After a negative plus size surfing experience, I wanted to give it another go during my recent trip to Cornwall. I wasn’t feeling overly hopeful but after finding out they stocked a wetsuit in my size, I realised the difference a little bit of inclusivity can make to the overall experience you have.
I’ve spoken about surfing as a plus size woman on my blog before and honestly, I feel like that experience was going to be enough to put me off for good.
I was humiliated on a busy beach trying to squeeze into a wetsuit that I knew wouldn’t fit and as two very persistent instructors tried to squeeze me into it, I felt hundreds of eyes staring at me and judging me in the process. In the end, I gave up and wore just a rash guard over my swimsuit instead. It was December a little chilly out and so in hindsight, it probably wasn’t the safest thing to do.
Fast-forward almost two years and I had the opportunity to surf again. I was apprehensive but after having a slow year for travel, I decided I needed to start saying yes to every opportunity I had.
Newquay Activity Centre Surf School
Having decided last minute to book a lesson on our trip to Newquay last year, the only time slot we could get was 9.00 am in the morning. After waking up at 8.00 am, I had absolutely no time at all to worry about what was ahead of me.
I actually think I prefered this, as I would have spent the whole day asking myself a million and one questions about the situation otherwise. Would they have a wetsuit big enough for me? Would I be able to stand up on the surfboard? Would I make an absolute fool of myself in front of the instructors?
Having an early morning lesson meant that I only had time to think about getting myself there on time as I am not a morning person.
Once we arrived at the Newquay Activity Centre we were told to sit at the tables located outside their store. There were around 15 other people there with us, but they were all in a separate lesson to us.
We were given forms to fill out and had to include any medical injuries/conditions that we have and so I wrote down that I have several different chronic conditions that make it hard for me to put pressure on my knees and ankles. I didn’t think much of it but as soon as I handed the form over to the person leading our session, they asked me if I’d be more comfortable just lying down. I was pleasantly surprised that they were so proactive because I’d heard so many experiences of instructors trying to push people to do more than they are physically able to do.
Knowing that wouldn’t be able to stand due to the pain in my legs I said yes and instantly felt much better about the whole situation.
That was until it was time to get into my wetsuit.
Plus Size Wetsuits (or should I say gold dust?)
When it came to getting our wetsuits we were asked to go down a small slope to a room filled with rails and rails of different options. I had previously asked on the phone whether they had plus size wetsuits and they said yes, but I wasn’t feeling overly hopeful looking at the choices in front of me. I told them my size and they very quickly handed me a suit that I instantly knew wasn’t going to fit me.
I took it anyway and went back to my seat where I spent a good five or ten minutes telling my boyfriend there was absolutely no way I was going through the ordeal of putting the suit on again. I knew it wasn’t going to fit and I couldn’t bear the sheer embarrassment that I’d face for a second time.
The instructors must have noticed that I was reluctant to get changed as not long after, they came up to me with another option – a 3XL men’s wetsuit.
I wasn’t hopeful but the rest of our group were starting to head down to the beach so I decided I had nothing to lose and tried it on. Much to my surprise, it fit! While it was a little ill-fitting in places due to it being designed for a man I was just over the moon that IT FIT. THE WETSUIT ACTUALLY FIT!!
Surfing While Plus Size, Is It Possible?
Once I had got changed and had all of my stuff ready to walk down to the shore, we started to make our way after the rest of the group. In hindsight, I probably should have taken a pair of flip flops because walking on the stone path on the way to the beach was way more painful than I had ever imagined it would be.
I was also incredibly thankful that the instructors had carried my board down for me as they’d given me a bigger board than everyone else. While I felt slightly embarrassed having a visibly bigger board as we sat on the beach surrounded by locals, I also felt comfortable knowing that they were taking the precautions needed to keep me safe.
Most of the lesson was spent teaching those that wanted to stand on their board how to get up, which I thought it would be worth listening to again in case I decided I wanted to give it a go. SPOILER ALERT: I didn’t.
After about 15-20 minutes on the sand, it was time to go into the water.
Plus Size Surfing: The Importance of Inclusivity
Knowing that I did actually enjoy myself when it came to surfing last time, I felt a new wave (haha) of confidence come over me and honestly, I think it came down to the wetsuit.
When I last took part in a surfing lesson I felt like the whole world was telling me that I didn’t belong and that ultimately, I wasn’t going to be able to do it. Not having a wetsuit not only made me feel as though everyone was staring at me, but it also made me feel like I was going to be dismissed if I even wanted to try to surf. It was clear they hadn’t had many plus size surfers before and as a result, my confidence was low and I didn’t spend a lot of time in the water.
This time, however, the 3XL wetsuit I was wearing was pretty worn out. It made me feel confident that the Newquay Activity Centre had worked with a lot of plus size surfers and as a result, I felt much safer going into the water with them.
They immediately came up to me and helped me get onto my board, understanding that I wasn’t comfortable attempting to stand up. They made it as fun as they possibly could for me lying down and for that, I am incredibly grateful. I got to experience the rush of riding a wave over and over and honestly, I couldn’t have asked for anything more.
I didn’t once feel excluded from the rest of the group and I can wholeheartedly say that if it hadn’t have been for them having a wetsuit in my size, I wouldn’t have felt like that all.
In fact, chances are, I probably wouldn’t have gone in the water and I would have spent the whole time ‘watching our stuff’ on the beach.
While I won’t be travelling for a while, this experience made me remember exactly why I do what I do. I want to do as much as I can to ensure that plus size people feel included no matter where they go or what they’re doing. It’s going to be a long and hard fight, but I am so glad I have all of you here to help show brands exactly why inclusivity is important.
Now, what should I learn to do next? I REALLY want to try wild swimming or paddleboarding…