27 July 2015

Inspiration and Incongruities at the Supergirl Pro

At the Supergirl Pro each July, over 100 of the world’s best female surfers compete for three days. I came to Oceanside, California, primed to be inspired. Unfortunately, the waves on the first day were not what the world’s best deserved, and the surf barely rallied during the next two days of the contest. Still, it was exciting to watch the women compete from the VIP booth (my access was comped by the organizers). On the last day, Courtney Conlogue of southern California successfully shot the pier to the amazement of spectators. Several of the heats were nail biters, with waves caught barely ahead of the horn and scores too close to call.
The final was a goofyfoot vs. a regular foot, Tatiana Weston-Webb against Conlogue. In the end, Weston-Webb was awarded the hot pink winner’s cape, with Sage Erickson and Nikki Van Dijk tying for third.
If I have a complaint about the Supergirl Pro, other than the lackluster performance of the Pacific Ocean, it’s that there was too much to see this time around. The vendor booth area expanded greatly over last year, with another parking lot taken over. A beer garden was added. The stage hosted speakers, bands and other entertainment. A half pipe was added for a female skateboarding competition, which I missed to watch the last heats of surfing. Seeing tiny girls drop in fearlessly from the top of the half-pipe during warm-ups was almost exciting enough, especially as I have yet to master smaller plunges on my skateboard. There was also a medium-sized tent, tucked away at the back, where women’s surf films were playing. When I stumbled upon it by accident, only one person was inside – kicking back on a folding chair with her phone and paying the screen no mind. I wasn’t surprised at her lack of attention because the sound quality was poor, but hopefully that will be ironed out by next year. With so much going on all at the same time, there was something for everyone, but too much for any one person to see everything.
Watching the best female surfers make hay of the marginally rideable waves was inspiring, as was a short talk by Girls Riders Organization founder Courtney Paine-Taylor. Whether it’s taking the drop from the top of a wave or from the rim of a skatepark ramp, “The moment you believe in yourself that ‘I can do this’ is when you can do it!” she said. It’s the belief in the Supergirl inside each of us, plus the courage to continue when you know you’re going to fall sometimes, that turns ordinary girls and women into extraordinary ones, said Paine-Taylor.
Inspiration from the female speakers, surfers and skaters was discolored by a few incongruities. First, there was the new “bikini fashion show”, which culminated in a “Miss Surfer Girl 2015” on the final day. Although I missed the show because I was watching the concurrent surf competition, I can’t image that it came off without an element of reducing women to sexual objects. And that makes me sad, because three days of women competing to show who has the most skill at surfing – talents that took years of training and hard work to build – shouldn’t be degraded by a competition for who looks best in a bikini. There were so many young girls thronging the contestants as they left the water, eager for an autograph on their surfboards or hats, that I’m sad to think they were getting mixed messages. Be a great athlete, sure, but make sure you look hot in next-to-nothing. When a scant few women and girls match up to the ideal female body image, that’s not something I’d want an 8-year-old Sage Erikson fan taking to heart.
No matter how many women’s surf contests I watch in person or online, I continue to be surprised at the dearth of female voices. The Supergirl Pro was sadly no exception. Although the athlete interviewer was a woman, all of the contest judges and the announcer were male. On stage at the awards ceremony, it was all men again, congratulating the four top competitors at the all-female surf contest. Surely there are retired pro woman surfers who are more than qualified to serve as judges and announcers.
I was also disappointed in the event’s lack of sincere concern for the environment. Although many surf contests are conforming to Sustainable Surf's Deep Blue standards, creating event which “address issues directly related to the local contest area including waste reduction, protection of natural resources, and the building of stronger communities,” the Supergirl Pro made little effort in that regard.
Here’s hoping the Supergirl Pro organizers take a cue from Payne-Taylor’s talk and have the courage to make the event extraordinary next year, by maximizing the inspiration and minimizing the incongruities.

No comments:

Post a Comment