Making Waves

We meet social media surfing star Elizabeth Sneed aka CurvySurferGirl, who is using her influence to spread a message of body positivity to encourage more women to get on board!

By Amy Sedghi

To see her sitting astride a surfboard, hair spilling over her shoulders and a huge glowing grin across her face as the sun shimmers on the waves, you’d never think Elizabeth Sneed, aka @curvysurfergirl, was afraid of the ocean. “I still get scared to this day, especially when we have bigger swells and when I go really deep offshore for freediving,” admits Elizabeth, describing how a near drowning experience when she was a teenager led to her experiencing post-traumatic stress and developing a fear of the ocean and water in general. “It was actually my surf instructor who helped rehabilitate me to the point where I am today,” she shares.

Elizabeth expands the image of the surfer girl. Photography Caleb Heikes.

Although her 68.1k Instagram followers are used to seeing snaps and videos of her confidently riding the waves, Elizabeth vividly recalls the conflicting emotions she had on that day in 2012 when she first tried surfing in Hawaii. “I was shaking when I went into the water and I was really scared, but of course at the same time I was really excited,” she explains, remembering her awe at the bright blue turquoise waters of Hawaii. She credits that first surf lesson – a simple holiday activity she’d booked whilst a junior at college – as being life changing and setting her on a course to where she is today: “I completely fell in love with it and I knew from the moment that I did it that I wanted to move to Hawaii and become a surfer… and that’s exactly what I did.”

Growing up, Elizabeth embraced sports. She lists off athletics, volleyball, basketball, dance and martial arts as just some of the activities she was involved in during school and college. Nowadays though, her focus is fully on the ocean; as well as her obvious love of surfing, Elizabeth is also a Level-1 certified free diver and a keen sailor. “Most of my stuff on land – even my gym training – is primarily centred around functional strength training for surfing and freediving, because I spend so much of my time in the ocean,” she explains. Born and raised in north-east Texas, Elizabeth lived in Phoenix, Arizona for ten years before making the jump to Oahu in Hawaii. The 31-year-old describes the move as a “life dream” come true. It wasn’t just her geographical location that surfing had an impact on though. She soon found that a love for the sport came together with other passions in her life, such as promoting body positivity and diversity, and inspired her to create her Instagram with the ambition to expand the image of the ‘surfer girl’.

Surfing is for women of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities and ages. Photography Cody Ketchum.

“My mission is to bring body positivity to women’s surfing and highlight that women of all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, ethnicities and ages surf,” she explains. Elizabeth hopes to develop a counter-narrative to traditional notions of what a female surfer has to be or look like – much of which, she says, has been dictated by a narrow male gaze for far too long. Why does she think there is such a stigma about larger-bodied people surfing? “Because we’ve never seen larger-bodied people surfing,” she says flatly. “That’s, I think, part of it, and of course a lot of this is deeply rooted in misogyny and patriarchy.” She describes her platform as having been a “real revolutionary thing.” “So many women have related to this message,” she points out.

Looking at female surfers as “place holders for beauty to men’s surfing” rather than as genuine athletes and people that equally love the sport is the source of a lot of the dissociation with larger bodies in the industry, she stresses. It’s also something Elizabeth knows about only too well, having drawn deep upon her own personal experiences when founding her platform. “I started surfing at my heaviest and I was extremely unsure if I should even be in that space, because I’d never seen anybody that looked like me practising or trying to learn how to surf,” she says. “That was a very demoralising experience for the first two years that I was learning.” When the Covid pandemic hit in 2020 and Elizabeth lost her job, she made a resolution: ‘I decided that it was time that surfing met women where women are, rather than constantly having to fit that narrow archetype of a female surfer, which was essentially a young teenage girl. Most adult women are not going to be able to measure up to that.”

Elizabeth Sneed x Captain Max Boat Tours. Photography Cody Ketchum.

curvy

Elizabeth at Ohana Surf Project, shot by Damien Guerrera.

