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Meet Curvy Surfer Girl, The Movement Making Waves For Plus-Size Athletes

Jul 26, 2021

Roalyver Lopez via MAAJI With female surfers hitting the waves at this summer’s Tokyo Olympics , the once male-dominated sport appears to finally be advancing from its long history of relegating women to the shores. “Women throughout the history of surfing have had to become activists to demand representation for equal pay and recognition in big wave surfing,” Hawaii surfer Elizabeth Sneed tells Forbes, “From the corporate boardrooms to the surf lineups, surf culture is a notoriously patriarchal-driven space.” Surfing has become increasingly inclusive of women, but continues to exclude non-straight-sized ... [+] bodies from the industry. Roalyver Lopez via Night Dive Swim While the surfer girl image of the 90s helped expand women’s surfwear beyond impractical bikini’s to functional gear, the archetypal female surfer remains straight-sized, excluding plus-size women, like Sneed, from the sport. “For much of my surfing journey, I had accepted that I didn’t have access to the same suits and overall representation that other female surfers did because I had a non-traditional body type,” the surfer tells Forbes, “Many women around the world, including myself, were conditioned to believe that our bodies needed to conform to those expectations of the traditional surfer girl rather than demand fashion that supports diversity.” "The archetype of the lean, teenage surfer girl is a reflection of the values of this male-driven ... [+] industry, excluding women of different sizes, ages and abilities," Elizabeth Sneed tells Forbes. Asia Brynne via Maaji The “traditional surfer girl” Sneed is referring to remains young and thin, evidenced by the fact that women’s surf apparel typically stops at size large or extra-large. Even when a larger size is available, Sneed says surf stores base their women’s section on juniors sizing, meaning sizes tend to run small. “Most wetsuits are not manufactured beyond a U.S. women's size 14,” says Sneed. As a result, female surfers are forced to buy men’s wetsuits, spend more money on a custom suit or even worse, stop surfing altogether. But Sneed refuses to be left on shore. While a surfing accident at age 14 left the Texan native out of the ocean for years, she decided to dip her toes back in the water on a trip to Waikiki, Hawaii in 2012. “I knew I wanted to live in Hawaii and become a surfer after my first lesson,” Sneed tells Forbes. The aspiring athlete worked with the Ohana Surf Project , overcoming her weight insecurities to become an avid surfer. “I knew I wanted to live in Hawaii and become a surfer after my first lesson,” Elizabeth Sneed tells ... [+] Forbes. Roalyver Lopez via Skatie Swim Still, the struggle to find surf gear that fit continued to be a source of shame. Until one day in the spring of 2020, when Sneed happened upon an image of plus-size surfer Kanoa Green on Instagram. “It dawned on me I had never seen a plus-size or curvy woman surfing, with the exception of a few tourists taking lessons,” Sneed says. “That was the moment I decided it was time for a change.” Inspired by Green, Sneed posted photos of herself surfing on Instagram under the name Curvy Surfer Girl (CSG). In just three months the account amassed 10,000 followers—demonstrating the demand for a more inclusive image of the female surfer. She’s since expanded Curvy Surfer Girl into a full movement committed to making women’s surfing more inclusive and diverse. Women's surf apparel rarely goes beyond a size 14, says Elizabeth Sneed, forcing plus-size female ... [+] surfers to buy men's gear and custom suits. Cody Ketchum “There is a real need for forward-thinking design in women's surfwear that is more reflective of a diverse community of surfers,” says Sneed, citing poor chest and lower stomach coverage, painful pinching from non-adjustable straps and a lack of fashionable styles as common frustrations among plus-size surfers. Sneed is tackling these issues by working with brands to develop size-inclusive surfwear, like Colombian swimwear company MAAJI , who recently launched their We All Belong To The Ocean campaign to celebrate a new size-inclusive line designed in partnership with Sneed. Elizabeth Sneed partnered with Maaji to design an inclusive swimwear collection that is flattering ... [+] and functional for all sizes. Roalyver Lopez via Maaji The new swimwear collection features feminine florals and leopard print in sizing up to 3XL. Sneed worked with MAAJI’s lead designer Anna Escobar to create pieces that flatter curvy body types, like a one-piece suit with a corset-style tie in the back. Beyond style, everything is meant to be functional too, with features specifically designed for plus-size surfers, like extra bust support, zipper pullers, thicker adjustable straps and long sleeves for smooth gliding in the water. A one-piece suit from MAAJI's new inclusive collection flatters curvy bodies with a corset-style ... [+] tied back. Roalyver Lopez via MAAJI “This is a landmark release because there is something that is functional and stylish for every water woman, whether petite or curvy,” Sneed tells Forbes. The surfer is also excited about the diversity of body types depicted on land and in the water in the campaign’s imagery. It’s this kind of representation that is at the core of the Curvy Surfer Girl movement—sharing images and videos of diverse surfers remains their primary strategy to making the industry more body inclusive. With improving representation a central aim of the Curvy Surfer Girl movement, founder Elizabeth ... [+] Sneed is excited to see MAAJI include plus-size models in their advertising. Roalyver Lopez via Maaji The hope is that the more women see their body size depicted in surf culture, the less hesitant they’ll be approaching the sport. And while representation is important, Sneed sees it more as a means to an end, with the end goal being getting women offline and in the water. The surfer says she plans to partner with Ohana Surf Project to host events where women can be introduced to surfing in a safe and fun environment. Elizabeth Sneed is optimistic plus-size surfing will become normalized as more small brands champion ... [+] diversity and inclusion. Asia Brynne via Maaji But until surfwear takes inclusivity seriously, the sport will continue to feel inaccessible to plus-size women. Citing a growing number of female-led brands that go beyond performative inclusivity—like Night Dive Swim , Body Glove and Do Good Swimwear —Sneed is optimistic the tide is turning, “We are witnessing the beginning of the shift,” the surfer says. And while that shift towards inclusion has largely been spearheaded by smaller, independent brands, mainstream players are slowly catching on too. Rip Curl has started featuring curvy surfers in their marketing campaigns and a newly launched inclusive fit guide offers designs for DD-chested women. “My hope is in the next one to three years we’ll see a marked improvement in all areas of women’s surfing—from inclusive designs and manufacturing to media representation and marketing,” says Sneed. Elizabeth Sneed tells Forbes she "looks forward to connecting with other women and organizations ... [+] breaking barriers to pave a brighter more inclusive future in women's surfing." Roalyver Lopez via Maaji Whether it’s watching the Tokyo Olympics or scrolling through Instagram, many are starting to imagine a world where they belong on the water, thanks to surfers like Sneed who refuse to be excluded. “We all grow, age, shrink, and expand,” Sneed tells Forbes, “having surf gear that is a reflection of those life changes is critical so that women and men can continue their passion for surfing regardless of their physique.” Some responses have been edited for length and clarity.

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