When you track the rise of women’s surfing over the last decade or so it is hard to deny that Women’s surfing could be one of the fastest growing sports in the world. But not just in competition, we’re talking product sales, social media exposure and a female surfing population as a whole.
So how did it get to be this way? Barton Lynch recently told us about how hard it was for the likes of Layne Beachley and others to get waves at Manly when they were coming through the ranks and they had to fight to get any waves and respect in their local line-up.
It was these determined women that paved the way for the current generation of female surfers of all styles and surf crafts to not just surf but build an industry.
One of the women that comes to mind when we think of trail-blazers is Ex-Pro and current Surfing Aus HPC coach Kate Wilcomes (formerly Kate Skarratt). You might remember her from charging big Hawaii, taking scalps on the women’s tour or her Hollywood role in the film Blue Crush.
We thought we would sit down with Kate and discuss the past, the present and what the future holds for women’s surfing.
Hey Kate, can you introduce yourself and tell us about what you are up to:
HI Murmur Mag, my name is Kate. I love surfing! I live in Pottsville, NSW with my husband Mick and our 2 boys Ash and Vance and Kelpie Pepper. I am a Talent Pathway Coach at Surfing Australia. I love my job supporting Aussie surfers to become the world best surfers and people!
When you started surfing, how was female surfing perceived by the surfing community?
For me personally, I have experienced different phases of how women were perceived in the surfing community. As I was first learning I felt supported and encouraged. I heard stories of the local pioneers who were women, and to me at that early age I didn’t really see a difference between a girl or a boy surfing. As I improved and was wanting to surf out the back I felt things changed. I was now ‘taking waves’ off the boys so I’d sometimes get comments and people seemed surprised if I could actually surf. I felt the general perception was that girls didn’t surf as well as boys, however long as you were respectful and proved yourself you’d get waves. It didn’t stop me trying to surf better than the boys and I was starting to meet women who were ripping and leading the way. Clothes, wetsuits and swimmers weren’t designed for females to perform and still be feminine. We wore men’s boardies, men’s t-shirts and I was frequently told I needed different equipment because I was a girl! I don’t think we were taken as seriously as the men and didn’t receive the same opportunities but because of the many great women before us times were changing and the industry was growing. A big shift occurred while I was on my 2nd year on tour. Media attention grew, videos started happening and brands began making apparel for female surfers. Although the chicks would still get sent out in the worst conditions, we started to have a voice and get opportunities to showcase our ability in good conditions more often. The introduction of stand-alone events really helped that cause. The perception of our ability and or stories were more widely heard and therefore respected, in the same way murmur helps tell great stories of the female surfers of today!
When you decided to be a professional surfer how was that received by your family and friends, were they supportive?
I didn’t start surfing everyday until I was 18 but I was madly passionate and knew surfing was going to be my life by the time I was 15. My Dad made me promise I would finish a degree before I did anything else and for me it was a good time to train and improve before starting a competitive journey so I agreed! My Dad would continuously ask me when I was going to get a ‘real job’ which in hindsight made me hungrier to prove to him that professional surfing was a career choice! My family and friends weren’t surprised that I wanted to travel and compete. They were supportive but I wouldn’t say they totally understood what I was doing until later in my career.
How was the tour when you competed and how did it differ from the women’s tour of today?
The tour was much different the year I started. I came on the last year that it was combined with the WQS. The top seeded surfers would be set at the start of the year and the unseeded surfers would have the opportunity to come from earlier rounds to beat them and finish the year in the Top 8. If you lost in the round before the seeded surfers you would make $100 USD, if you made it to the seeded round you’d receive $1000 USD. We usually all travelled together to save money and we continued to do this when the Tour shifted to top 12 then 16. There were only 1 or 2 girls that had a coach travel with them and they were usually a partner rather than an official coach which is a bit different to today where most of the surfers have a coach on tour. The prize money was a lot less than the men unlike today.
How do you see the current state of women’s surfing and competition?
Women’s surfing from the emerging talent to the CT level is in a great state. There are loads of talented girls and women pushing the level of performance across the globe creating a variety and depth of competitors. The current champions are super professional and yet they are still able to showcase their individuality which is so important for us as surfers to be able to maintain. They are being rewarded with equal prizemoney, equal exposure and respect. It is setting a fantastic platform for the next generation to bring their own version to the tour. I feel there is room to expand the principles of equality, inclusion and safety across all levels of the pathway and I feel the time is now to help support that.
Where do you see women’s surfing going in the next 10 years?
I would like to see greater equality, inclusion and safety across all levels of the pathway and in all nations. I know there will be higher levels of performance like in every decade, but I do feel this next decade will produce an exceptional jump in progressive surfing and bigger wave performances.
If you were a grommet starting to surf again what would you do differently to when you started originally?
I would insist my parents lived close to the ocean rather than on a farm!!
But in addition to spending more time in the ocean, I’d prioritise getting the right equipment. I spent too many years without the right boards for the conditions I was surfing on tour, trying to make it happen to keep costs lower so I had enough to travel. I’d also have a head coach, someone to help plan and help me identify areas to focus on, things like connecting my strength and conditioning training to my comp schedule and overseeing injuries, equipment testing and linking in with experts around the world. I had great support but it was hard linking everything together as the athlete. I felt I would have been more effective and productive if I had someone in my corner that had a birds eye view of my journey and kept me accountable to any blind spots.
Thanks for the chat Murmur, keep up the great work!
So there you have it. Straight from a surfing legend that has lived it and is now passing it on to the next generation. The one thing we have learnt over the past few years is never forget the past when you’re making decisions for the future and always listen to the people who have been there and learnt the hard way so you don’t have too..
To find out more about Kate go to: