Forecasting a new pulse in women’s surfing
For a long time now, a gap has existed in the female surfing industry, somewhere between the bikini clad models and the competitive elite. I’m talking about female freesurfers. Where are they? Who are they? Are there even any out there?
Jaleesa Vincent is one young surfer who’s decided to put her eggs in the freesurfing basket. It’s a path less travelled by up and coming female surfers, but as a Harry Potter reading, Patti Smith doting punk-rocker, she might just have the perfect recipe for success.
Freesurfers are multidimensional creatures. Brendan Margieson was perhaps the first successful freesurfer, known for his wild, expressive hacks and knock-knee stance. He paved the way for surfers like Ozzie Wright, Rasta and later Dane Reynolds. There wasn’t necessarily a formula to follow. Each surfer had something that distinguished him from the crowd: Ozzie brought his artistic and musical flair; Rasta connected surfing with environmentalism and spirituality, while a humble Reynolds, widely considered the best surfer in the world at the time, shunned competition but continued to make giant leaps in surfing. As freesurfers, these guys could approach a wave with complete freedom, unconfined by the need to surf to criteria. They inspired kids who couldn’t find themselves in the perfect arcs of Fanning or the precise lines of Slater. Kids who attended a few grom-searches and hated them.
For young girls growing up surfing there are two archetypes to look to when you’re shaping your surfing identity. There’s the Stephs, Tylers, Sallys and Carissas. Incredible women who are hyper competitive by nature and have raised the bar in women’s surfing to remarkable new heights. And there are freesurfers who get paid to be beautiful, who have a body-type considered marketable. To some extent Steph Gilmore does bridge that gap – although she has chosen to remain predominantly a tour surfer. In between these two archetypes, there’s a big void, just waiting for someone like Jaleesa Vincent to step up and fill it.
Jaleesa grew up surfing an old Pascoe single fin on the Sunny Coast with her brother Jake Vincent. They idolised people like Ozzie Wright and Wade Goodall (a fellow Sunny Coaster from the next town over), and hit adulthood believing that doing what you love for a living was a legitimate option. Last year Jaleesa went on a trip, where she met all her favourite surfers, including the boys behind Rage, and as a result of that trip was featured in the film Scary Good. She plays drums in a two-piece band called Skreech, which is described as genreless noise somewhere between metal and hardcore.
When asked why there aren’t a whole lot of female freesurfers out there, Jaleesa said:
“If you want a surfing career it seems that the easiest way is to follow the grain and do the comp scene. It’s much harder for females than males to get sponsored and especially for free surfing. You have to bring something different to the table. And at the moment most girl free surfers are predominately marketed around how they look in a bikini.”
Jaleesa represents another side of female surf culture. She’s not overly interested in the tour, nor in Instagram beyond its function as a platform to display your creative work. She’s comfortable in her own skin and doesn’t seem concerned with manufacturing an image. When asked what was the first CD she ever bought, Vincent replied without pretence, “So Fresh Autumn 2014”.
A handful of other women have attempted to crack the freesurfing market. Some have been successful, like Keala Kennelly, who’s fearless big wave expertise has won her fans around the world. In the longboarding community, women might take the freesurfing route, but beauty and body type remain high on the criteria. In the women’s shortboarding world, we’re yet to see freesurfing really take off. Perhaps Jaleesa Vincent, with a fluid style, a mean front-side wack and an elegant drop-wallet prowess, has the potential to get things moving.
If the time for women’s freesurfing is now, what circumstances might allow for its
rise? For the first time in the industry’s history, surfers are making their own brands and selecting their own team riders. The Rage boys are in some ways responsible for thrusting Jaleesa into the limelight, by giving her a part in Rage 2. They’re keen on showcasing interesting surfing and interesting personalities, and don’t need to sell bikinis.
Perhaps it’s also got something to do with the natural trajectory of a culture and an industry. Women’s surfing has evolved and matured over the years. Steph Gilmore is one of the best-loved surfers in the world, male and female included. Surfing’s spectatorship is on a constant rise; the number of women in the water has soared; the culture has diversified and young female surfers are looking for role models of many shapes and sizes. Unfortunately, it’s still common for young girls to look to paper-thin models as examples of idealised selves, but perhaps that’s also a comment on the kinds of images that the industry is offering up.
As Vincent pointed out, lack of sponsorship compounds the pay gap. Too many business people it seems, know the cost of everything but the value of nothing. Surely the time is ripe to back a few young shred-lords like Jaleesa Vincent, help change the culture and propel women’s surfing into new and unexpected territories.