The swells of inspiration and empowerment rolled through the Funk Zone at a benefit event bringing 250 guests together for the inaugural iSurf School Block Party held at Pali Wine Co. and The Valley Project, with all proceeds going toward the Watergirl Fund and Girls Inc. of Santa Barbara.
Established in July 2013, iSurf is a surf school just for women founded by Santa Barbara husband-and-wife team Alelia Parenteau and Thomas Oretsky, who saw a lack of women in local surf lineups.
The couple set out with a mission to change the perception throughout Santa Barbara and Ventura counties and help women of all ages and backgrounds get into the water and change their lives, one wave at a time.
“Our whole motivation is to really break down the barriers of getting into the surf, whether that’s economic, emotional or physical,” Parenteau told Noozhawk. “Our oldest lady who surfs with us is 72 and our youngest is 5. We span all the ages.”
iSurf offers private, semi-private and group lessons, as well as trips and camps for both surfing and stand-up paddleboarding.
“We have surf camps, and we have over 100 women who surf with us on an annual membership basis. We do Baja trips and trips to San Diego. We’re also planning a trip to Nicaragua,” Parenteau said.
The movement has grown not only to include surf lessons and camaraderie for women of all ages, but also an after-school program and the establishment of The Watergirl Fund in partnership with Girls Inc.
“We’re raising money for the fund to send girls surfing,” Parenteau said. “iSurf is creating awareness to raise the money and then Girls Inc. is providing the girls.”
The first year of the Watergirl Fund will benefit approximately 30 girls with additional opportunities growing as scholarship funding is available with the cost for each girl estimated at $550 for the program.
“It’s been so inspirational in the last year seeing how the sport of surfing has affected all of the women in their lives whether its the family that is born out of surfing with other women or traveling it has been such a personal inspiration to me,” Parenteau said, “and as a mother it has shown me the importance of teaching new skills.”
Heidi Rost is a neighbor of Parenteau and Oretsky and was inspired by the uniqueness of the mother and daughter camps that iSurf offers, along with the program designed to get girls of all ages into the water.
“I thought, ‘This is amazing.’ I always thought I was too old or I had missed my window of opportunity,” Rost said. “I just thought what a great opportunity for young girls to feel empowered through a sport that has traditionally been more male dominated.”
Rost and her 6-year-old daughter, Stella, are looking forward to the upcoming camp they will be participating in this month, and will face the intimidation of the waves and the lineups together.
“She, Stella, said I’ll be brave for you and we’ll go together, which I think is exactly what I think Thomas and Alelia were hoping for,” Rost said.
Girls Inc. offers educational programs and advocacy to girls ages 4½ to 18 years, with the opportunity to experience success, learning skills to gain confidence, self-reliance and practice leadership.
According to Monica Spear, executive director of Girls Inc., the joint venture with iSurf forms a continuum from a November 2013 event that Girls Inc. held with Santa Barbara resident and world-ranked professional surfer Lakey Peterson.
Spear, who grew up surfing in Northern California with her brother and his male friends, said she knows firsthand of the intimidation of being in the water in a male-dominated arena and the impact of the iSurf program on local women throughout the county.
“It’s been really fabulous, I can’t even stress that enough because our mission is to inspire all girls to be strong smart and bold and so thinking about a sport that has often been prohibitive for girls to participate,” Spear said. “So this has provided the best opportunity to ensure that as many girls as we can have the chance to really learn and excel in this specific sport.”