THOUGH ITS OCCASSIONALLY breathtaking peaks have drawn increasing media attention over the past few winters, there are still plenty of San Francisco inhabitants who don’t seem to realize that Ocean Beach even exists. Many longtime residents are only vaguely aware that if they head west far enough, across Divisadero Street and straight through the seemingly endless north-south grid of The Avenues, they’ll eventually reach the wild, thunderous edge of the Pacific. Despite the presence of a few surf shops scattered amongst the foggy outer reaches, and the growing congestion in its lineups on the most pleasant days, San Francisco is assuredly not a beach town. Ocean Beach’s moody disposition isn’t particularly welcoming to surfers, and, barring massive climate change that greatly warms the Northern Pacific,
it never will be.
To be a year-round surfer in San Francisco, then, is to be committed, deeply and unreservedly, to a surf zone that’s unpredictable, often terrifying, and absolutely brutal for beginners. Those specks that you see bobbing way out to sea on big winter days, often spaced hundreds of yards apart amongst freezing, shifting mountains of malicious water, have paid several lifetimes’ worth of dues to be there. They’re badasses of the highest order.
Increasingly, those badasses are women.
Once rarer than all-day offshores in Northern California, women are more and more visible these days at Ocean Beach. Over the last half-dozen years, a hard-charging female crew has committed to challenging themselves in the punishing peaks that blitz the far outside sandbars. They call themselves “The Outer Bar Babes,” though a few members of the group hate that name. These are busy women with careers—a dentist, a small-business owner, a firefighter, a personal trainer, a chef, a teacher, a journalist—most of whom actually learned to surf in San Francisco’s intimidating lineups as adults, making their mastery of Ocean Beach all the
They share a steely physical and spiritual strength that’s apparent from yards away. They share it so closely, in fact, that it can be difficult to tell them apart in memory. (Was it Anna with that quip about making it outside in huge waves before she could surf? No, that was Beth. Wait, Rebecca maybe?) These are the women you’d want in the lead if you found yourself hairball kayaking through death-dealing rapids in a river canyon somewhere. Or, I suppose, picking your way through Ocean Beach’s sledgehammer peaks on a frigid winter morning.
Through grit, determination, and smiles, these women have carved out a respected place in the city’s surf hierarchy, surely one of the country’s most demanding. These are some of their stories.