In Search of Gay Surfers

Writer Dennis Hensley explores why gay women who surf abound -- they even have their own reality show -- and yet finding blokes who are out, proud, and surf isn't easy.

BY Dennis Hensley

February 25 2008 12:00 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 being gay."

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 beaten."

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