A women's surf collective challenges the sport's male domination with the power of community and purpose
Ariel Kochbarski; center photo right (photos by Megan Youngblood)
Yoniswell has changed my life.
Finding a community of women that welcomed me with open arms gave me the strength and motivation to push further in my surf journey. I was already an avid surfer but being fully employed, I was a weekend warrior and sometimes a wimpy one at that. Like many others across the United States, I lost my job during the beginning of the pandemic. This sudden influx of time was too much time for me to get into my head about all the personal, financial, and societal worries that were floating about. Yoniswell came into my life just at this time, when I met the co-founder, Jordan Auten, walking on my street and said hi. I believe everything happens for a reason and that day gave me a renewed purpose to join these women as we all navigated the waves and the transitions in our lives.
image by Megan Youngblood
The women of Yoniswell motivated me to get out in the water. At that point, I could get up and catch a few but it wasn’t until this group of surfer goddesses entered my life and made it too fun to miss a session, that I really started to see improvements in my technique. We shared high-fives and motivated each other to dig deeper and show up for one another. I was suddenly catching more waves, riding shorter boards, and going down the line (this is when you find the little energy pocket that powers the wave left or right and takes you all the way into shore).
These were major developments for me as a beginner and only served to increase my desire to replicate those wins every time I went out in the water. This was surprising to me because my improvements were developing faster than when my ex and former pro-surfer, who shall remain nameless, would coach me. How is that possible might you ask? It was the feeling of camaraderie and comfort that the Yoniswell community provided to me that allowed me to surf bigger waves, stay out in the water longer, and go more often. None of us are experts, but the safe space that we create when we all come together is magical.
photo by Sarah Williams
Recreational surfing is still a male dominated sport… at least in the waters off Los Angeles that I mainly find myself in. There have been countless times where I am the only female out there in a sea of men and boys, or only 3 of us women in a line-up of at least 25 guys. It can be intimidating to see these men, who have not only been surfing for longer than me but who are also more skilled and certainly aren’t going to allow anyone, let alone a “girl,” to get on those waves first. This inherent competition along with male energy vs. female energy doesn’t exactly produce a feeling of relaxation and mental tranquility that I require to surf my personal best.
I grew up playing sports avidly and I am fairly athletic; I remember doing some dangerous competitions in my horseback riding career as a former show jumper – think galloping around on a horse as fast as you can then jumping over 3-5 feet fences without knocking them over or falling off for the win. Surfing seems pretty tame sometimes in comparison, at least there is a soft water landing versus a hard ground! Being calm on top of a 1,000 pound plus animal taught me that you need to be in a good mental place to compete. And when you’re in that line up of 25 guys who are better surfers than you; I promise you it’s a competition and adrenaline is flaring. Deep breathing isn’t enough.
But when I am with even one of my Yoniswell women, it’s a whole different vibe. My mind is relaxed. I don’t even notice all the guys. Get at least 3 of us together and we’re a pack, a force. We’re not only a force for each other, cheering each other on in the water and providing a larger area for our positive female energy, but we are also a force for female representation in surfing. Sure, there are wonderful female pro’s out there that can surf with, if not better, than the boys: Stephanie Gilmore, Sage Erickson, and Maya Gabeira, to name a few! But when you’re just starting out, between 1- 5 years of surfing experience, being a part of this community is game changing.
photo by Sarah Williams
I am so excited to start sharing Yoniswell experiences through SameSide so that more women can learn about our community and join us at our events. We strive to partner every event with an organization furthering the work of protecting our oceans or increasing inclusivity in our sport like Heal the Bay or Brown Girl Surf.
I hope you'll join us and feel the power of our connection.