When the Roxy Pro Biarritz teaser came around I wasn’t particularly outraged. A hot blonde without a face wakes up, has a shower, drives to the beach, and paddles a little in calm waters, it’s a swimwear ad and it looks like one. Only she’s got a shortboard. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to ride a shortboard? We don’t see her riding it, but we do see how confident she is carrying it around. See how she lifts up her lovely feet in the air? Do you think it’s just to show them off? No, that’s a shortboard folks.

So the teaser does exactly what it’s supposed to do, we want to know who she is and we definitely want to see her surf, meanwhile we could buy some swimwear or maybe go to Biarritz. Or at least that’s what I want. I realise some viewers are happy already having seen a firm ass, which is not bad in itself, if only it worked both ways and we had teasers where Dave Rastovich just wakes up and has a shower. It would be enjoyable (for me especially), but a little ridiculous, wouldn’t it? That’s what we mean when we insist that advertising is sexist: women, even sportswomen, are always judged first for their looks, men are not, it’s as simple as that.

Anyway, when Roxy unveiled the full Pro Biarritz ad we discovered that’s surf pro and world champion Stephanie Gilmore and we got to see her surfing, eventually. The point of the ad remains that when you have a board and you know what to do with it you can walk around with all the confidence of the world, especially if you’re a hot blonde. Which is basically my approach to surfing. I have a board, I have researched this place and I know exactly where my spot is to respect the local hierarchy, so now I’m going into the water and you’re going to watch (or look away in disgust, you decide).

The only complaint I have really, the actual thing that prevents me from enjoying it, it that it’s all too glamorous. I don’t know about the life of the pros, but the surfers I know sleep mostly in hostels when not in their vans. I personally sleep in basic b&bs or cheap guest houses where sandy feet and tangled hair are never a problem at any time. And it may be Biarritz in the summer, but what they don’t tell you is that the Ocean is cold, you are going to need a wetsuit sooner or later, and no one looks glamorous in a wetsuit.

So I was quite comfortable with all the Roxy controversy, until the Chad Wells person spoke his mind. Chad Well is, or better was, a Quicksilver manager, who cared to write the following on his Facebook board and got subsequently sacked.

Some butchy lesbos were representing surfing (in the past). Not rigged out sexy women who are in touch with their sexuality and know exactly how they are represented and marketed.

Now this is interesting. This Chad Wells person really understands the mainstream. Women must comply with conventional femininity because otherwise they will look like butchy lesbos, they won’t be in touch with their sexuality and the will miss their assigned place in the market. I wish I had known this Chad Wells when I was a kid, it would have made things much easier. When I was a kid, I was told these same things over and over, only, disturbingly, by women. Women in my family, women in my neighborhood, female teachers. Of course they weren’t putting it in terms of “butchy lesbos” or “being in touch with one’s sexuality”, but whenever they saw a girl who was not naturally “feminine” or not even trying to look “feminine” they pitied her a little, but mostly they resented her and tried aggressively to “correct” her, for her own good. I could not understand why, back then. If they had been men it would have been clearer: men like feminine women in women’s clothes so that they can look at their breasts, legs and underwear. But why were women so obsessed with sending me around in a dress? It was so annoying. The other kids would lift my skirt, people would look at me insistently, and I couldn’t ride a horse when the occasion presented itself (and it did, occasionally). Of course it was a way to force me to sit still, look cute and do nothing, which clearly was my assigned place in the market. But why were grown-up women fostering and guarding this chauvinistic system to the point that they were the very people forcing it on me on a daily basis? I still don’t have an answer to that. My working hypothesis is that it was conservative thinking up until the Seventies, then it became Stockholm syndrome.

Well I like skirts now. No one dares to lift them and if they do it’s illegal (while when you’re a kid it’s not, you can tell the teacher who will ignore you and you’ll be a damn spy). People do look at me insistently, especially women, so I stare back at their clothes in contempt and they stop. If occasion presents itself to ride a horse I can drive home, in my car, with my driving licence, and change into appropriate clothes.

I surf in a pink bikinii and pink sunshirt but I think nothing of the alleged glamour. The water feels fantastic. Every single time.


Steph Gilmore