Playboy Wipes Out in Surfer Girl Search

Don’t expect local female surfers to jump on their boards for Playboy.
Playboy magazine plans a “surfer girl next door” issue next year, and in August issued an appeal for women to submit their portfolios.

“You don’t have to be a ranked pro, but Playboy’s looking for gorgeous women who know their way around a wave,” read the solicitation. “If you know a tanker from a twinzer and can tell a macker from a point break, you’re halfway there! No grommets, gremmies or posers, please!”

Bill White, director of studio operations at Playboy’s West Coast headquarters, said the magazine wants “more natural” girls.

“We are looking for the surfer girl next door,” insisted White.

As of Friday, no women from Santa Cruz County had responded to Playboy.

Local female surfers say they aren’t surprised.

“The whole Playboy thing gives people an unrealistic view of women,” said Liz Hess, an international surfing champ who can be found ripping her shortboard at the Hook in Pleasure Point. She’s also the founder and designer of Blu Emursion, a line of surf clothing.

“It portrays women as non-realistic visions,” Hess said.

Kim Hart, a local swim instructor and longtime body boarder, agrees.

Female surfers already face the challenge of being taken as seriously on the waves as their male counterparts, said Hart, and society’s tendency to turn female surfers into sexual objects makes it harder for women to go pro.

“The sport is just starting to come up for women,” Hart said. “You are fighting an uphill battle where ground is still being broken, so you have to work harder than a man.”

The few marketing sponsorships available to women often require, or at least prefer, that women pose in their swimsuits – images that don’t demonstrate their surfing skills. Hart said many of her friends decided not to go pro when they encountered this roadblock.

“They didn’t want to have to commit to photo shoots they found degrading,” said Hart. “They wanted to be surfers, not swimsuit models.”

It’s a conflict male surfers don’t encounter, Hart said.

“If I saw Kelly Slater nude in some girlie magazine,” she said, “I’d think, ‘What is he doing?’ It’s taking the focus off his abilities and putting it on his body. And talent should be in the surfing, not in the looks.”

The female surfers issue might help women get more sponsorships, she said, but not for the right reasons. She worries that Playboy will attract sponsors who want to capitalize on “surfer girl” sexuality. Hart also believes that even if “real-looking” women are chosen, the issue’s focus will be on the women’s sexuality, not their athleticism.

Is the magazine committed to featuring a diverse group of women?

“Absolutely,” said White, “if they are perky or (have) athletic bodies. We try to accentuate the positives.”

But Ann Simonton, a former swimsuit model, isn’t buying Playboy’s definition of diversity. Simonton heads Media Watch, a Santa Cruz organization that focuses on challenging racism, sexism and violence in the media.

According to Simonton, Playboy gives lip service to diversity, confuses the term “woman” with the term “body” and offers an overly limited definition of “natural.”

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