes a lot of time, money and effort all year long."

A surfboard and wet suit cost a few hundred dollars. It takes three or fours years to become a good to very good surfer, he says, adding, "I don't think women see the sport the same way as men do."

That's a contention that Kelly List, Holly Hopkins and other women who surf might dispute. They concede that the sport is physically demanding and requires athletic prowess, but they believe there are other reasons more women aren't involved.

"The guys don't look at you as surfers," Miss List says. "They don't look at what you can do on a surfboard. They look at you as someone to be picked up. It's disgusting and it's demoralizing."

XL Ms. Hopkins adds: "I think a lot of girls still see it as a 'guy' sport.

They feel intimidated and don't feel like they can fit in. There's not place in the lineup for girls.

"I know it's hard to believe, but that [sexism] does exist," says Ms. Hopkins, a junior government major at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Mr. Crosby says it's more common to find women involved in body boarding. Body boards are smaller and wider than surfboards, and are soft.

"Surfing is real competitive," he says. "When you're first learning, guys tend to give beginners, even guys, the business. It's just something you have to persevere with."

Undaunted, both young women practice their skills away from the men.

Miss List has been surfing "almost every day" for about a year. She practices at the 45th Street beach, not too far from the Endless Summer beach and volleyball shop where she works full time during the summer.

"Surfing is very had to learn. I'm not very good yet, but I really love it," she says.

Ms. Hopkins has been body-boarding for about six years. She is ranked fourth on the East Coast and regularly places first and second in Maryland contests.

"It's like a rush," she says of body boarding.

Kim Painter, a beginning surfer who has been body-boarding for two years, hasn't found sexism to be a problem.

"I've never understood that," says Ms. Painter, 19, of Severna Park. "The guys have always treated me well. They cheer me on. They let me take their waves."

Ms. Painter has placed in state contests as well.

"I think a lot of girls just aren't interested," she says. "They would rather lay on the beach and watch the guys. But not me."

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