“Girls are strong, smart, and bold”
Looking out on the pristine Santa Barbara coastline you will notice a growing number of fearless women making themselves known in the surf lineup. iSurf, a woman owned surf school based in Santa Barbara, plays a huge role in developing the skills of these women to shine and standout in this largely male-dominated sport.
“I wanted to create a safe and supportive environment for women to learn to surf in an often intimidating, male-dominated environment,” said founder, Alelia Parenteau. iSurf has catered to over 250 women between the ages of 5 and 72, showing the clear demand for such an outlet in the community. “We are more than just a surf school. We are a family of women facing fears, challenging ourselves and getting fit together – sort of like a girls night, but on the water.”
Nicole Sutliff, iSurf instructor, noticed the lack of self confidence some women who have never surfed before can have, sharing a story from one of her group lessons. “Our conversations before we stepped into the water hinted to self-fulfilling prophecies of failure: ‘I know I won’t be able to stand up’ or ‘you will see me wipe out a few times.’ But every single woman stood up and caught at least one wave that day. They left the beach happy and inspired – and I did too!”
Surfing is a sport that encompasses so much more than just the physical. It includes patience, conquering fears, learning how to understand and react to your surroundings, and most importantly, it builds community. The comradery of surfing is not something you find in most individual sports. It can be empowering for women as it helps build their confidence.
The Watergirl Fund
The Watergirl Fund is a community surf program that provides free surf lessons to at-risk and disadvantaged girls. “Our mission is to break down the barriers that prevent women from surfing, be they physical emotional or financial, and I thought we should do more for those who could not afford it,” Alelia explained. This program has given girls aged 5-15 the opportunity to experience everything surfing has to offer.
“It kind of feels like you’re flying,” said Grace, surfer and Watergirl participant describing the feeling of being on the board. “You have to work for the wave and its not super easy. You have to paddle really hard to get a good ride but once you’re on the wave it’s super fun.” This strength and determination is transferable outside of the water into all aspects of life.
“By challenging themselves and facing their fears, they really do see that anything is possible,” explained Alelia. “And by trying their hand at a male-dominated sport, they are empowered to try other ‘male-dominated’ professions and activities.”
iSurf’s team and instructors are dedicated to creating an enriching experience for their students. “My favorite thing about the instructors is that they never give up on you and they teach you not to be afraid of the ocean,” sain Geneve, another young surfer.
In its first year the Watergirl Program funded over 300 surf lessons, with each girl participating for 8-10 weeks. “When the quarter starts they are really hesitant to get in the water and take their time getting into their wetsuits. By the end of the 10 weeks, they are racing to get into the water – it’s so inspiring to see the change within them.” Alelia hopes to double the number of lessons this year.
Currently the Watergirl Fund works directly with Girls Inc. of Santa Barbara and Carpinteria to provide the program but intends to continue growing. Alelia and her team are in the process of starting their own nonprofit, Surf Like a Girl, that will expand the program reach and offerings, including a mentoring program.
Second Annual iSurf Block Party
On August 30th, from 5pm-9pm iSurf will hold its second annual Block Party, the Watergirl Fund’s biggest fundraising event. In its first year, 300 people gathered in support at the event, raising $11,000. This year they hope to nearly double that number with a fundraising goal of $20,000. This money will be used to provide need based scholarships for up to 75 undeserved girls from the Santa Barbara community.
The Block Party event will include a pig roast taco bar, a McConnell’s ice cream stand, music, wine and beer, an ocean-themed market place, a silent auction, a raffle, and more, with all of the proceeds benefiting the Watergirl Fund. The event will take place at Casa De La Guerra, 15 E. De La Guerra St.
Tickets can be purchase online here for $40.
The iSurf partners that helped make this event possible include Tilly’s, SeaVees, Carve Designs, Crossfit SB, Martial Arts Family Fitness and Brothers of Industry, and more.
If you would like to donate to the Watergirl fund you can donate here.