A surfboard of one’s own

Redondo Beach woman shapes surfboards for women

by Mark McDermott

Jennifer Holbrook shapes one of her FuegoGirl surfboards.

Jennifer Holbrook keeps the reasons for starting her own company down in the basement. There, far from the waves, a full rack of surfboards collects dust, remnants of a long and failed search. Holbrook, the owner and founder of Fuego California Surfboards, came to the conclusion that if she wanted a board that fit her needs, she’d just have to build it herself.

"I’m a creative person, especially when I find something I need that isn’t being made," she said. "I figure out a way to get it." The problem, she decided, was that surfboards were not being built with the body of a woman in mind.

"I went to store after store, and they’d always convince me that this was the right board for me," said Holbrook. "But it never was." It wasn’t a lack of boards being marketed for women. "Some shaper is in a warehouse somewhere and is like, ‘Let’s just take this model and put a pretty coat of pink on them.’ Call it Girlfriend, or Supermodel."

Holbrook had only been surfing five years–she taught herself at the ripe old age of 25–and it had become an obsession, to the point where she was surfing four of five times a week for two or three hours a session. She was frustrated that no board she found seemed quite right, so she set out to learn how to shape a board that was built for the shape of her own body.

It was mainly a question of hips, and of paddling. One of the biggest problems with the boards on the market, according to Holbrook, was that their design ignored the fact that weight is distributed differently on a woman’s body. Women have more pronounced hips, and less upper body strength, so the boards that Holbrook has designed are built accordingly, with extra Walker foam in the section where a surfer’s hips rest while she paddles. "If you use up all your energy paddling, you can’t have a good long session," she explained. "At the same time, you still want it to be able to perform. You still want to be able to do bottom turns, and smack the lip. You want board shape that is loose enough, aggressively enough, to be able to manuever."

Another surfboard builder, Dave Hollander of Becker Surf, warns that designing a board specifically for women could be a dangerous enterprise. "Every surfer is different," he said. "If you stereotype women, it’ll anger a lot of them. I’d be careful. The reason we have a showroom full of boards is that there are so many different ways people want to surf. Saying I’ve got a model for women is like saying I’ve got a model for the Japanese."

That said, Becker Surf is the company that brought out the Supermodel, and Hollander notes that its painted "floral accent" is one of the things that gives it a "feminine touch." The Supermodel is also a narrower board, and the company website explains that after spending months talking to the "softer side of the sport," they found that women were looking for a board that was easier to carry.

"There is no right or wrong," said Hollander. "There is a lot on a surfboard that is just heart and soul." He also offered encouragement to Holbrook. "I love her commitment, and I love her passion. Surfboard building is a passion, a love, and if you don’t mind the agony, and don’t mind not making a lot of money, then it’s a great way of life. Welcome to the club."

One woman who has used a FuegoGirl surfboard offered a testimonial. "I had a blast riding it," said Malia Fuertes, who tried out of one of the models at the Wild Women Water Days in Malibu earlier this year and ended up as a finalist. Fuertes said she wasn’t sure whether or not women surfers need boards built with a women’s physique in mind, but however the FuegoGirl model she rode is built worked great for her, "It catches the waves, it glides really well, and it’s really easy to ride," she said. " I loved it."

FuegoGirl surfboards can be found in Players and Secret Spot surf shops; for more information contact Jennifer at (310) 617-3266. ER