Fierce Female Interview No. 27: Yvette Curtis, Founder of Wave Wahines
• • • We are so excited to introduce the next Fierce Female into the mix. Yvette Curtis is a true champion of badass women; the founder of Wave Wahines, a North Devon, UK-based grassroots organisation that arranges surfing lessons, meetups, health and wellness activities and more for local girls and women, opening up to also invite locally homed young Syrian refugees. Yvette’s a powerful proponent of diversifying surfing and has been doing fantastic work to augment the participation of and presence of women of colour in surfing and in the key decision-making roles. We chat to the formidable, Sunday Times Vitality Grassroots Sportswoman of the Year Award 2019 nominee home side from Devon, England.
Please tell me about the beautiful place you call home…Have you always lived by the ocean?
I was actually born in Leeds – so definitely not on the coast! We moved to Bristol when I was around 5 or 6 and I grew up there. My dad is from Mauritius (a small island in the Indian Ocean), so we went there a few times as a kid to visit family and we were always on the beach or paddling but never really surfing – it wasn’t something I had ever seen there. We went on holidays to Woolacombe and sometimes Cornwall so I loved being near the sea but not IN IT!! Until the past few years when everything changed!! I moved to Croyde about 11 years ago with my daughter and it was the best decision I would have made!
When did your love of the outdoors and the ocean start?
I have always loved being outdoors and actually studied outdoor pursuits alongside my A-Levels at College as I was determined I wanted to be an outward-bound instructor. My love of the ocean has always been at a distance until I was suddenly immersed in it having moved to the coast and whilst I am still figuring out my relationship with Mother Ocean – I love the back and forth of respect and caution she gives me.
Since forming the club – I am in the water more than I ever thought I would be, and it is an absolute joy to watch and be part of the women and girls’ experiences in the ocean.
North Devon was recently named a World Surfing Reserve, one of just twelve places on the planet! England is home to some incredible surf spots, that not many people know about right?
I am lucky enough to be one of the core team with the ND Surfing Reserve and it has been an amazing privilege to be part of such an organisation and help protect our waves for generations to come to enjoy and help create an inclusive area for all to enjoy and feel part of so it helps increase those who love our oceans and want to protect them.
There are some great spots in the UK to surf and my best advice is always to contact a local surf school for advice and to gain knowledge of the area and the waves on offer if you are new to the sport or speak to the local surfers for advice if you are already a competent surfer.
It still seems super insane to see our local beaches up on there as part of a World Surfing Reserve and the first cold water one too!
What are your must-do’s on a UK surf day?
Well – I feel like an utter imposter here as I am still a 10-year beginner and still mostly in the white water so not sure I would even be classed as a surfer by many – but I love my time in the water and thankfully I am very good at falling off – so from my novice perspective I would usually message one of my girlfriends (or even my eldest daughter as she’s now a surf coach) and see if anyone wanted to hop in the sea and head down with some friends, a flask of tea and some snacks as for me – it’s about meeting my friends and having a chat as much as it is trying to catch a few waves!!
You’re the founder of the Wave Wahines, a fantastic community that organises surfing lessons, meet-ups, wellness and fitness training for young girls, women, and even Syrian refugees. Why did you start the Wahines, why was it important to you?
Wahines was set up to provide access into surfing for my eldest daughter, Aliyah (then 12), which suited her needs at the time and the needs of other girls of that age. As a Personal Trainer, I am really aware of the statistics that come with girls in secondary school dropping out of sports and school sessions so we wanted to try and counteract that number by offering something really different.
The group grew and grew, so we began offering women’s sessions for those over the age of 30 and it was a huge success and now those women all surf together which is an absolute success story for us as they are surfing all the time and changing the lineup and its representation.
As a woman of mixed heritage, it was pretty clear to me there was a real lack of diverse communities within surfing yet, we as a club have a significant number of women and girls from diverse communities who have surfed with us and I wanted to find a little more about why. We then created the diversity in surfing program and to my utter joy we had a large number of girls from local Syrian families who had been resettled here as part of the community sponsorship program. We worked closely with the Pickwell Foundation to ensure we were set up with an all-female cohort of coaches and volunteers and ensuring we respected any potential barriers to entry – even taking a break over the period of Ramadan. We wanted the girls to enjoy a new experience and many of the girls had never been in the ocean prior to this club. We are super happy to be running the sessions with the girls again this year and I am determined to learn some Arabic too.
The club is so important to me for many reasons but one that stands out is when we walk onto the beach with over 20 girls they arrive with such confidence, such a sense of self, and a sense of community and it’s that knowledge they have to ‘take up space’ is a quality they can take everywhere with them. I am so proud of them all!
What has the impact been on the girls and women who join the sessions?
I think for many it has given them confidence to try something new as we create such a friendly and supportive environment. Some of the girls have gone on to become surf coaches which is fantastic as there is such a disparity in the surf coaching world so if we can support these girls to go on and find a space within the industry and the sport then we are incredibly happy to. Some of our girls now are looking at the coaching pathway too which is something we try to facilitate and even fund through a bursary scheme.
We also work providing Surf Therapy for women experiencing trauma using the Groundswell Community Project Curriculum which integrates therapeutic practice into ocean and surf sessions. The feedback we have had from our participants last year has been incredible and included statements like ‘ I feel I have my voice again,’ ‘I feel my life is worthwhile’. Hearing feedback like that from a program is just such an honour.
You are also making some pretty radical impact within the UK surfing community, working to ensure girls and women of colour have entry into surfing, and that there are more decision-makers at the table who represent more diverse backgrounds. How vital is this?
Wow – it’s so important to have diverse voices and lived experiences at every level within sport and surfing is no exception. Surfing has a very white, male narrative and is slowly starting to change its voice, and its focus, and that in turn helps bring new communities and voices into the sport. I firmly believe those voices need to be at all levels, which is something we aren’t really seeing within English and British Surfing as yet. I have been in some of those meetings and been the only person of colour in them and coincidentally the only person to even mention diversity and how to make the sport more accessible to diverse communities, which leaves me wondering; What happens when someone like me isn’t in those rooms? As a result of this Wave Wahines has actually taken the decision to leave the Club Affiliation Scheme with our National Governing Body, Surfing England, as at this time, I don’t feel it fully represents our core values. I obviously hope that in time that changes and we can rejoin and feel our needs are met and our voices are heard – but at the current time – it is not the organisation for a club like ours.
What are your hopes and dreams for your Wahines community?
I hope our community – those who surf with us – and those who follow our journey, stay happy, stay stoked and spread aloha both in the ocean and on dry land. Simple!
How do you like to re-charge?
I love spending time in the gym – I always seem to run out of hours in the day with family and work etc, but for me, definitely doing some weights and watching some Louis Theroux or Stacey Dooley documentary is time well spent just for me.
Any secret dreams you’d like to achieve?
Hmmmmmmm well we all know I want to be on the board in a sports/surfing setting so no secrets there.
I would love to go back to Mauritius with my partner (Steve) and 3 daughters as there are plenty of surf spots and so much family I have not yet met or haven’t seen for many years.
What is your one wellness non-negotiable?
Cuddling my daughters!! That’s obviously just very specific to me but the older they get, the less cuddles I get, so I make the most of them.
Something a little more universal is I always read before sleep – I put my phone down and read a chapter or 2 of a book (currently Women on Waves by Jim Kempton).