She states that social media has been critical to this movement of promoting body positivity in surfing. “I think the reason why this can even take place in this time period is because of social media. It’s been foundational in creating the movement and the momentum for this shift in consciousness,” she says. But it’s not just different body shapes she’d like to see represented in surfing: “Only the people competing at an elite level are really represented in surfing right now and I believe that democratising that space more, so that we see different levels of surfers and a broader range of people participating in the activity, will allow more people to relate to that experience and maybe join the tradition of surfing.”

Elizabeth and Lexi Jorgensen x Landy Wetsuits. Photography Cody Ketchum.

Elizabeth describes how in one of her most recent surfing campaigns, there was a woman in her 70s, several middle-aged women and those across the entire spectrum of their 20s and 30s involved. It is important for people to see themselves represented, she stresses, explaining that she wants women to see that they can continue their surfing journey through every stage of life. Currently in the process of a collaboration with swimwear and activewear brand, Jolyn, Elizabeth enthusiastically describes how they’re working on a large and diverse collection of swimsuits that are specifically performance designed for a variety of body types. “That’s what I’m most proud of right now and that’s what I’m putting a lot of energy and focus into,” she shares. She hopes the surf and swimwear line will support the ambition of future female surfers of many different sizes and ages.

Speaking from her home in Oahu, with her great dane Noah by her side, Elizabeth comes across as self-assured, measured and oozes confidence. Has she always been like this, and in particular, quite so body confident? “I would say for the most part I have but, of course like anybody I’ve gone through ups and downs about my appearance,” she says. “I’ve always seen my body as a vessel to achieve my goals and dreams, not something that needs to look good for someone else’s approval.” It’s this she credits for having kept her grounded in her own self-worth and confidence as a person. What advice does she have though for those struggling with their own body confidence? “I would say it’s a daily journey and it’s a choice,” she explains. “We have to wake up and choose to love ourselves. I think a lot of it is the fear of not being enough and there’s confidence in thinking ‘maybe you’re afraid but screw it. I don’t care anymore about what other people think’.”

“I think that’s a really positive approach because it teaches you to value your own self-worth and who you are as a person without significant external validation, because a lot of self-esteem is rooted in trying to seek others’ approval.” She also credits strong female role models, such as her late grandmother and “aunt-mom”, Susan, who adopted her, as encouraging her to become the adventurous, exploratory and enthusiastic person she is today. “I think it’s very important that we have positive female role models in our lives,” she says. “If we don’t have them – especially as children, because we’re not all given the same opportunities – [it’s important] that we actively seek out incredible female mentors. They are going to be the ones that help us pave the path towards our passions and purpose in life.” When we talk about what’s next for @curvysurfergirl, Elizabeth says the sky’s the limit. Her collaboration with Jolyn is a highlight, but her calendar is packed with other exciting opportunities, such as hosting her first international surf retreat in Bali later this year. “I’m looking forward to travelling around the world and connecting with these women who are so passionate about the @curvysurfergirl movement and what it represents,” she says with excitement.

Elizabeth wants women to see that they can continue surfing through every stage of life. Night Dive Swim x CSG. Photography Roalyver Lopez.

Reflecting on her work, Elizabeth describes it as having been a “liberating experience” to be at the forefront of a movement that is welcoming a diverse group of women into the twenty-first century of surfing. “The outpouring of love and support has just been incredible,” she says. “The movement has grown exponentially since I started it and we’ve even seen shifts within the surf industry’s marketing materials, the women that they’re choosing to put on their surf teams and fashions evolving in ways that were previously unthinkable in the surf industry for women.” Simply put, she says, the last few years have been a “monumental experience” and if her plans and passion are anything to go by, there’s sure to be plenty more of these monumental moments round the corner.

Fairy. Photography Cody Ketchum.

Editorial Design by Root

Thanks to photographers Caleb Heikes (@rogue.mango), Roalyver Lopez  (@roalyverlopez) and Cody Ketchum (@codyketchumphotography)

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