Surfin' F-L-A

A group of intrepid wahines is trying to take charge of its sport

Kristy Murphy walked out onto the beach at Sebastian Inlet and surveyed the scene. A logo-enhanced (Billabong Girls, Roxy, Rip Curl, Surf Diva) army had set up camp. More than 100 female combatants swathed in wet suits, stocking caps, knit scarves, sweatshirts, sweaters, blankets, and heavy winter jackets huddled together near surfboards and a sprinkling of pup tents on the sand. The night before, a cold front had knocked the temperature down to 36 degrees and churned up a fierce wind. The crowd gamely faced the sea. In the water, contestants in the Florida portion of a new national women's surfing contest were competing in 15-minute heats.

Because of the battened-down crowd and difficult surf, competition organizers had to work to keep the audience focused on the drama. The Queen of the Peak contest was part of the Betty Series, an all-girl extreme-sports series that included professional and amateur surfing competitions January 18 and 19 in Sebastian Inlet, near Melbourne.

Two disc jockeys from Orlando's WJRR-FM (101.1), an alternative-rock station, kept a steady wash of music breaking over the crowd. Announcer Hunter Joslin, an East Coast longboard surfer of some renown, worked the microphone on the top tier of a scaffold. Hunter adopted an over-the-top, play-by-play style, providing sound effects -- "ker-plunk," "splat" -- when a surfer lost her footing and tumbled into the drink. There were so many falls early in the day that he tried to make entertainment out of the pratfalls rather than the surfing. "Oh, she made a duck dive," he said after one woman plunged headfirst into the water. A six-foot statue of busty blond Jean Harlow as a '50s-era bathing beauty in a blue one-piece, the icon of the Betty Series, provided additional irony. Several men slipped their arms around her waist and posed for photo keepsakes.

Steve Satterwhite
Top right, Parya Jatala runs into the surf on a frigid day at Boynton Beach. Top left, Kristy Murphy crouches on her longboard and, on the bottom, Jupiter surfer Kristy Murphy and the Siren longboard she helped design.
Top right, Parya Jatala runs into the surf on a frigid day at Boynton Beach. Top left, Kristy Murphy crouches on her longboard and, on the bottom, Jupiter surfer Kristy Murphy and the Siren longboard she helped design.

The waves disappointed Kristy. They rushed the shore, peaked about waist high, and caved all at once, smashing into a gray froth. Not much to ride.

But she was stoked to see so many women contestants. She was stoked to be back in the Sunshine State after a year in California. She was stoked to be standing in Sebastian Inlet again, ready to compete. It was, as Kristy often says, awesome. So friggin' awesome that she couldn't contain herself. With her pink, swirly, fem-flashy Siren longboard slung under her arm, she raced to the water, splashed into the surf, threw her board down, climbed on, and paddled out. Yeah, she was stoked. "I wanted to get out there and surf!" she said.

Two hours later, the 25-year-old stood on the shore, shaking in the frigid air. Her sun-streaked, tawny blond hair hung in damp strings down to her shoulders. Blood rushed to her face, turning her sun-tinged skin ruddy. Her lips glowed blue under a coating of zinc oxide. Her feet felt numb. She shook so badly that unless she defrosted, she wouldn't be able to compete. A heater set up inside a tent for contestants had run out of propane, so she retreated to a Nissan Pathfinder. Inside the cab, friends Jenni Flanigan, from Jupiter, and Lauren Hill of St. Augustine had cranked the heat to full blast.

Nicely toasted after a half hour in the truck, Kristy emerged, spirit sprung back to full bounce. A South Florida native who grew up on A1A near Indiantown Road in Jupiter, right across the street from the ocean, Kristy has the sun-burnished and salt-coated air of a certain brand of Florida kid, one who would rather be in agua than on tierra. Swimming, wake-boarding, body-boarding, scuba-diving, and snorkeling -- she loved anything that involved water.

With her sporty, all-American-girl-next-door looks, deep, rusty waterlogged voice, and superpositive, fresh-squeezed attitude, she's just "Florida Girl" to many of her California surfing pals.

Lauren, Jenni, and Kristy surf old-style longboard rather then the newer, pointy-nosed shortboards on which surfers rip in and out of the waves and even become airborne. Longboard surfers ride the break of a wave, moving up to the nose of the board and back to play with the energy of the unfolding wave.

In the Queen of the Peak, longboarders surfed in the day's last heats. The three friends waited at least four hours in the cold before competing. It took a mega-dose of girl power to keep the boredom and cold from flattening the fizz of their surfer-girl enthusiasm. That's just the sort of challenge to which Kristy was born.

To pass the time, they talked about surfing in Puerto Rico: "If you go, you've got to surf Domes Beach," Lauren told her friends.

"That's what everyone says," Kristy shouted. "They say surf the Domes. You have to surf the Domes in Puerto Rico."

Then the Harlow statue: "It's gross," Jenni said. "Hate it," Kristy agreed. The irony was lost on them. It was just so not surfer girl.

A rep from a magazine called Surf Life for Women handed Kristy a copy of the latest issue. "Go Surf Life," she said to the woman. "All right." She paged through it while Jenni and Lauren looked over her shoulder. She stopped at a Surf Diva ad. "They have the sickest stuff," she said.

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