Fit, bronzed and running around tropical locales in their skivvies? Yes, today's up-and-coming female surfers have the look. But for the first time since "Blue Crush," when female surfers graced the pages of mags like Maxim and Esquirethe non-surfing world is paying attention to them. And the timing for mainstream's newfound fascination with surfer girls? Couldn't be better. With a bumper crop of hungry upstarts leading the charge at surf breaks all over the world, the sport is more legit than ever.
In its July 2009 issue, Vanity Fair featured a spread of Malia Manuel, Coco Ho, Sally Fitzgibbons, Quincy Davis, Laura Enever, Courtney Conlogue, Hailey and Sierra Partridge, Sofia Mulanovich and Alana Blanchard. The Condé Nast publication flew out photographer Michael Halsband to capture the group which represented, for the most part, the young, freaky, girl-bot generation of surfers. These wonderkidswho we already know comprise a generation of athletes like never beforecertainly have the media's attention.
"The girls were fun, lively, and energetic," said Vanity Fair senior associate photo editor Sasha Erwitt of the characteristics that probably attract people to surfers in the first place. "They made a great impression on everyone at the shoot. Though they were no strangers to being photographed, they were excited to be featured in Vanity Fair."
"It's great that Vanity Fair is backing us. It's a huge magazine and to be recognized by them is a big deal," said Courtney Conlogue, a high school senior. "My dad didn't really know who they werebut a lot of people do."
"They were great sports," said Erwitt of the participants in the shoot at Crystal Cove in Newport Beach, Calif. "The weather was a bit chilly, yet no one complained about wearing bikinis and getting into the ocean."
"We definitely didn't look as cold as we were," Conlogue laughed.
That sort of familiarity in front of the lens coupled with leading such a healthy, active lifestyle can get a girl pretty far in the world of entertainment and images. In fact, before the Vanity Fair shoot, Conlogue flew out to New York to participate in a "how to dress for an athletic body type" bit for Teen Vogue. Unlike the VF spread, in which the girls were set on the beach in their bikinis (standard fare), this shoot required Courtney to don five-inch stilettos for hours. Anyone who knows the freckle-faced surf rat may have a hard time picturing it. "I'm Bambi on ice," she admitted. "I never wear high heels but by the end of the day I got pretty damn good at jumping up and down in themit's fun to do that kind of stuff every once in a while. It makes your life more interesting." (And then it's back to getting sandblasted at Newport on the latest south swell, practicing her tailslide on perfect rights at Uppers or waking up at 3 a.m. to get Lowers before sunrise.)
To your average, everyday surfer, images of bikini-clad girls are the norm; we're almost desensitized to the abundance of photos we see of the people who do what we do best. But to the rest of the world, the exotic, adventurous lifestyle is something one sees only in movies or TV. So, you've already got the water; add a little sex appeal and there you have a marketing dream.
Take 18-year-old ASP Women's World Tour rookie Alana Blanchard, who just appeared in Rolling Stone's "Hot List" issue. The magazine called her out as "The Blue Crush," to put it into laymen's terms. The girl can obviously throw her tail with the best of 'em but some say that the sizeor lack thereofof her bikinis may not harm her cause with mainstream media, either. "I do surf in small bikinis," she was quoted as saying to the biweekly music, politics and pop culture magazine. "But they're not that small. That's just what we wear in Hawaii."
In a juxtaposition of sorts, 27-year-old Amee Donohoe, a World Tour fixture who ended 2008 ranked No. 5, adorns the June 2009 cover of San Francisco-based Curve, the self-proclaimed "best selling lesbian magazine," showing no skin at all, doing a cutback in a full suit. "We're not opposed to a hot girl in a bikini but it wasn't a primary concern of ours," said Curve's managing editor, Katie Peoples. "[The photo] really shows what Amee can do as a surfer." Although Curve doesn't always spotlight female athletes, Donohoe's up there with the likes of Martina Navratilova and Sheryl Swoopes. That's the type of support that Amee seems to feel she doesn't get from the endemic surf industry and mediait's made her turn elsewhere for the exposure any world-class athlete expects to receive.
"Why am I not sponsored?" Amee asked in her Curve interview with writer Gillian Kendall. "'The surf industry is never, ever going to come out and say it's because of my sexuality, but I've approached a couple of companies and I just get 'No, no, I'm sorry.' I think they don't want their company associated with that image. They want surfies to have a real feminine look, and I don't." Still, Amee's all about her own style and image and she, like the others, may have tapped into a better market for herself within the realm of nonsurf media.
"Amee was a big deal for us. We were really excited to hear that she wanted to come out in mainstream mediabut we would have promoted her anyway," said Peoples. "We really want to show women who are out in their careers. We were really excited to include Ameefor us it was about bringing attention to a great female athlete." And in the end, that attention is something all the girls are striving for, whether they're making six-figure salaries or just scraping cash together to get to the next contest, because the hype should only benefit the sport. That may be the reason why the ASP just released its "Welcome to the Life" media kit, showing a little bit of a glamorous side to its top 17 international athletes.
"It's really important for us to have recognition outside of surfing magazines," said Conlogue, whoas one of California's top amateursis most likely planning her own future attack on entry into surfing's elite. "It's good to know that so many people are starting to respect what we're doing in the water."