Surfing has always been a male-dominated sport, but three Latinas in Rosarito, Mexico are going against the norm by joining the adventurous sport and creating a safe space for girls and women to boost their confidence and bring down the walls that limit them both in and out of the water.
Since early 2020, surfers Mariell Alvarez, Gloria Davalos, and Alexa Chavez have been bridging the gap in female representation within surfing with Baja Sea Souls, a surf group that encourages girls and women to go in the water, have fun, and build a community. Their motto is: “Se en la vida, como eres en el mar” (“Be in life how you are in the sea”).
“We want to normalize women in surfing. We include women from every background. Women are so important in the world; in our lives, in our homes, everything. And we want to include them in the sport,” Davalos tells HipLatina.
Surfing is a beloved sport in Baja California, a state in Mexico that’s about 170 miles south of San Diego, and while many women find it intimidating to join classes, it’s also a challenge to meet other women who share the same interest. Alvarez, Davalos, and Chavez found each other out in the water while surfing with Locales, a surf school in Rosarito. Since then, the three of them have become close friends and surf regularly in the area.
Baja Sea Souls started simply a group of friends who came together to surf. Chavez, who moved to Mexico from San Diego, Calif., says she did not see many female surfers when she came across the border. Similar experiences are true for Alvarez and Davalos, but when they started taking surf lessons through Locales they were surprised at the number of women in the classes. “One day I went to Rauls, a popular surf spot in Rosarito, and saw so many women surfing. It was awesome!” says Chavez.
As time went on they became more involved with Locales and Davalos ended up becoming a surf instructor with them. Every month they would participate in the surf therapy that is offered through the organization. They mainly work with children with disabilities and individuals struggling with trauma.
“The therapies are very gratifying for the soul. Each time we are with a little kid they start out being scared, sometimes even crying, to go in the water,” Davalos says, “but once the kids catch their first wave they get excited, they smile, and never want to leave. It makes them feel great.” They all agree that through these types of therapies surfing could be one of the most powerful forms of female empowerment.
“It can be extremely beneficial for the development of girls to become powerful and leading women who can make a change within their communities,” Alvarez tells HipLatina. “Our goal is to create a healthy environment and give power to women in a man’s sport.”
In November 2020, Davalos traveled with Locales to San Blas, a coastal town in Nayarit, Mexico whose beaches are a popular tourist spot. She was able to experience firsthand how she could be a role model to young girls through her work. It was during those trips that she started to realize that Baja Sea Souls could truly make a difference.
They developed “Olas Magicas” a project by Locales that offers surf lessons to disabled children in low-income communities in San Blas. Davalos describes it as truly life-changing. “I was volunteering in the therapies and there was one girl with autism who did not want to go in the water, I took her hand and let her touch the water and the surfboard. As soon as the ocean water touched her ears she was excited,” Davalos says. “Later that day, the volunteers told me that I was the only one who could get that little girl into the water. It really made me feel good.”
When the trio isn’t surfing with Locales, they are collaborating with other local organizations to provide similar therapies, organizing beach clean-ups, and offering yoga classes to the community.
The positive reactions to their work reinforce that what they’re doing is making a difference in their community. “We love getting to know people. These women become friends, family, and sisters. We want women to share their stories and help them find support,” Alvarez said. “When you learn the story of another woman, you become a better person.”
They all look up to American pro-surfer Bethany Hamilton who is most famous for surviving a shark attack that took her left arm at the age of thirteen. She returned to surfing just 26 days after the attack and continues to compete. “Bethany sends the message that you can keep going, even when bad things happen,” says Davalos, “and we want to share that same message out in the water.” Surfing is like life, if you fall, just get back up and catch another wave they say.
“Don’t doubt it. The fear of falling, or of the ocean, is a common fear that you will have in every sport. In the water you learn so many skills, responsibility, love, how to care and appreciate mother nature, and how mother nature takes care of you in return,” Davalos.
Through a relatively new group, it’s clear Baja Sea Souls is making a big impact in Rosarito, Mexico. In Latin culture, women are expected to stay home, clean the house, and care for the children. Baja Sea Souls provides these women with the opportunity to break free from that societal norm and find their passion in the water. Women who are also new to the community have found friendship and support through the group. They are paving the way for women to enter the surfing scene and enabling the next generation of local surfer girls by giving them the support to get out on the water.
The idea of Baja Sea Souls is to stand as a reminder that the ocean is for everyone. They strongly believe that every woman deserves the same opportunities as men and that surfing can serve as a powerful tool for social change.
“Everyone is different, everyone is unique, everyone is the same in the water.”