Surfin' F-L-A

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It's tough not only for unproven surfers like Kristy. Falina Spires is also struggling. In 2000, she helped launch the Elleven line of women's surfing clothing with fellow professional Prue Jeffries. The women assisted in designing the clothes and represented the owner, a California company called Bodywaves. Elleven paid Falina $2,000 a month, she says, until the line stopped production in February 2001.

To continue competing on the world circuit, Falina needs a steady sponsor willing to fund her. She has had media attention, appearing in Sports Illustrated for a segment on women athletes, yet she's having a hard time lining up a company. She's been meeting with potential backers but has not received the offer she wants. "I'm not going to take $400 a month," she vowed at the Queen of the Peak contest. "That wouldn't be fair to the other girls here. If I took $400, what does it mean they could expect?"

Falina may be somewhat of a victim of the commercialization of women's surfing. Although all the attention means that women are sought-after by sponsors and paid to appear in ads and that women's contests are funded better, some female surfers complain that companies increasingly favor women genetically gifted with surfer-babe looks over those who surf well. They want the emphasis on the authentic surfer and the money to go to developing the sport.

To Falina, Kristy, and Jenni, the surfer girl's allure is about taking risks, about dressing in skimpy bikinis because it feels good to be almost naked, not because men find it hot. Surfer girls aren't supposed to care whether their hair is wet and matted or a fingernail has chipped on the board. In Blue Crush, Jenni points out, one of the girls goaded the other by saying, "Don't be such a Barbie."

Florida has bred some world-class women surfers. World surfing champion Lisa Anderson, who is currently on the pro tour, hails from Ormond Beach, and Frieda Zamba Shaw is from Flagler Beach.

Falina explains that, though the surf in Florida doesn't match the great waves of California, Hawaii, or Australia, the state's mediocre conditions produce a scrappy surfer who learns how to make a ride out of nothing. "Florida is a great place to train because conditions aren't ideal," she says. "We don't have waves with a ton of speed and power, so we learn how to generate our own speed. You learn how to use the power in a wave, how to make the most out of it."

That scrappiness may also help when facing the surfing industry. Fort Lauderdale surfer Parya Jatala is close to sealing a deal for a three-month surfing trip through Latin America that will be videotaped and shown on South American television. Kristy and Parya filmed a pilot for the program in December.

Kristy and Jenni hope to use the power of the surfing craze to their own ends by starting their own surfing line rather than be beholden to advertisers' whims. While Abercrombie & Fitch and other companies make millions without involvement in the life, Parya, Jenni, and Kristy are following in the footsteps of the surfer guys who came before them. Most major surfing companies were founded by male surfers, and surfers buy the products because of that authenticity. Female surfers, who face inevitable airbrushing of their radical free-spirit image, crave such independence and entrepreneurship.

Last summer, Jenni and Kristy launched a line of surfboards called Siren. It's a division of Channin Surfboards in Encinitas, California. The two South Florida women are partial owners of the line and helped design and test the product. Kristy recently began working full-time at the Channin factory. She hopes to learn all she can about manufacturing surfboards. Both women ride Siren longboards, and in the Queen of the Peak contest, they signed Lauren Hill to surf the brand as well.

"We want to start off as a hardcore surfing company, by surfers for surfers," Kristy said. "We aren't a bunch of corporate people who notice surfing is getting hot and hire some people to make it happen. We are living the life."

So far, Siren has sold about 100 boards, which cost $450 to $650. The division has orders for another 100 boards, Kristy said. About 25 surfing shops on the East Coast sell Siren boards, including Groundswell Surf Shop in Juno Beach. That may not sound like much, but Kristy is happy with the results.

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Susan Eastman
Contact: Susan Eastman