Linda Sharp: Surfing Pioneer Amongst Men - BBC Documentary

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Linda Sharp: Surfing Pioneer Amongst Men – BBC Documentary

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In 1967, Linda Sharp embarked on her surfing journey in Wales, becoming the first and only woman at the time to surf year-round. Starting at the age of 15 in Aberavon, Neath Port Talbot, she went on to compete for over two decades, clinching European, British, and Welsh titles.

Linda’s early days in surfing were marked by resourcefulness as she lacked a wetsuit. She relied on a makeshift outfit comprising a rugby shirt, cut-off jeans, plimsolls, and rubber gloves. Competing against men was common in those days, and she even won the women’s Welsh championship by default.

Her surfing odyssey began when she borrowed a lifeguard colleague’s surfboard, catching her first wave and promptly falling in love with the sport. Eager to own her board, she sold her bike to finance it. The board, measuring over 9 feet, was a cumbersome companion for the half-hour walk to the beach until her father devised a wheeled solution.

Linda endured the chilly waters without a wetsuit until Christmas 1968. When she finally acquired one, it was unlike today’s designs. The only available wetsuits were scuba diving suits with their distinctive “beaver tail” flap. These suits had a front zipper, tails, and front knobs that could be uncomfortable. They were worn over “leggings like tights,” and many surfers left the tail flap open, risking losing their trousers in a wipeout.

Besides the cold, surfers of that era contended with polluted waters laden with raw sewage and industrial waste. Linda’s home beach sat at the confluence of the Tawe, Afan, and Neath rivers. The pollution was a constant concern, but she managed to avoid serious illness, unlike some others who suffered from ailments including flesh-eating diseases.

In the 1980s, the British Masters surfing competition held at Aberavon saw numerous competitors fall seriously ill due to the polluted waters.

Linda didn’t enter surfing competitions until 1975, a chance occurrence when the Welsh nationals took place at her beach while she was home for the summer. Previously, she had been away studying at Nonington College of Physical Education in Kent during competition seasons. She became the sole female entrant in the event, winning by default but insisting on competing against the men.

Her participation in that championship marked the beginning of her successful surfing career, leading to numerous Welsh, British, and European titles. Despite often winning by default due to a lack of female competitors, Linda always chose to surf alongside the men, hoping to encourage more women to take up the sport.

The scarcity of female participants also meant that women’s wetsuits were not available until the 1980s, while men had access to more modern designs.

In 1976, after winning her first European title, Linda received an invitation to the Women’s International Surfing Association (WISA) championship in Malibu, California. WISA aimed to address gender disparities in surfing and attracted participants from Australia, Japan, and the United States. Although she appreciated the camaraderie, Linda found the competition overwhelming and chose not to pursue international surfing with WISA due to financial constraints.

Linda continued to teach physical education and surf until 1996 when she had her daughter Angharad. She and her husband moved from Port Talbot to Porthcawl, where they operated a surf shop. Health issues, including arthritis and hip replacements, have prevented her from returning to surfing, but her love for the sport remains undiminished.

Reference:

https://www.bbc.com

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