Two Decades After Blue Crush, Women Still Feel Its Influence

Blue Crush started making waves 20 years ago. But people can still feel the ripple effect of those waves today. Surfing experts say this movie encouraged more females across the globe to pick up the surfboard.

“We watched the film. It was the start of summer. It electrified us,” said Sophie Everard, 36, who lives in Portugal. Everard was one of those females. She remembers exactly where she first watched Blue Crush – at a Portugal theater with other teenage friends.

“Immediately, we thought: Cool. We want to go surfing,” said Everard, a business owner who leads surfing retreats worldwide.

The John Stockwell-directed movie centers on how the leading character, Anne Marie Chadwick (Kate Bosworth), fights her fear from a near-fatal surfing accident to become a professional surfer. Meanwhile, her two best friends, Eden (Michelle Rodriguez), and Lena (Sanoe Lake), who are also surfers, live with Anne Marie and help her take care of her younger sister, Penny Chadwick (Mika Boorem), after their mom left them for Vegas.

Kaia Alexander, who now lives in Encinitas, California, said she experienced something similar.

She, too, saw Blue Crush when film officials released the movie in 2002. She had gone alone to see the movie – something she usually did (and still does) as a way to self-care, in a Santa Cruz Theater. She’d been excited to see it ever since she had seen the movie’s trailer.

Then, “I remember I felt a sense of thinking surfing was for guys because that’s all I’d ever seen,” Alexander wrote as part of an e-mail. But that feeling disappeared when she watched the movie. Alexander realized she could surf too.

How Do You Surf?

Both women grew up near the ocean. Everard bounced between living in Greece, England, and Portugal as a child, but she wasn’t far from ocean beaches like the Atlantic. Anderson grew up along the Pacific Ocean coastline in Santa Cruz, Calif.

When the two began their surfing life, each had depended on a surfer boyfriend for help. While unintentional, the boys acted the same way other male surfers behaved toward females.

Everard’s Story

While Everard participated in many water sports such as body boarding, weight boarding, and swimming, she had never learned how to surf when she watched the movie in that Portugal theater. So that summer, Everard started teaching herself.

“I got myself a surfboard and started learning to board,” Everard said. “I didn’t have a teacher or go to lessons, which is definitely not something I would recommend.”

She tried learning under the watch of a former boyfriend who was a semi-pro surfer. But instead of helping her with lessons, he hung out with his male friends and surfed with them, leaving her alone with gigantic and potentially dangerous waves. For him, surfing was not something he did with his girlfriend, Everard said. Surfing belonged to the boys.

Although water didn’t intimidate the woman who viewed herself as a “water baby,” Everard learned the same way others learned – falling and crashing into the waves.

A little later, the now-pro surfer started taking lessons. Everard said she learned more in one surfing lesson than the summer she tried to learn by herself.

Alexander’s Story

Alexander grew up in Santa Cruz. “I’ve been riding waves all my life as I grew up close to the beach,” she e-mailed. “As a kid, it was hours at the beach spent on a body board when my friends preferred hanging out on the sand. The ocean felt like my best friend.”

But Alexander didn’t learn to surf until she was an adult.

Alexander recalled she did attempt to surf when she was younger. However, during a phone interview, she said she had relied on a “foolish” boyfriend to help her learn, only to discover he did not take teaching her seriously. Instead, he left her to fend for herself during a “gnarly” or dangerous wave.

Much like the movie’s star, Ann Marie, Alexander became a little intimidated by the waves when surfing, and she took a break from learning. She was a pro at many other water sports but became hesitant about surfing.

“I had decided I would remain on land and just watch the surfers,” she wrote. “I photographed them. I watched surf contests from a distance. But the desire to surf was still in me.”

Then, Alexander said her father, Jack, and her maternal grandmother, Sissy, died in the same year. After their deaths, “I needed something. I was looking for something, a new relationship to life and myself,” she wrote in e-mails. “I also really needed to scream, and the sea just absorbs it all.”

