Ever wondered what it’s like to be a competitive Surfer? We got the insight from Longboarder and Surf Sistas coach Beth Leighfield about her surfing journey, the changing nature of women’s competitive surfing and how she’s preparing for the 2023 ISA World Longboard Champs.
I first remember seeing Beth out at Godrevy in 2018, on a fresh winter morning between uni lectures. She had a cool composure as she effortlessly walked up to the nose of her log, tucking her toes over the edge, hanging 5. There was a fantastic left hander that year, offering critical walls lining up some steep sections. She didn’t seemed phased and calmy crosstepped back moving into the pocket and gliding past me.
WHO IS THAT? I was fangirling a little. particularly as a newbie to longboarding, clunkily trying to shuffle up and down the board. Turns out we were both on the same uni course (she was the year below me, both Geography undergrads). The same day, ironically, I saw her in the uni canteen.
It’s refreshing seeing other women in the line-up, particularly longboarders like Beth, who inspire fellow women to commit to the cross step. During Uni I surfed with a solid crew of women, but compared to now, there weren’t really that many women in the line-up. A lot has changed in those five years for women’s surfing, notably the explosion of women surfing in Cornwall, which is epic!
Having chatted to Beth, it seems that the women’s competitive surf scene is also seeing lots of positive change for women. To find out more and to hear Beth’s story read on below!
How did you get into surfing?
I was born in Swindon, but my parents made the move to Cornwall when I was about 5 years old. I didn’t grow up in a surfing household but every summer we would have loads of beach days and I used to mess around on a bodyboard with my dad. I think I was about 9 when I had my first surf lesson at Widemouth, Bude. After spending the next few years pestering my parents for surfboard and lessons, I joined a local weekly grom club and that was it.. got the surfing bug. After constantly taking me to the beach my mum even got into surfing in her late forties!
What impact has surfing had on your life?
Undoubtedly surfing has had a huge impact on my life for the better. I feel privileged to have a connection to the ocean through surfing. Surfing has allowed me to live a healthy lifestyle which I am grateful for; with the mental health benefits of getting in the water, the social scene and the surfing community. I also love to share my passion with others through my job as a surf instructor.
I remember when I first started competing it always felt like the women were thrown in at the worst time, “oh its dead spring low tide, better throw the ladies heat in”.
Thankfully, I think now women are given their space in UK competitions to perform at their best and this is following with the level of women’s longboarding getting better and better.
When did you start competing?
I think I did my first comp when I was about 12, it was an inter-schools foamy tag team competition. Looking back, doing a fun comp like that is a great introduction to competitive surfing without too much pressure or stress! I started competing more regularly around 15 when I started longboarding.
Where have you competed? Do you have a favourite comp?
I’ve been lucky enough to compete across Europe and also further afield in Mexico. Although, I won’t lie, travelling and competing in warmer climates is pretty sweet! Some of my favourite competitions are still the local ones like the British Longboard Union events and the Jesus Longboard Classic. It’s great to get together with the local longboarding community and also watch the next UK generation coming up.
What results have you had? Any significant milestones?
Over the years I’ve a had a string of top 3 National placings. For me a highlight was representing GB at the 2019 ISA World Longboard Championships in Biarritz. Surfing competitions by nature tend to be individual, so it was really cool to be part of a team all cheering each other on.
Has the nature of competitive surfing changed since you started? Particularly for the women’s competitive scene?
I think the women’s longboarding scene in the UK is getting really exciting and more competitive. There are more and more ladies entering the events and the new batch of juniors coming up are shredding which helps push everyone. I remember when I first started competing it always felt like the women were thrown in at the worst time, “oh its dead spring low tide, better throw the ladies heat in”.
Thankfully, I think now women are given their space in UK competitions to perform at their best and this is following with the level of women’s longboarding getting better and better. Sponsorship wise I still think there is sometimes a bit of misbalance. For some brands it still feels like women need to be surfers and models, whereas for men they can just surf.
How do you juggle competing with managing work and other commitments?
For the past six years I have been working as a surf instructor. I have been lucky to work for some great companies, like Surf Sistas, who let me balance any competing commitments with instructing. I have recently graduated from university and thinking about heading into environmental centered work, with a bit of surf coaching on the side. My ultimate goal is to find a remote job that will allow me to still travel and compete across the globe… fingers crossed!
You’ve surfed in quite a lot of events like the British Longboard Union Tour as well as more alternative invitationals like The Mexi Log Fest and Smooth Movers.
How do the vibes differ? Do you find the nature of the competition different as well?
The vibe in the more alternative events is definitely easier going and socially orientated. The beers are flowing, post and pre heat, and the emphasis is also on the evening entertainment (big old party). For me, I look forward to these events the most each year because they go beyond just being a surf competition. They are also a really fun get together for the surfing community.
How are you preparing for the ISA and what does the event involve?
I have actually spent this winter in Mexico travelling with my boyfriend in our converted pick-up truck. This has been the perfect ‘training’ for El Salvador, just surfing every day, with many different waves set-ups and boards. I think being able to surf everything really helps your surfing in general. The actual event in El Salvador is running from the 7th – 14th May. Myself and the team are super excited to get out there, surf our best and hopefully do everyone from home proud!
Unfortunately, we receive no funding from National Governing bodies. We have set up a Crowdfunder raffle to help towards team travel and accommodation costs. There are some amazing prizes up for grabs (£250 Surf Sista’s Voucher!!) and you can buy a ticket from £10. We would really appreciate any help in getting us to the World Championships and representing GB!