Girl PowerA reflection on our female only surf and yoga retreat and my old habit of calling women, girls.

Sophie Hellyer

11 months ago in Sri Lanka

A couple of years ago I was invited to join Ticket to Ride’s ‘Girls Only Surf and Yoga Retreat’ on the southern most peninsula Sri Lanka, along with pro surfer and coach Nikita Robb. I was immersed in a high concentration of female peers and encouraged to jump in, literally, speak up and help team solve technical problems in each other’s surfing and yoga performance. Being on an all girls trip allowed us to focus on and enjoy learning new skills without worrying what anyone else thought.

Coincidentally, a few days before the trip, a friend and mentor gave me feedback about the way I often used the word ‘girl’ instead of ‘woman’. I realised that it was a habit, that my vocabulary wasn’t helping me say what I wanted to. My friend reminded me that the feminist movement worked hard for women to be called women. Girl was thought to be diminutive and disempowering and often associated with being a victim, whilst woman was associated with confidence and power. As I processed and talked this through with others, feedback I received was that most people felt it fairly transposable, that girl and woman were as interchangeable as man and boy. I’ve since however noticed more and more people using the world girl in a slightly more negative provocation, to demean, whether subconsciously or not, and I don’t I like it.

Whether labelling this retreat ‘girls only’ could be damaging is hard to say, but what I learnt and experienced was all positive. The retreat helped me to observe the dynamic of being surrounded by females in a normally male dominated world, and I liked it. We often assume that if the playing field is level, with equal numbers of women and men, women will participate, but in fields where strong gender stereotypes already exist, like in the surfing industry, it’s not enough. Overriding gender stereotypes sometimes requires shaping ‘micro-environments’ that have more gender parity, and this is what the retreated created.

I read some research that states women perform better in all-female environments. We participate more actively, feel less anxious and have more confidence in our ability. I also found studies suggesting the opposite for men. Studies show boys learn better when they are with girls, in both academic performance and socialisation. Women are women; men are men, and its ok that we are different. What is important? For me, a safe, loving and sustainable world. If we are encouraged to realise our path and offer our gifts we will live in a more beautiful world. To love and give fully is bliss, so an environment that supports this is important. Perhaps creating these gender specific spaces will help more women flourish.

For me, the space gave the confidence to speak up in yoga and ask for help and advice. I tried new challenging balances and gained far more from each class than just strength and flexibility. Thanks to guidance from Corinne, our yoga guru, I can now add crow to headstand to plank into my flow, something that seemed completely unachievable a couple months before. In the line up the vibes were supportive and encouraging, at times pushing some out of their comfort zones but remaining enjoyable and safe.

The retreat was playful and peaceful, filled with sunshine, surfing and snorkelling. We did acro yoga, yin yoga, power yoga and even sleep yoga. We longboarded, twin-finned, single-finned and no-finned. We swam with turtles, rode in tuk-tuks and drank endless pots of tea. There were moments filled with laughter and moments filled with silence. All at once memories were made to last a lifetime. Would I go on a women only trip again? In a heartbeat.