Alexander said, at that point, a friend thought surfing might be the new relationship she needed. So the friend purchased her a surf session with Christian Marcher of Progressive Surf Academy, located in San Diego. Alexander immediately noticed the difference between Marcher’s coaching and her young boyfriend's attitude.

“He built up my confidence on huge boards, in tiny, ankle-biter waves. Then, gradually, the boards got shorter, and the waves got bigger.” Alexander said she still surfs with Marcher to this day.

Everard said they weren’t the only ones who took a surfing interest after watching the film. She remembered her friends – some who didn’t even reside near water – giving up their inland lives to move to the shore.

They followed in Anne Marie’s, Eden’s, and Lena’s footsteps and became maids and waitresses, focusing their energies on learning to master riding the waves. Many of those same friends are now pro surfers, Everard said.

The Rising Tide of Women

Data supports how the movie was the catalyst for a growing number of female surfers.

“Blue Crush was a highly progressive film for its day that reversed gender stereotypes and positioned women in the center of the sport of big wave surfing,” said Jarrett Rose, 36, in an e-mail interview. Rose is a professor who holds a lectureship with the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, in the Department of Science and Technology Studies.

And Rose had the statistics to back up the trend of more women starting to surf.

“Data suggests that since the early 2000s, the percentage of female surfers has risen dramatically (and) will continue to stay the course,” Rose wrote.

“For example, my brother, Hunter Rose, part owner and manager of Corky Carroll’s Surf School in Huntington Beach, says that today, 50 percent of people learning to surf are girls and women,” Rose wrote.

Everard agreed.

She had previously talked to some of the surfers who either had character roles in the movie, performed the dangerous stunts, or managed to do both – have a part and be a stunt double at the same time. These athletes also reiterated what Rose said about the data.

“For those athletes in the film, they said it was almost like black and white in terms of participation of female surfing,” Everard said. “Girls and women really wanted to surf.”

More Women, More Surfing Power

Blue Crush did more than inspire women and girls to start riding the waves. The movie also opened up the discussion on pay equity between genders.

“In 2019, the World Surf League began awarding equal prize money to its athletes, which is amazing,” Rose wrote. “To be sure, surfing, like all the other sports, has a long way to go in terms of equality and inclusion, but I think we’re finally getting on the right path.”

Alexander said that step made the WSL the first US-based, global-sporting league to provide equal pay to competitors, regardless of gender.

But equal pay did not come without a fight. A part of that battle included the creation of the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing, which pro surfers Paige Alms, Keala Kennelly, Andrea Moller, and Bianca Valenti helped co-found on September 5, 2016.

But, these expert surfers did not originally co-found CEWS to win equal pay for all genders. Instead, they created the group to have more women invited to the big-wave contests, according to The Fight for Gender Equality in One of the most Dangerous Sports on Earth, a New York Times piece written by Daniel Duane. The article outlined the challenges and struggles these women faced when they decided to make equality one of their goals.

Everard, also a journalist, had recently written a series of pieces on Blue Crush, including a Wavelength piece, Behind the Scenes on Blue Crush, where she had a Q&A with Kennelly. The present WSL Women’s Big Wave World Champion and one of the CEWS co-founders, Kennelly, had also played herself in the cult surfing movie.

The article also mentions actress Charlize Theron has purchased the rights to Duane’s article and is planning on making it into a movie for Netflix.

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This article was produced by Wealth of Geeks.

Featured Image Courtesy of Unsplash.

Rasha is a die-hard bookaholic, but when she's not reading, she watches TV shows with her husband. He's in charge of the remote because he certainly doesn't trust her with one. If he did, they would be watching “Law and Order” reruns all day. She is a former reporter who now works in the social work industry, connecting people with essential resources and agencies. Other than that, Rasha is currently using her superpower, writing, to deliver the news.