The Folly Beach Wahine Classic celebrates 20 years of bringing female surfers together
This year’s contest is expected to draw as many as 125 competitors from all over the East Coast.
Hit The Washout on Folly Beach at any given time and chances are most of the surfers are men. “The vibe in the water a lot of times is not as welcoming to women,” says local surfer Nicole Elko. “There’s a little testosterone surrounding surfing, especially when waves are big.”
But, Elko is quick to add, the dynamic is changing. For starters, the World Surf League, the international competition platform, was the first sports league to pay women competitors the same as men. And, locally, Folly has long nurtured a strong community of female surfers, thanks in large part to the annual Folly Beach Wahine Classic.
One of the East Coast’s most beloved surf contests, the Wahine—a Hawaiian word that means “surfer girl”—celebrates its 20th anniversary on July 30 and 31. Locals Katie Coryell and Kelly Kane founded the women-only event in 2001 (the Wahine skipped 2020 due to the pandemic) to gather the growing number of female wave riders in town.
(Left) Pro surfer Kate Barattini and Wahine director Nicole Elko (right).
Today, competitors aged two to 70 from all over the East Coast converge on Folly to have The Washout to themselves for a weekend. Elko, the contest’s director, expects about 125 of them this year, from amateurs to pros in both shortboard and longboard categories, as well as tots in the “Teenie Wahine” division.
And while the competition is fierce, with cash prizes up to $1,000, a big draw is the sense of camaraderie. Shaka Surf School founder and pro surfer Jenny Brown says the Wahine is special because it’s a community-based experience. “It’s a feel-good contest—women supporting and uplifting women.”
Local pro surfer and surf artist Kate Barattini has been competing in the event for the past 13 years. “It’s a safe place where you can challenge one another but come out loving one another,” she says. “There’s a lot of lightness, a lot of belly laughs, and joy.” Longtime competitor in the “Goddess” (over 50) division Cindy Good sums up the vibe: “Everyone loves going to the Wahine because it’s like coming home to all your friends.”
A fixture in the Folly surfing scene, Brown has watched the contest grow as more women get in the water. “Female surfing has taken off,” she notes. And with it, so have sponsorships. “It used to be that we’d have to beat the bushes,” says Elko. “Now with an increased focus on equal rights for women and a more inclusive environment, it’s amazing how many sponsors reach out to us.” She’s particularly excited that Mananalu bottled water is a sponsor again this year. Founded by Aquaman and Game of Thrones actor Jason Momoa, the company removes the equivalent of one plastic bottle from the ocean for every aluminum bottle of water they sell—a pledge in line with the contest’s sustainable ethos.
(Left) Pro surfer Perng Huston; (From left to right) Competitors Sylvia Windham, Anna Bloess, Kate Barattini, Kayella Youngblood, Sydney Howell, and Bailey Kaiser.
For all the feel-good vibes of the Wahine, its participants have been mostly white women. “We’ve never had a single Black girl compete in 20 years,” notes Elko. But that’s about to change. This year, the contest is partnering with Black Girls Surf, a national nonprofit that trains women of color to surf. Members of the group will compete and put on demos. “They’re just going to get out there and shred,” says Elko. And ultimately, they’ll lay the groundwork to host camps for Black women in Folly in 2023.
Pro surfer and event co-organizer Perng Huston says it’s another reason to look forward to the Wahine. “It’s a weekend of celebrating women in the water, and there’s not a lot of that,” she says. “That energy and feeling, it’ll fill your cup.”
Watch a video promoting the 2021 Folly Beach Wahine Classic and sponsor Mananalu Water by Sea Island Media.