Surfing in Times Square with @CurvySurferGirl
Whalebone contributing editor Laura Rubin is pulling up her camp chair to engage with a series of disruptive change-makers for good, those good people igniting the sparks, to talk about some stuff you probably won’t find on Google.
I’d been hearing about a smart lady-slider in Hawaii with a soft southern drawl that was challenging the prevailing surfer girl archetype, breathing some much-needed fresh air into the trope of a blond in a teeny bikini. Elizabeth launched her Instagram account @curvysurfergirl and promptly attracted 10,000 followers in 90 days. Today she has over 78k followers and her community continues to grow, helping women believe in and feel good about themselves while educating an industry about an influential market they’ve long been ignoring. Sneed now designs swimwear for JOLYN, leads destination surf trips, consults for brands and has even stepped onto the podium. Join us for a chat around the virtual campfire.
Laura Rubin: We met in New York City last summer—the same day that you shot for Jolyn Swimwear in Times Square. The resulting images are really beautiful and dramatic. Can you share a little bit about what the experience of being in Times Square in a bikini with a surfboard was like?
Elizabeth Sneed: It was so much fun. It was something that I saw in my mind a year ago. I wanted to juxtapose surf culture amid consumerism, the standards of society. I felt like Times Square epitomized that experience. I’m a surfer in the middle of this concrete jungle, and I’m standing up and saying even one person can make a difference even when it seems impossible.
The whole world may be telling you who you should be and should do, what you should look like, but if you remain steadfast in yourself, that’s admirable and courageous. That was the symbolism of that moment.
Laura: I appreciate those photographs even more now that I know the meaning and backstory. And how were New Yorkers? What was the response like there in the immediate moment?
Elizabeth: I never expected everyone to be so supportive and kind and thoughtful. Everyone that passed by was like, “You go girl,” and, “Way to get it,” and, “This is awesome.” People were fascinated and supportive.
This was my first time in New York City. I thought New Yorkers were going to be aggressive and intense. But they were genuinely some of the sweetest people I’ve ever met – and I’m from the south.
Laura: It’s true, we aren’t all Fran Leibowitz. So, you are from the south originally, can you tell me a little bit about how you ended up from there making your way west to Honolulu?
Elizabeth: I was born and raised in Texas for the first 15 years of my life. Then my Aunt and Uncle adopted me and I moved to Arizona where I graduated high school. During college, I visited Hawaii for the first time and I just knew that that’s where I wanted to spend my life. I wanted to go there, learn how to become a surfer and build a community for myself. To me, it was heaven on earth. So that’s what I did. A couple of years after graduating from ASU, I relocated to Honolulu and I’ve never looked back. That was six years ago.
Laura: Paying attention to those pivotal cues in life is so important. And unfortunately, many people don’t have the tools to recognize or the conviction to act on them. And how did you find your way onto a surfboard? What was your learning experience like?
Elizabeth: I started taking lessons at every opportunity I had. It didn’t matter if it was a holiday—Christmas, New Year’s, my birthday, Thanksgiving—I was surfing. And surf school Ohana Surf Project became a pillar of my life because I didn’t have friends or family at that time in Hawaii, so my surf school became my family. They poured a lot of compassion, love and skill into me. I still go to them for advanced coaching as I’m learning to do more complicated maneuvers.
Laura: I think surfing is one of those things where you never say, “Oh yeah, I’m good now. I’m done learning.” You just want to keep progressing, and improving. I saw that you recently placed in the top six a contest. That had to feel good.
Elizabeth: My friends encouraged me to sign up. I really had no expectations. I ended up getting two really great waves initially but I came in thinking I did absolutely atrocious, and I was kind of moody. Then I found out I placed third in my heat, and I was standing there in shock. We celebrated on the beach.
Then an hour and a half later I had to paddle back out and do it all over again. I got two great waves in that set and ended up placing in the top six. I got to go on stage and receive recognition with my fellow contestants. It was an extraordinary experience.
Laura: Good for you! When you’re describing paddling back out, that’s the part where I’m like, “Oh man, I would just want to go get a cocktail and lie down.”
Elizabeth: It was brutal. I think the hardest part of the contest was all the paddling.
Laura: What did you do to celebrate?
Elizabeth: My surf family and friends and I went to Duke’s. I got a virgin lava flow, which is my favorite thing. Afterward, I went home and took a very long nap. Then put my little social media clip together so that I could share the moment with my community, who had been waiting to find out how everything went.
Laura: Virgin lava flow for the champ! You tee’d up my next question. Did you feel additional pressure because of social media? Or did it feel more like support?
Elizabeth: The CurvySurferGirl community is next to none. Honestly, it’s nearly 80,000 women that fiercely support me, believe in me, push me, encourage me and love me. When you have that many people in your corner, it creates so much courage and confidence to do things that you never thought you were capable of.
There was some pressure, too. You want to make your online community proud. And I haven’t really seen a whole lot of curvy women competing. I wanted to show people that if you can get to the point where you can trust yourself and believe in yourself enough to go out there and at least try, then you’ve already done more than most people will do in their lifetime.
Laura: Speaking of podiums, you’ve certainly built an impressive and important platform. What are some of the ways that you’re using it?
Elizabeth: Going through this journey of creating representation and illuminating discrimination in surfing, I was able to uncover that most of the corporate surf brands are in junior sizing – for girls between the ages of 11 and 15 – but they market it as women’s surfing.
Laura: That is a legitimately shocking disconnect. I’ve worked in or around the industry for years and I wasn’t aware of that as a consumer.
Elizabeth: Yes. And let’s say you are a size 12, 14, 16 body and you pick out a swimsuit in a corporate surf brand’s store because you want to start exploring this as a hobby. When you go into the fitting room and try to put a large or extra large surf suit on, it will not fit you.
The amount of shame that often evokes in women is extremely powerful. It can be enough to deter her from even trying the experience. It becomes a clear message from the industry that you need to lose weight before you try this sport. When in reality, these aren’t even women’s sizes.
…if you can get to the point where you can trust yourself and believe in yourself enough to go out there and at least try, then you’ve already done more than most people will do in their lifetime.
Laura: CurvySurferGirl to the rescue, I hope?
Elizabeth: One of my goals since I’ve started Curvy Surfer Girl has been both highlight discrimination about a certain body size within the industry and to work with brands to rectify it. Because when you have 80,000 women saying the same thing, it’s no longer a voice that can be ignored.
I wanted to work with a brand that was equally as ambitious to support size inclusion in women’s surfing. So when JOLYN asked me to design my own collection, it was a dream opportunity.
At about 200 hours deep into the design process, we did a fit testing with over a dozen plus-size surfers with the goal of creating high-performance swimwear up to size 4x. The fit models were in tears, I was in tears. Because having this available is something that’s never existed for us. And without the movement that we started, I don’t know if it would even have been conceptualized. We could have gone another decade with surf culture remaining the way it was if no one had ever stood up and said something.
CurvyGirlSurfer for JOLYN hits the market in the spring of 2023 – online and in the JOLYN store in Huntington Beach, CA.