Sheryl Crow was bogarting the beach. During the Oahu shoot for her ”Soak Up the Sun” video last February, her crew ended up in a water fight with the production of Blue Crush, Universal’s movie filming on the same stretch of Hawaiian sand. ”They came in and tried to poach all our locations and surfers and water safety people,” says Crush director John Stockwell, ”but we thwarted them.” That surf-and-turf battle was resolved — ”We had to figure out where they weren’t gonna film and use the leftovers,” recalls ”Soak” director Wayne Isham — but Hollywood is still crowding the beach. And for once, the boys aren’t catching all the waves.
After decades of male domination, surfing is turning into a girls club, at least on celluloid. Besides the Aug. 16-slated Crush, which stars Michelle Rodriguez, 24, and newcomer Kate Bosworth (The Horse Whisperer), 19, there are no fewer than three other surfer-chick movies in the pipeline: Girl in the Curl was written by ”Legally Blonde” scribes Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith and others; a biopic of pioneering pro Lisa Andersen, who won four consecutive world championships after having a daughter, is in the works; newly minted Quiksilver Entertainment has optioned The Tribes of Palos Verdes, a coming-of-age novel that reps call a ”girls’ Catcher in the Rye.” Gidget reruns are drawing an average of 463,000 viewers five times a week on TV Land (a 209 percent increase over programming in the same time slot last summer), surf-girl fashion (like striped shorts and hibiscus-print frocks) is cramming boutiques from Prada to Victoria’s Secret, and the jiggly E! special Women of the Beach (with Blue Crush stars) premiered this month. Others are also hitting the beach, like Disney’s Hawaiian Lilo & Stitch and Lenny Kravitz, who’ll feature female surfers in his video for ”If I Could Fall in Love.”
Why the endless summer? Pop-culture purveyors say surfing is a way to tap the youth niche that, among other things, drove The Fast and the Furious to a $145 million haul. Women’s sports have been increasingly popular since soccer star Brandi Chastain doffed her shirt upon winning the 1999 World Cup. And sun-baked surfing has already proven its allure: The number of U.S. surfers has risen 15 percent since 1998, and nearly a million of them are women. That makes females a crucial factor in the reported $9.9 billion boarding industry, according to firms that track the sport.
Universal marketing exec Adam Fogelson says girl power accounts for part of the studio’s interest in Crush. “There’s a female empowerment component to this,” he says. “And the fact is, these women happen to be in bathing suits the entire movie…. There are obvious reasons for this movie to appeal to both women and men.”
“Surfing is sexy,” confirms Crush star Rodriguez, who beat out contenders such as Charlize Theron (an amateur surfer herself) for a part in the flick. “It works every single part of your body out, so you look hot automatically. It’s a turn-on.” Adds Crush producer Brian Grazer: “It’s one of those life-or-death sports that still exist — you can drown, you can get hurt.”
An avid surfer who’s been pitched surf films in the ocean, Grazer says his daughter, Sage, 13, inspired him to take the plunge. “Women having to give away their intelligence or knowledge to men — I don’t want it to happen to my daughter,” he says. “Having to create their own identity in a man’s world is empowering.”
“It’s been a long, hard road for the girls,” admits Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew, director of the Association of Surfing Professionals, which recently doubled the prize money for women in the competitions it organizes. “But the culmination of that is this new wave of girl surfing — we are seeing young girls coming through who are going to extend the performance boundaries of the sport.”
Pro surfers have mixed feelings about the pop trend their sport has inspired. “It’s great that people are wearing the surf clothes,” says the world’s former No. 2 woman surfer Serena Brooke, 26. “But it’s just advertising and fashion and models sitting on the beach, and there’s not much of the real deal.” Says Lisa Andersen, 32, whose biopic is in the rewrite stage: “I’m just really glad that people are starting to see surfing as a colorful, healthy thing to do.”
As for Rodriguez, she says come on in — the water’s fine. “Guys give good respect to girls who just cut in…and prove themselves worthy of the waves. Or if she has a really nice butt.”