Today’s pro women surfers ride a wave that started with the sport’s trailblazers

New film chronicles the struggles, triumphs of women in pro surfing

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - In the 1970s and 80s, Betty Depolito and other talented female surfers blazed the trail for women’s professional surfing.

Up and down the California coast they created their own contests and made their own breaks.

“I didn’t believe women should be compared to men at all,” Depolito said.

A new film from Australia called “Girls Can’t Surf” chronicles the struggles women had getting a toe-hold in pro-surfing.

Depolito experienced that rejection first-hand.

“I got told to go home and bake cookies, all kinds of things like that. The guys were sometimes kinda rude in the water,” she said.

For 20 years, Depolito has promoted surfing contests in Hawaii and pushed for women’s events. Her latest effort is the Red Bull Queen of the Bay at Waimea.

“This year we’re doing a video event, which is great because the girls can surf for a couple of months and record all their waves,” she said.

Zoe McDougall, 21, is one of the up-and-coming Hawaii surfers who’ve benefited from the pioneer work of Depolito, Rell Sunn, and other women who built the foundation.

“The sport’s grown immensely for women. Just in the last year or two we’ve seen equal pay and a lot of growth in the number of events, and just a lot more opportunity for the women, which is amazing to see,” she said.

Depolito said the breakthrough came when women proved they could handle monster surf.

“Everything started going crazy bananas when we started riding the bigger waves. I surfed Waimea back in the 80s,” she said.

There’s now equal money for the top tier on the women’s pro circuit and a push for more qualifying events for women, especially in Hawaii.

“I spend a lot of my sponsorship dollars and my own dollars to go to qualifying series events and professional events around the world. We really don’t have any large events at home,” McDougall said.

Depolito said there’s still a ways to go in that area..

“We’ve been doing some work with the legislature and our City Council and have made some strides,” she said.

If the Summer Olympics happen, surfing will make its debut. Depolito calls it the equalizer.

“The Olympics doesn’t look at male and female surfing. They’re doing what they consider totally equal. That’s a big boost,” she said.

Female surfers now have better equipment and coaching and more opportunities than Depolito and her peers did. She hopes this generation remembers to work as hard as the women who paved the way.

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