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Shredding: Putri Ombak female surf club members share their surfing skills with other women and girls.
Brave and independent, strong and supple, with brilliant white teeth, flawless caramel skin and sun-bleached locks, the wave princesses of Bali are pin-ups of health and natural beauty.
On Bali’s surf beaches these girls, ranging in age from under 10 to their late 30s, glisten in the sun as they race laughing to the sea; there is no fear of dark tanning, of bucking the advertised trend for white skin.
“Surfing is fun, don’t be scared of getting dark, because hitam [black] is sexy and sweet — white skin is boring,” says 39-year-old Stella Hermina, founder of Indonesia’s first female surf club, Putri Ombak.
The club, this week celebrating its fifth birthday, numbers around 30 members, and most are Indonesian and at least a third are champion surfers.
Jakarta-born Stella started the club to encourage more girls and women to take up a sport long dominated by men after discovering for herself the buzz of the waves, a discovery made not long after the first Bali bombing that crushed her furniture business and left her looking for an alternative income and a hobby that would reignite her natural exuberance for life.
As a non-swimmer, surfing in deep and dangerous swells was not initially on her list of possible hobbies.
“I started surfing in 2002 when I was 28 or 29 years old. I had moved to Bali in 2000 to set up a furniture and art business, but then there was bird flu and next the first Bali bombing. With the bomb, business started to go bad so I started a home industry making natural soaps, but I didn’t have a hobby and needed an outlet,” says Stella of the simple driver that got her started.
“I tried fishing, but that was boring, so then I tried snorkeling, but that also was not intensive enough as I like to be active, so I tried surfing — I was not scared of the water, but I was scared because I couldn’t swim. But because I had a leg rope to the board I soon thought I need have no worries of drowning, I believed in it so I was confident,” says Stella, who literally took the plunge into the warm waters of Kuta Beach, renting a surfboard for three days and spending from dawn to dusk in the ocean trying to find her sea legs.
A decade on and several championship surfing wins under her belt, Stella and the Putri Ombak female surfers are encouraging others to learn to surf through their Facebook page and on Kuta Beach, where club members share their skills and sea knowledge with other girls and women.
These surf teachers come in all sizes, from pint-sized surfer girls Cinta, Dea and Taina to older surfers such as Stella.
“This is the tail, this the leg rope, up front that’s the nose and these at the side are the rails,” explains Taina as Dea lays on the board then springs catlike to her feet. “See this is what you do in the wave,” says Dea.
These teachers then guide new female surfers into the waves, always close at hand to help and build confidence in the water.
Life’s a beach: Filled with fun and energy, surfer girls Taina and Dea emerge from the waves.
Putri Ombak members share their skills at Kuta Beach. “Girls and women need to begin [learning to surf] on Kuta Beach because the waves are easy and there are lifeguards and other people who are watching out, so it’s a safe place to begin,” says Stella, who receives many requests on the club’s Facebook page from girls across the country wanting to learn to surf.
There is a great sharing from these female surfers, Stella and her club mates want to see more women taking to the sport because, “surfing helps make us independent, it keeps us young and strong. It does not matter what your religion is, we have Muslim surfers in our club, it’s no problem for clothing because at the beach it’s automatically a beach lifestyle, a more relaxed lifestyle,” says Stella.
The growing movement of female surfers is being given a push by companies such as Roxy and Surfer Girl, who are sponsoring youngsters with clothing and other support. They are also getting support from parents.
One father of three girls and a lifelong surfer, Bruce Hansel, is clearly proud as punch of his surfer girl daughter Cinta, who at just 11 years of age is already a champion, knocking out older girls to win the Roxy Jam under 16s and taking second place in the Ripcurl Grom Search under 16 Girls Division.
Bruce says he pushed Cinta to go up against the older girls as she was always winning in her age class and this dad wanted to see his daughter really stretch herself.
“She is already saying she wants one day to be world champion,” says Bruce, who quips he rarely gets time to surf himself these days.
“I have three daughters, so I am more involved in girl’s and women’s surfing than men’s,” says Bruce, who rarely misses the monthly Magic Surf Comp hosted by Magic Waves magazine at Kuta Beach.
This regular competition is also a valuable vehicle for the female surfing movement and is an ideal place for youngsters to get started in surf competitions, says Bruce, because there is a “pushing girls” class.
“This is where Mums or Dads are allowed to go into the water and push the competitors to help them get waves, that’s where all these girls started,” says Bruce, surrounded by Cinta and her surfer girl mates, giggling with joy and fresh from the sea.
For the older members of Putri Ombak, the club offers friendship and skill sharing for new female surfers and also the chance to travel and see some of Indonesia’s hidden gems.
“Because we have a group, Putri Ombak, we get to go places, get to see remote areas, we make our own films and photos — we are strong as a group,” says Stella of these fabulous female surfers, all of them Princesses of the waves and radiant with health in the sun and surf of their Bali home.
— Photos By J.B. Djwan