Today we’d like to introduce you to Camille Cunningham.
Camille, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I rode my first wave in the warm gentle waters of Waikiki Beach during a vacation to Hawaii when I was 16. I was on a 9-foot foam board and stood up right away. It was so buoyant, it very well could have been a small boat. I thought, “wow this is so easy! I can totally do this!” Upon returning home, I grabbed my brother’s 6’2″ Kaysen and bee-lined to the Oceanside Pier, where I spent all of my summers.
Oceanside was a lot different 17 years ago. There were no hip restaurants. No swanky hotels and condos. There were dive bars and biker gangs. It was gritty and had more elements catering to grown-up vices than the cool fun family beach community it is now. Trying to learn how to surf in Oceanside back then was nothing compared to how it is now. Groms, newbies, and especially girls were not welcome. We often got told to beat it or “you can’t surf here.”
The waves at the pier were also nothing compared to the gentle rolling waves of Waikiki. I got beat up by Mother Ocean and humbled very quickly and sadly discouraged. Fast forward 14 years, I was married with two children under the age of 3 living in South Oceanside. I would stay on the beach with the kids watching my husband surf longingly and desperately wishing I could surf too. My quick induction into motherhood also created a loss of identity. I felt disconnected and uninspired.
Finally one day, I decided I was going to learn how to surf. My husband’s approach to teaching me consisted of pointing to the ocean and saying, “here’s your board, paddle, and get up.” Again, I got beat up by Mother Ocean and discouraged. Oh no, not again! Convinced I wasn’t the only one in this season of life being called into the waves, I trolled the interweb for other like-minded women. I found a women’s surf meet up where I met my now best friend, Danielle.
Danielle introduced me to the San Diego Surf Ladies, a local non-profit and all women surf club with the international Coalition of Surfing Clubs founded in 2004. I was really nervous when I went to my first group surf hosted by then President, Lisa Smith. But what I found was a wonderful sense of community, encouragement, and female empowerment by fellow water women. Everyone was cheering each other on and calling each other into waves. I was hooked. I found my tribe.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I recently quit my corporate job after working in the same industry and being on call for 15 years. My surf tribe called me out and challenged me to take the plunge. I left to pursue a simplified life of happiness and more time with my family. It was not an easy transition, and there were a lot of tears and even more glasses of wine. But my tribe stayed vigilant supporting me through it all. And when I walked out of those glass doors for the very last time, they were all there cheering with flowers and beers in hand. This is the deep-rooted sisterhood The San Diego Surf Ladies cultivates.
We’ve all struggled with the varying dichotomies of womanhood, and this is a big reason why so many are drawn to this club and the genuine no strings attached support we offer one another. With over 250 members, we have several subgroups that cater to every changing season in life. We have the single professionals looking for girlfriends in and out of the water, we have artists, entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, nurses, and even mothers of littles who take turns watching each other’s children while the other surfs.
We have women having marital problems or personal family challenges. Nobody is immune to real life. But what is incredibly comforting and humbling is knowing you have this fabulously devoted support system of “seasters” that will rally when you need them. No questions asked. Our New Member Ambassador, Nancy Bsharah said it best, “Together we face our fears, challenge each other, celebrate victories and support each other when things don’t go as planned. We laugh (a lot), and we’ve been known to add a few more drops of salt into the sea.”
We are a masterpiece of the female experience all offering something different that compliments each other.
Please tell us about Vice President, San Diego Surf Ladies.
San Diego Surf Ladies is coming up on 15 years of fostering a healthy sisterhood of ocean-loving water women. Our mission is to create a community of surf related resources, education, and fellowship.
This club really would not be what it is without the dedication of our elected board and coordinators – all volunteer positions. Our group of coordinators offers so much of their own time for the betterment of the club and all the members. From coordinating group coaching sessions with Fulcrum Surf to negotiating surf travel discounts with agencies, charity work, beach cleanups, or hosting group surfs and social outings.
Each year we also partner with a sister charity to further our philanthropic work. This year, we will be supporting Groundswell Community Project, a San Diego-based nonprofit organization that builds safe and brave spaces for women to heal, empower, and unite through the art of surfing. Using the healing powers of the sea, Groundswell is run by therapists trained to heal wounds for women who may be recovering from addiction, abuse, human trafficking, or even refugees.
If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
I think we’ve all, at some point, lived in the space of self-doubt. If I had a second go at it, the only thing I would have done differently is to believe in myself more.
Trusting yourself and using your knowledge in moments when fear and insecurities can overpower even the most confident surfer is easier said than done. Something that I have adopted as my mantra when paddling out is “go steeper, go deeper.” Meaning, don’t let that guy intimidate you into sitting on the shoulder. You BELONG out here just as much as he does. Take off on that steep set wave. You KNOW what to do.
There are generally two types of women in the line up: the wolves who feel like they have to prove themselves to the guys or the sheep who are paralyzed by self-doubt despite being better than a handful of the Y chromosomes out there. Although I don’t feel the need to prove myself, I do strive to be that wolf in sheep’s clothing. 🙂
It’s always a choice. You chose to paddle out. You chose to sit in that spot. Now, choose YOUR wave and choose to believe in yourself. Choose not to fall into self-pity or self-doubt. My friend Chelsea Levenson told me once, “leave the baggage – nobody is making you carry it.”
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- Website: www.sandiegosurfladies.com
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San Diego Surf Photos, Mike Bresnen, Ryan Szot, Terri Denning, Elyse Quartini, Damian Davila, and High Ground Studios