It’s late in the afternoon, and the sun, hovering above the horizon, is just starting to dye the ocean the color of mercury. I’m sitting beyond the breakers on my longboard, and it’s epic: a gentle swell deepens ribbons of water into purple, while along the horizon the sea dissolves into sky. It’s the sort of scene that makes you need to surf — whether you enjoy the ocean or not — and for a few moments I forget that I’m not entirely comfortable out here.
I’d been surprised the day before when, sitting in on a women’s surf workshop about facing fears, others had voiced the same insecurities I’ve had since learning to surf two years ago. “I’m really scared of big waves,” a Swedish nurse confessed. “I’m intimidated by other surfers,” an English entrepreneur admitted. “I hang back, waiting to be given a wave instead of staking my claim for one.” Nods all around.
The women had gathered in Bali to share a long weekend of surfing. It would be three days of coaching, workshops and assessments, and already, 15 minutes in, my confidence is boosted simply by the realization that anxiety in the water is OK — in fact, it seems pretty normal.
Bali has been a popular surf destination for decades. Recently, surf retreats, particularly those for women only, have become increasingly prevalent. “In a group, women soon feel safe and begin to open up, making room for everyone to feel understood,” says Runa Weidemann, who runs In Surf Retreats for women in Norway and has started a similar operation in Bali. “There is something so empowering about surfing with a group of determined women who support each other and are out there to have fun.”
The psychology of surfing is interesting (a book in itself), and generally speaking, men and women approach surfing differently. Sure, everyone wants to have fun out there, says surf coach Yeni Canelón, who runs Salti Hearts surf, yoga and fitness retreats for women in Bali, Spain and Australia. “Men, however, tend to be more assertive surfers — they believe they have a right to be out there riding waves — while women are often looking for more of an empowering, nurturing and fun experience. They also want to surf more mellow waves, to chill and have an epic time with like-minded women.”