Surfin' F-L-A

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

After four hours in the water in Pompano, she finally had enough. She let the current carry her down the beach, paddled into the shore, and emerged into the frigid air. She jumped into her truck, desperate for a cup of coffee. Spotting a Dunkin' Donuts on A1A, she pulled in. She stood in line, hair soaked, bare feet covered with sea muck, wet suit puddling. Coffee in hand, she opened the door to leave and saw a trail of sand and saltwater. A homeless man sitting outside took one look at the dripping mermaid and commented plaintively, "Woman, you're crazy."

When a homeless guy judges you, you know you're outside the pale, she said.

After downing the coffee, Parya headed north on A1A. In Boynton Beach, she stopped at the spot locals know as "Doggie Beach." She watched eight-foot swells build to a paper-thin crest, break, and tumble along a perfect line. She telephoned Kristy to let her know she'd found surf.

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.

After finishing her part-time job filing at an environmental engineering company in Jupiter at 1 p.m., Kristy headed south.

By 3 p.m., Kristy and Parya stood on the shoreline looking out at the breaks. "Perfect," Kristy said. "Look at that!" The two raced into the water.

Parya, on her new shortboard, had a hard time. She couldn't build enough momentum to paddle into the waves. And when she caught one, she didn't feel at ease on the new board. She kept tumbling into the surf.

Kristy, on her longboard, fared better. As one of the day's last rides carried her toward shore, she danced on the wave, moving up to the front of the board when the action slowed down, using gravity to shunt the board forward and across the wave's glassy face. She pulled the angle of the board close in and skirted the line of the break in a rush. When she slowed, she backed up and rode almost clear to the shore. "That was awesome. One more," she said as she crashed back into the surf.

Parya, whose father is Persian and whose mother is American, learned to surf as a teenager growing up in Lima, Peru, where her father worked as an agricultural scientist.

After watching a competition as a 10-year-old, she longed to surf. Her older brothers cautioned that she would develop big muscles like a man. That didn't sway her when she reached high school and a friend offered use of a board. The two skipped school and caught the bus down to the beach at Miraflores. Even though she didn't stand up on the board that first day, Parya was hooked.

She left the surfboard at the house of a fisherman named Don Pedro, whom she paid 25 cents for storage. Every day, she would wear her bikini under her school uniform, take some dry clothes to school in a backpack, and head to the beach after classes ended. Some days, she would skip school and surf all day.

She never told her parents of her obsession. "There were no girls surfing there then, not at all," she said. One day, she was almost busted. A news station showed up at the beach to film a segment on the pollution in the area. They interviewed Parya, asking her if she wasn't frightened of surfing in such a contaminated sea. "I told them I didn't think about it," she said. That night, some of her parents' friends saw her on television. Fortunately, she says, the word for surfing and running are the same in Peru -- correr -- so her parents' friends just reported that Parya had been jogging on the beach.

After graduating from high school in 1994, Parya came to the United States to study graphics design at Oklahoma City University. She spent two unhappy years at the landlocked school. When her brother, who was living in South Florida, told her about graphics classes at the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, she jumped at the chance to move to Florida and again take up the sport. She imagined the area had great surf. She moved here in the summer of 1996. "I was frustrated because there were no waves," she explained. She took up skateboarding and waited for the swells.

Parya says she has become a better surfer here. She has also started taking surfing vacations, at least one a year, to the Caribbean and Latin America. Sometimes she travels alone. "You meet people when you travel by yourself," she says. "They just take you in, let you stay at their houses. It's great."

Two years ago, she took a week's vacation from a job as a graphics designer for a Fort Lauderdale printing company to surf in the Dominican Republic. The weekend she was supposed to return home, there was a surfing contest on the island. Newfound friends offered to put together the entry fees so she could compete. She called her job and lied, saying she'd lost her passport. She stayed an extra three weeks. When she returned, a work friend called to warn her she'd been fired. Within three weeks, she had several freelance graphics jobs. "Now I work out of my house," she says, "so I get to travel whenever I want."

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