By: Anne Beasley
Surf parks have the unique opportunity to be female-inclusive from the day they break ground; from wave type, to hiring staff and instructors, to curated lessons and events. But what exactly do women want when it comes to a surf park? Award-winning podcaster and surfer Shelby Stanger hosted a Panel at the 2020 Surf Summit to find out.
The panel featured three renowned women surfers and one young up-and-coming charger. Patti Paniccia is a professor at Pepperdine University specializing in employment discrimination, a former broadcast news anchor, and she also launched the women’s professional surfing world tour, while competing on it, in 1976. Izzy Tihanyi is a former NSSA collegiate champion who owns Surf Diva, the largest co-ed surf school in the world. Sunshine Makarow surfed on the US Team and created an all-women’s surf magazine, Surf Life for Women. Sierra Kerr is a radical young surfer known for aerial feats well beyond the reach of even the best current world tour surfers at wave parks and beaches around the globe.
Whether you’re going to the wave pool as a brand new surfer, or you’re there to train for your next competition, it is clear that girls and women view surf parks as a place to practice technique. In fact, data gathered by Sunshine Makarow for the “What Women Want” panel at Surf Park Summit 2020 shows that 97% of women surveyed think surf parks are a great place to learn new skills.
“In the ocean when you get a section and you don’t hit it as you want to, all you do is think about it and how you could have done it better,” says 14-year-old Sierra Kerr who has surfed parks from Waco to Melbourne as a way to tune her competitive surfing. “But you are most likely never going to get that section again. When you’re at the wave pool you can make changes and the section will be the same every time.”
In her years of experience teaching girls and women to surf, Izzy observes what women want the most is a positive and authentic experience. Secondarily, women want to know their instructors are qualified, and moms want to know their kids will be safe and their coaches have been vetted. “Women can be timid when learning to surf,” says Izzy. “They like being taught by other women or guys that are super patient.”
Izzy also advises that its important not to disregard middle-aged surfers. She has seen a dramatic increase in 40 to 60-year-old women signing up for lessons and surf retreats. “These women are fit, have disposable incomes, and they bring their whole family.”
It’s All About Details
The experience on the pool deck is just as important as the wave itself. Sunshine’s survey showed that the two most critical details that women want are healthy food options and the ability to warm up with a hot shower after a session. Extras like comfortable seating areas, tropical vibe landscaping, and design that fosters a feeling of a legitimate surfing destination and experience will go a long way.
The more details you can provide before arrival at the park, the better. Whether that’s a FAQ on the park’s website or an email after booking, women like to know what to expect. “Women want information in advance,” says Izzy. “They want clear precise details on what to bring, what to pack, and is it going to be safe.”
Women also view the surf park as an opportunity to make friends, so a surf-community aspect is vital. To enable this, Patti Paniccia recommends surf parks ensure hiring equity between genders. “Women drive 70-90% of all consumer spending through a combination of their buying power and their influence,” says Patti. “It’s important to make these parks inviting to women.”
For more information on What Women Want in a Surf Park, and to watch the full panel discussion on this topic moderated by Shelby Stanger head over to Surf Park Insiders.