Sophie Hellyer

North Devon, England

Years Surfing: 15? I’ve lost count.

Fave Board: I ride anything, SUP, Longboard, Shortboard, Twin Fin, Single Fin, No Fin, Bodyboard, Handplane, No Handplane. I’m really not fussy. It’s being in the ocean that’s important to me.

Instagram: @sophiehellyer 

What/who got you started surfing? I grew up near the beach and my dad and sisters surfed, I was always playing in the ocean and bodyboarding. One year I asked my dad to teach me to surf, I think looking back the reality was that I wanted to spend more time with my dad after my parents separated and this was how I did it. I think it was the happiest I ever saw him! That and then I joined my local surf life saving club (bideford bay slsc) which was brilliant for confidence in the ocean, out swimming in the waves in all conditions.

Where do you see women’s surfing in the future, say 10 years out? I’d like to think surfing will have a much wider and more diverse and inclusive community. Often all we see in the media of womens surfing are people who fit into this cultural beauty ideal, we’ve ended up with a bit of a monoculture. Change is happening and I can’t wait to see new role models emerging. The great thing with the internet is if you look hard enough you’ll find it, and I hope I can start to use my platforms to give a voice to women you who don’t necessarily fit into the liitle box the mainstream media promote.

There are women surfing in Gaza, Palestine, Haiti, Senegal, India. All over the world, resilient women from different races and religions, women with disabilities, women from trans and non binary communities. I think that these women being given an equal platform will provide the role models needed for more and more young girls from diverse back grounds to start surfing.

I’d also like to think the aim won’t be “to surf like a man”, which was the most praised thing you could aim for in my younger days as a female surfer. We are different to men, and I believe part of equality is celebrating our differences and embracing femininity.

Best wipeout story? I fell off and head butted my own surfboard once, 3 fins through my face. That was quite a lot of stitches and a good photo for instagram anyway.

Most memorable surf moment? That’s a very hard question to answer. I have a lifetime of surf memories. The one that comes to mind right now is me and another girl friend surfing out here in Ireland last winter, the surf was big, like really big (for me anyway), double over head and some on the sets. It was cold, Irish winter cold and so windy, but we were so up for it, buzzing to jump into the ocean after a week at work together. There was no one else in the line up and no one around to watch, we were just doing it for ourselves. I think I only caught about 3 waves but they were long and I felt strong and confident and within my comfort zone even though I was on the edge of my capability, and I knew she felt the same. We were pushing each other into bigger lineups but having the support of each other to take up our space in the line up and go for it was really empowering.

What do you love/hate about surf culture as it pertains to women surfers? I don’t like that its mostly surfers who fit into the industry’s beauty ideal that are successful. I’m not saying these women shouldn’t be successful, just it would be good to also give platform and opportunity to more diverse women too. It’s a culture I subscribed to for a long time, and embarrassingly a lot of my success in surfing was to do with my appearance, not just my surfing ability. I’d like to think I’ve taken a big conscious step away from it in recent years, surfing in Ireland in a 5mm all year means no one is commenting on my body, my wetsuit keeps me neutral. I still surf in bikinis on trips away but am definitely more aware of how the industry presents women as objects for male pleasure, it’s a culture that’s patronizing and damaging. What I love is the female surfers are driving away from this from the bottom up. We are seeing so many female owed magazines, brands and films creating new ways to ignite equality, diversity and inclusion.

How has your surfing life in the water affected the rest of your life on land? Surfing totally transformed my life in so many ways, it’s become a place of unselfconscious expression, a tool to heal depression and anxiety, a way to keep me connected and grounded, its given me community and friendships, and to some extent even a career. It shapes every decision I make, my life is determined by tide and wind, from university to the men I date, the ocean comes first.

I’d love it if everyone was able to participate in surfing in this transformative way, regardless of what background they come from, what size swimwear they wear, the colour of their skin, where they fall on the gender spectrum, or their physical or mental disabilities.


Sophie is now hosting surf and yoga retreats to help women to discover their passions and create lasting, mindful changes in their lives.