By Dennis Hensley
Originally published on Advocate.com February 25 2008 1:00 AM ET
Though no openly
gay male surfers compete on the professional tour,
several out lesbians do, including former world champion
Lynne Boyer. Gay gals who surf are also the focus of
the Logo reality show Curl Girls. All of which makes
one wonder, Is there such a thing as a "curl
guy," and if so, where is he? "I know
they’re in the water," says L.A.-based Curl
Girls star Michelle Fleury. "I look for them, but
I haven’t spotted or spoken with anyone admitting to
Maybe they're in
San Francisco, a gay mecca where the surfing scene has
exploded over the last decade. "If there was going to be a
place where there would be openly gay surfers, this
would be it," says Matt Warshaw, the San
Francisco–based author of The Encyclopedia
of Surfing, "but you just don't see it." Warshaw
is straight, but he's been writing about demographic trends
in surfing for years and the ongoing invisibility of
gay men confounds him. "I’m baffled as to
whether it’s a sport that has happily or unhappily
closeted surfers," he admits, "or if it's so staunchly
hetero that it's like a force-field to keep gays out."
If the latter is
true, it's for good reason. Despite its easygoing,
enlightened vibe, surfing has a long history of homophobia.
When a 1988 magazine article implied that Aussie surf
star Cheyne Horan was gay, he lost endorsement deals
and friends. A decade later, former top-5 pro Robbins
Thompson left the sport in disgust after his sexuality
became known and he started hearing taunts in the
water and having the word "fag" painted on his car. In
1996, teen surfer Shane Dorian listed "dykes and fags"
along with "diseases, the Devil, and flat spells" as
things he'd like to rid the world of in Surfer
magazine. And just last year, when a statue of a
surfer went up in Cardiff near San Diego, surfers criticized
it for not looking butch enough and dubbed it "Fairy Mary."
So what's the deal?
"The gay guys I
know who surf tend to try and keep their sexuality and
their surfing separate," says Leslie Smith, a part-time surf
enthusiast who works for a nonprofit organization in
Manhattan. "They’re not closeted, but
they’re not going to necessarily wear freedom
rings on the beach." Smith adds that he has encountered
homophobia on the beach, but like most surf-related
altercations, it was all about turf. "I pulled up to
this little cove in Hawaii a couple years ago," he
recalls, "and a couple of a guys came over like, 'What
are you doing here? Locals only.' They started calling me
gay and making effeminate gestures and it became clear
that I was going to leave or I was going to get
entrepreneur Eric Mueller started surfing in the late
1990s, he found a far more welcoming scene. "I hung out with
this straight guy who had a girlfriend, yet he'd
always be like, 'I really want to make out with you,'"
says Mueller, laughing at the memory. "He was the
epitome of the surfer types I would meet, just very
laid-back guys who didn’t subscribe to all the rules
of society, including the ones that say guys
aren’t supposed to make out with other guys."
New York theater
producer Rob Ahrens's experience is somewhere between
the two. "When I started in '98, a friend and I used to joke
that we were the only two gay surfers in the world,"
recalls Ahrens, who actually came up with the
life-changing idea to turn Xanadu into a Broadway
musical while on a surfing trip to El Salvador in
2001. "Now, it seems like the sport is broadening.
When I go out and it comes up, it’s pretty much a
If there's hope
for an out and proud future for gay men in surfing, it's
personified by Dan Abrams, a financial analyst in Los
Angeles who started a Yahoo group for gay surfers
several years back that has since grown into a gang of
around 20 or so gay and gay-friendly surfers. "It
became like this really cool little family," says Abrams, an
Army veteran and former USC rugby player, "and we've never
experienced any homophobia in the water whatsoever. We
openly talk about guys in the water and I’ve
never really gotten anything more than just a
surprised second look."
Abrams would love
it if his group helped inspire other gay men to
hop on board. "Sometimes, I think we worry so much about
homophobia that it keeps us from doing things that
we're interested in," says Abrams. "Maybe if people
knew there were other (gay) people doing this, it
might give them hope or a network of people to go do this
with." Would he work with a beginner, like say a journalist
who may be a little on the Fairy Mary side? "We give
free surf lessons to anyone who's interested," he
promises. "I can honestly say that surfing has changed
my life. When you catch that wave, it’s like riding a
roller coaster, only you’re the track and
you’re the car and it’s all you."
And, let's face
it; it's pretty sexy too. "When I’m out at a bar and
someone’s like, 'What are your hobbies?' and I say
surfing, their eyes perk up," says Abrams. "I have a
surfboard in my apartment," adds Ahrens, "and I said
to a friend who’s very stylish, 'I should
probably get that out of here. It doesn’t look
proper,' and he said, 'Oh, no no no, keep it there.
That’s going to get you laid.'"