Alicia Amy, 35
Remember “Gidget?” Cute little Sally Field pretending to surf on her bed in her adorable TV bedroom? Or the Beach Boys, as they crooned “Little Surfer Girl?” Surf culture has been around for a while. However for the most part, it’s been the exclusive domain of Kelly Slater and a host of other male surfers.
But move over boys. Amazing female surfers are punching through, getting to the break and riding some gnarly waves. And along the way, they’re teaching the guys a few moves of their own. There are women like Stephanie Gilmore of New South Wales in Australia. Here in Maine, there’s Alicia Amy.
For someone who’s as passionate about surfing as Amy, it’s shocking to discover that she never saw the ocean until she was 18. As she tells it, “I was vacationing with a friend, and I said, ‘What’s that sound?’ and my friend said, ‘That’s the ocean!’ I just ran full force down the road and I jumped in with all my clothes on!” The feeling is mutual apparently, because the sea’s waves welcome her most mornings.
“Sometimes I don’t believe I get to do what I do. I get up at 4 a.m. and the sky is purple, I get in the water with one or two other people and then surf and be totally lost in it,” the environmental education teacher of third- and fourth-graders at Breakwater School in Portland says. “And then, being with the kids is something you can be totally lost in, too. They both – surfing and kids – take such focus. It’s [about] letting go of what you think or expect will happen because you can’t predict what either ocean or kids will do.”
Amy grew up in Western Pennsylvania, went to Penn State to study world religions and anthropology, but once the surfing bug bit, there was no looking back. For 10 years, she’s relentlessly pursued her obsession, at times even adopting the lifestyle of a serious surf bum.
“I would go to Ecuador and surf every day. My only job was to make pizza sauce,” she laughs. “It’s kind of scary because you’d go without any money or a plan, but then you find a good surf spot, and things fall into place.”
She wound up in Hawaii at one point and, after her lodging arrangements didn’t pan out, a hostel owner offered her free room and board if she cleaned the rooms. And just like that, she caught a perfect wave of human kindness, allowing her to glory in her favorite activity.
At first she was skeptical about New England’s surfing potential.
“Then I saw someone with a winter wetsuit on in Maine, and I was like, ‘Oh, you can surf in Maine?’And the next thing I knew I was doing it and it was awesome, because it was half as crowded as those tropical places.”
When asked how women surfers differ from men, she says she tries not think there’s a difference, “but, you know, there is a big difference. I was in the ocean the other day and there was another girl – a really good surfer – and there was a wave coming and we both missed it because we were being so polite. That just doesn’t happen with boys. What’s interesting is that when I’m around boys, I’ll surf like [them] – a little more aggressive. But I love how androgynous surfing in New England is. You put on your wetsuit and we’re all like androgynous seals out there. Then there’s just the few days when you can wear a bikini and it’s interesting, you kind of feel more vulnerable. It just feels different.”
While Amy does not participate in surf competitions, she says she does enjoy “a healthy dose of competition at Dynamics Fitness in Scarborough, where I cross train.”
Amy maintains a healthy respect for the ocean.
“I definitely jump in the ocean when I’m scared, and that’s made me a more confident surfer. I do paddle out [even though] I’m scared, but there is a line I’ve rarely seen it in my travels, like in Samoa, but I really will humbly say ‘no’ when I come across it,” she says. “But I was out there every day of Hurricane Bill, even the big day. There was one day at my usual spot, and I was about to say, ‘OK, ocean, you’re too big for me today,’ but then there was a little break and I finally got out and I caught one wave, and,” she pauses for dramatic effect, “I hooted for myself, which is not a cool thing to do, but I hooted for myself across the entire wave and all the way back to the car. It was awesome. Not me, I mean. The power of the ocean is awesome.”