Las Sirenitas is Far More Than a Surfing Program for Girls
When the healing power of the ocean, 21 Nicaraguan girls and a woman named Bella come together to form Las Sirenitas, magic happens!
Isabelle “Bella” Delfosse is a former girl scout from Belgium. She now lives in Popoyo Nicaragua. She owns and operates a small B&B called Sirena’s Surf House. Las Sirenitas (The Little Mermaids) is the program she founded.
Las sirenitas, a bi-weekly surf program for girls ages 7-19, wasn’t something Bella intentionally started. She never pictured herself driving around dirt roads in a van blasting reggaeton with 21 Nicaraguan girls hanging out of every door and window.
Getting Started by Mistake
Inspired by a girlfriend, Cata, who was working as a phycologist in a local clinic, she decided to take one of Cata’s patients surfing as a social experiment. Cata wanted to provide her patient, a 14-year-old female, with an opportunity to experience the healing power of the ocean. So one day Cata and Bella loaded up a couple old boards on Bella’s tiny car and drove into town to pick up the teenage girl and her friend. But when they got to town the girls were nowhere to be found. Disappointed, Bella and Cata began asking around as to her whereabouts.
“But three random local girls saw the surfboards and were like ‘we want to go.’ We had to go find their mom’s and be like ‘Can we take your daughters surfing?’ Two of those girls are still in the program” — Along with 19 more. All 21 show up every other week.
From day one it worked. Everyone was so stoked,” says Bella.
How it all came together
Right away Bella ran into an issue– she only had a tiny car, a few boards and three instructors. But the girls kept asking if they could bring their friends and cousins. That’s when a surf non-profit out of North Carolina called Indo Jax got wind of the project and stepped in with funds to buy a bigger vehicle.
Bella has been cruising around town in her van, picking up 21 local girls every other Saturday for two years now. They do PJ parties, sleep overs, movie nights, pool parties. They’ve become a family.
“Many of the girls can’t swim. There is a huge fear of the ocean” Bella says, “If they want to progress in surfing they need to learn to swim.” So if the conditions are too harsh they take the girls to pools.
The community pitched in
“All my friends who have pools are like ‘bring the girls.’ They put out cookies and juice, we blast reggaeton. The girls are all going nuts.” The girls get the opportunity to go to five star luxury resorts like Malibu Popoyo to learn to swim.
“There are no local surf girls. It’s a very male dominated sports in a male dominated culture. Girls are not supposed to be surfing.”
Girls had tried to surf before but got intimidated out of the water by the boys. Others had wanted to try but their parents would not allow it.
For Bella, the program is about far more than surfing and swimming. In a community with a massive gap between rich and poor, this is about empowering young women.
“Surfing is good for their confidence, we are having fun, they are all screaming and running on the beach. It’s cool, there is nothing like that here. There are no groups for girls to get together, have fun and build confidence.”
Bella further contributes to the development of self confidence in these girls by ensuring they have the opportunity to learn an actual life skill as well, noting, “These girls will never make a living out of surfing.” So she helps them enroll in a program at the local community center in town to get English lessons, computer lessons and taekwondo classes.
Since the van was donated to Las Sirenitas, Isabelle sold her personal car and donated the funds to pay for any of the girls in the program who want to enroll at the community center. Over half the girls have chosen to enroll and have graduated their first level. The girls then have the opportunity to earn scholarships for college.
Their smiles say it all
Bella told me story after story about girls who she has seen a difference in since they started surfing. She said she was speaking to a mom of one of the girls one day. The mom said of her daughter, “Since she started doing surf she started smiling again, for the first time in years.”
She has had some girls come to Las Sirenitas afraid to even enter the water. Eventually these girls form a bonds with the instructors, trusting them enough to get on a board. Once they catch a few waves and instantly get stoked. Recently, some of these girls have shocked everyone by grabbing boards and paddling out on their own!
There is more work to be done
Bella sees the potential for her little program and is taking the responsibility seriously. “I’ve never done this before. I’m only trying to do the best I can.” She has formed an informal advisory board with local moms (including the mother of the Resano sisters) and local business women. Together they create a vision for the future. “Proper sex education is on the list. Teen pregnancy is a huge issue here.”
“I want to see the older girls surfing on their own, inspiring other girls. The point of this it to empower them. [To let the know] if you want to be a vet, go be a vet. I want them to dream big!”
If you want to get involved you can reach out to Bella on her personal instagram @Bella_gone_surfing, her business instagram @Sirenasurfhouse and on Facebook @Sirenaitas de Popoyo. Also check out Las Sirenitas website where you can view photos of many of the girls.