Riding the waves of success 

Surf champion puts more girls on surfboards

In Long Beach, Tofino, where the locals obsess over the swell rather than the snow, about 20 girls make their way across the sand.

They walk with a singular purpose toward the water. Few talk. Most have their eyes trained on the crashing waves of the Pacific, breaking before the horizon.

Their slick, black wet suits hug their curves. Their hair is pulled back in long ponytails. Surfboards are tucked underarm.

Without a faltering step, without a second look back, they each walk into the water, one after the other, soon becoming another one of the black dots, bobbing in the distance, waiting.

Their composed journey from sand to sea marks the changing nature of surfing.

"More than half of the people going surfing are women," said Jenny Hudnall, Tofino native and the top female surfer on the Canadian surf scene.

At the age of 28, Hudnall is the epitome of every surfer girl, from her sun- drenched blonde hair to her tanned skin.

She is also one of the reasons why so many more girls are hitting the surf in Tofino.

Her four-year-old surf shop, Surf Sister, is the only female surf shop in Canada. It’s a place where wannabe surfers can rent wetsuits and boards and learn from the top female surfers in the country.

"My whole reason for starting Surf Sister was to even out the numbers in the water," she said.

"And it’s working."

Stepping back 15 years, Hudnall said there were hardly any girls in Tofino’s waters when she first picked up a board to impress a boy.

She was 13-years-old at the time and learning on a hand-me-down, broken board, which her cousin had mended well enough for a teenage girl to learn on.

With a handful of other girls making up a little surfer girl gang, Hudnall and her friends trailed after the boys.

Together, the girls taught themselves how to surf while the boys honed their own skills.

"Every time we’d go surfing we’d get a little tidbit about surfing," she said.

Now she’s passing those tidbits along.

"So (girls) don’t have to go through what I went through."

At last weekend’s surf lesson on Long Beach nine first time surfers, a mixture of guys and girls, were shown the ropes with two surf instructors.

But even before the wetsuits were on the inevitable question was posed.

"How long till I can really surf?"

It’s a tough question. People are "surfing" after their first lesson, on their first wave.

But to really consider yourself a surfer, Hudnall says it takes commitment and time.

"Every day for two years," she said, as a matter of fact.

It wasn’t until she was 18-years-old that Hudnall could put some serious time into her sport. Having moved back to Tofino from California after high school, she began to surf every day.

"And that’s when it all came together, when I actually got a nice ride on the green and learned to turn and duck dive," she said.

But things really began to click in 1998 when the Surf Divas, an American women’s surf club in La Jolla, California came to Tofino for a weekend clinic.

"Boom!" she said it hit her.

"That’s exactly what I wanted to do."

Surf Sister was born.

"I made it work in Canada."

From its early beginnings out of Hudnall’s backyard shed, Surf Sister has now expanded to a new shop, next to Live to Surf, with 15 surfboards and 20 wetsuits.

The lessons include those little tidbits of information Hudnall has picked up in her 15 years riding waves.

Andrea McGowan and Catherine Temple were the instructors on hand last weekend, handing out those tidbits to eager students.

McGowan, a Toronto native has been surfing for years and on beaches around the world, from the water under the Burlington Bridge in Hamilton to the New Zealand coast.

Temple was formerly Catherine Bruhwiler, who was part of the surfer girl gang growing up in Tofino with Hudnall.

She comes from surfing stock. Her brothers, Sepp and Raph, are the top male surfers in the country at the moment and Temple has held her own on the female surf scene, many times in first place.

Their lesson began on the sand with basic surfing etiquette, followed by the common mistakes to avoid.

People always want to go straight from their bellies to their knees before standing – a very hard habit to break, they warned.

People generally grab the sides of the board to hoist themselves to their feet but putting your hands flat on the board by your chest is easier.

People always stand up too early and they should wait until the wave shoots them out.

And they also suggested holding your hands over your head and face after falling from the surfboard, to protect yourself against the fin on the back of the board.

They said all this with the knowing smiles of experience as the group popped up onto their imaginary surfboards on the sand, straight to their surfing stance.

It was an effortless task on the beach.

Then, carrying their boards awkwardly under their arms, tripping and trying not to drag their boards, they hit the water.

Some, typically, went straight to their knees. Others continually stood up too early.

And one surfer forgot to cover his head coming up and was hit with the board’s fin.

He had already caught the surfing bug however, and McGowan, who is also a registered nurse, quickly patched him up on the beach because he didn’t want to waste time at the hospital.

After the two-hour lesson, Hudnall’s answer "every day for two years" didn’t seem so unreasonable.

But some were actually surfing! They weren’t riding the waves, more hanging on for dear life, but they were up.

The lessons were made easier on the Surf Sister surfboards, which are made out of epoxy and foam and are wider than most boards.

The blue foam on the top means the boards aren’t too slippery for beginner surfers and there’s no need for wax.

They’re a little different from Hudnall’s board. She rides on a 6-0 Fish GMC, a swallowtail that is thicker and wider than a short board.

It was the board she was riding when she won the Roxy Quicksilver Pro last year and she calls it her magic blue board.

Hudnall says she has tapped into a good thing with Surf Sister.

She calls surfing a drug – a healthy upper that is as addictive as any drug out there.

"I think it helps people stay sane in this crazy world," she said.

"I think the ocean is a really special place."

Hudnall says surfing captures the energy that exists when the water and the land meet.

"That’s the spiritual thing."

It’s also a cool sport and that’s why it’s so popular, she said.

But the lifestyle hasn’t come without its price. She admits to being overwhelmed sometimes by the business side of her operation. In retrospect she would have spent time getting a marketing/business degree at school. Now she is resigned to never becoming a university graduate.

On a more personal note, she was diagnosed with skin cancer on her nose about two years ago from the constant exposure to the sun. It was a huge scare, she said.

With that behind her, the future looks bright. It will look even brighter from the shores of Namotu Island in Fiji, a surf resort where only 18 people are allowed on the island at one time to surf.

There she will spend 10 days in July riding the waves with her fiancé over coral reef, in addition to getting married.

Being able to show people what surfing is all about is the best way to make a living she said.

Back at the store, salt in hair, wetsuits off, some students were still exhilarated – who would have guessed there was something just as good as skiing?

McGowan was getting ready to take out a mother/daughter lesson. Munching on a granola bar, she mused over the perfect ride.

"I think a perfect wave is one where you’re just performing well, having fun."

For more information about Surf Sister call 1-877-724-SURF or visit www.surfsister.com.

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