Do surfers sometimes treat each other badly not because of limited waves but because of jealousy?

A study from the University of Valencia revealed “Women with a high level of intrasexual competition are more jealous if the [female] rival is more attractive, and more envious if the [female] rival is more powerful and dominating.” Does this kind of jealousy occur in surfing lineups?


Have you ever felt the stink eye from another woman, even if you couldn’t explain why?

When I was first learning to surf I can remember a shift happening in the middle of my surf sessions sometimes. I’d be having a wonderful time, goofing around, falling on everything and laughing my way back to the lineup. But then another woman would paddle out. She would surf better than me. Instantly my mood would shift and the fun would stop. Jealousy would ruin my session.


North Shore
Crowded lineups and challenging conditions mean strong emotions sometimes take over.


Feminism wasn’t modeled for many of us

The struggle of youth is to develop our egos in a healthy way. But this process can be painful, inevitably leading to competition in an effort to prove our worth. Many of us over thirty grew up in a culture that implied men were more valuable than women. Then doesn’t it makes sense that some women might feel they have something to prove, especially in a male-dominated field?


Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster, co-authors of Mean Girls at Work: How to Stay Professional When Things Get Personal, put it this way: “While most of us want to be kind and nurturing, we struggle with our darker side – feelings of jealousy, envy, and competition. While men tend to compete in an overt manner – jockeying for position and fight to be crowned “winners” – women often compete more covertly and behind the scenes. This covert competition and indirect aggression is at the heart of mean behavior among women at work.”

Could this be true in surfing as well?


My story

For the first two or three decades of my life, pretty much everything I did was driven by a need to validate my worth. I was raised in a culture that taught me that women were supposed to submit to husbands, could not hold positions of leadership over men, and had to stay at home to raise kids. Everything in me hated this. I knew they were wrong. I was not a second class citizen just because I had ovaries. I set out to make everyone see it and agree with me. I went looking for validation around every corner – grades, athletics, performing arts – you name it, I overachieved at it. But the best kind of validation would come from the people who held all the power – men. Even better if that validation came in a male-dominated endeavour like business or mixed-gender athletics.

My story involves an eating disorder, a failed business and two devastating divorces before I would learn that validation only comes from within and my power lies in my femininity not necessarily in my ability to perform identically to a man. But I would not learn that lesson before I found surfing in my late twenties.


Surfer girlfriends
This photo was taken just before a competition where all of these women surfed against each other. I surfed terribly that day and definitely wasn’t smiling so big afterward.


Surfing for attention

In surfing, the ratio of men to women is generally greater than 10:1. A woman can quickly become a big fish in a small pond. Add to this the fact that surfing is a lifestyle and most male surfers would prefer to date a surfer who truly understands this fact, I was in attention heaven.

Except when it came to other women. There was this one girl who surfed my home break who wouldn’t wear a wetsuit in the freezing SoCal autumn and her cute little buns would stick out everywhere. Not only was she adorable, but she was also a fantastic surfer. I placed second to her several small local competitions. To her face, I pretended to like her, and she pretended to like me. And we did like each other, in a way. But we never rolled with the same crew, we rarely exchanged more than a hello, and although we saw each other almost daily, we never bothered to hang out outside of surfing. We were fren-nemies. 


Jealousy in the lineup

She wasn’t the only woman who made me jealous. Pretty much any time I was enjoying being the only woman in the lineup and another female who surfed better than me came out, my heart would turn a bit sour. I sometimes greeted them but never made an effort to get to know them.

If I’m completely honest I still get a little jealous. I haven’t been able to surf consistently for over a year now due to an injury, so rather than improving, I’m losing strength and stamina. I have to be grateful for each time my body does give me the green light to paddle out.

Just last month I was struggling in some messy, wind-blown surf. I was the only woman in the lineup and didn’t really care that I looked like a kook that day. I was just grateful to be in the water. Then another woman paddled out on a finless board and literally started surfing in circles around me. If it was a man I’m sure I would have thought, “How cool”, but instead I felt inadequate. I smiled when she greeted me with a warm, “Howzit” and her greeting did help. I tried to just sit back and appreciate how talented she was but it wasn’t coming easily.


A friendly surf or a competitive one, we get a choice.


Why would I be jealous? I’ve come so far in understanding surfing is about fun, not validation. I’ve learned that what makes me valid are the things that make me uniquely myself. But I guess there is still a part of me that wants to be the best. 


It’s okay to feel jealousy

The logical side of me reminded my emotional side that it’s okay to feel jealous. There is nothing wrong with a feeling. It is what I do with it that counts. I ended up telling the girl how cool I thought it was that she was using a finless board. And I meant it, it was cool! She laughed and said she was just goofing around. As she paddled to a deeper peak she called out, “Have fun!” Oh yeah, fun, that’s what this is supposed to be about.


High achieving women taking up surfing in adulthood

Why do so many high achieving women tend toward surfing, especially later in life? Because it is hard! We could go to a knitting class but we’d be bored as hell! We want a challenge. Especially a challenge in a man’s world where society has told us we don’t belong. But for some high achieving women (I’ll put myself in this camp) part of the reason we are so focused on achievement is a longing for validation in a world where women have been told they are doomed to second place from the very start.


Collaboration not jealousy

And that is exactly the reason I wanted to start the #IGotYou campaign asking women to support each other. When we really believe with our whole hearts, and not just our brains, that each one of us is second to no one, then and only then can we embrace collaboration and leave the competition behind us. We’ve been mistreated long enough by a patriarchal society, why the hell would we continue mistreating one another?!?


surfing girlfriends
Making friends with the women at your home break in and out of the water might reduce competition.


If I really believe that it doesn’t matter how well I surf, or how flat my tummy, is or how successful my company is, then I can relax and have fun doing whatever I’m doing. Knowing that the important part is what is happening right now. Not what I’m accomplishing for the future.


Here and now

The antidote to ego and jealousy is being present. If you do what you do because you enjoy doing it, then you’ll never concern yourself with attachment future result, such as becoming good at it. You are just doing it because it brings you joy. Being present means you won’t care if anyone else does it better than you. You won’t care if people follow you on social media because they like the photos of you doing it. You won’t care if all the heads in the lineup turn or everyone laughs when you go on a wave. You are just out there to do what you love to do. Keeping this in mind helps me a lot.


If you have not yet taken the #IGotYou pledge to commit to supporting other women in surfing, please do so now. And be sure to share your stories of a time you supported another woman or she supported you on our Facebook group. We will be selecting several winners for awesome prizes from our sponsors – Free surf bikini, sunnies, forecasting subscriptions, Hydroflasks and sunscreens anyone?

Join the movement, take the pledge and share your stories using #IGotYou!


Cover Photo @sasha_neige

I am a writer and wanna-be big wave surfer. Surfing is my muse. I write about it and how it’s teaching me to live better. I hold certification as a nutritionist, personal trainer, yoga instructor, and lifeguard instructor. My story “100 Days in Mexico” of how a solo road trip surfing my way through Mexico changed my life can be found here


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