August 2023

Riding High in Rough Seas

Bianca Dootson is a 22 year old full-time student and professional longboarder who, despite her relatively short time on the waves, is swiftly riding her board to competitive heights.

Unlike many of her peers who were surfing since infancy, Bianca didn’t come from a surfing family. Despite growing up around the ocean in Monterey and Santa Cruz, she only discovered her love for the sport at eleven years old, after taking a lesson while on vacation in Hawaii.

“Generally, if your parents are surfers, you start surfing before you can even walk. I started a lot later than a lot of the kids… So I surfed twice as much and really just tried to be the best I could be.”

From her first lesson, Bianca was hooked and quickly reeled into the world of competitive longboarding. She went from taking lessons, to surfing for Aptos Middle School then Aptos High School, before endeavoring to demonstrate her surfing prowess on the world stage.

Bianca says longboarding feels like “dancing with the waves,” creating “a weird cross between adrenaline and… pure bliss.” She loves nothing better than to be in Santa Cruz, surrounded by Norcal’s oceanic wildlife and her friends, while surfing the breaks she’s come to know like the back of her hand.

Bianca hopes that longboarding will soon join shortboarding as an Olympic sport, giving the discipline more respect and offering her a chance to fulfill her dreams of competing in the Olympics.

“Longboarding is such a good contrast to shortboarding. It shows the two different sides of surfing,” Bianca says. “A lot of people forget that longboarding is how surfing began in Hawaii… I think it’d be really good to honor [that].”

When shortboarding became an event in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Bianca began to quest for a potential path to the Olympics. Because she could not try out for the US longboarding team, she utilized her mother’s heritage and her own dual citizenship to compete and win a place on the German National Team, who she now represents in global competitions.

Bianca is not only a committed surfer but a diligent student. She successfully balanced her early educational priorities with the support of Oasis High School and Cabrillo College, who enabled her to continue her studies remotely while traveling the globe.

“That kind of flexibility at [Oasis & Cabrillo] let me travel a lot… I started traveling internationally at the age of 16… I was [studying] online even before COVID.”

She has now transferred to UCSC, studying Psychology and Earth Science. Additionally, although she receives some support from sponsors, Bianca still works part-time at Sanderlings in the Seascape Beach Resort to personally finance her competitive travel expenses.

The more Bianca travels, the more she’s learned to appreciate her home in Santa Cruz. Traveling “makes me appreciate the community that I grew up in… my peers that I surf with, the waves at home.”

Bianca gives credit to Santa Cruz for encouraging surfers of all ages and of maintaining the ocean’s ecosystem. She does wish, however, there were more competitions in NorCal to expose young surfers to competitive surfing.

After many years of surfing, one of Bianca’s biggest obstacles has been how Santa Cruz’s rough, frigid ocean and climate clash with the tropical, bikini-based images perpetuated by surfing companies implying that “women don’t surf in rugged climates.”

Wetsuits may not “look the prettiest” and can make you “look like a seal,” but in the freezing Pacific, everyone must wear them. These aesthetic expectations often limit female surfers’ opportunities to acquire sponsors who frequently value womens’ appearances over their surfing skills. By displaying the true realities of this “forgotten part of women’s surfing,” Bianca believes the sport can begin to deconstruct these stereotypes insinuating surfing “is not a girls sport.”

Bianca hopes in the future, female surfers will be evaluated, acknowledged and respected for their surfing instead of their bodies.

“The best advice to young girls,” Bianca reflects, is to “know your worth, be proud of your surfing… [it] speaks for who you are… [and] don’t give up” when you encounter bad days on the waves.

“Everyone started from the bottom and made their way up” she says, adding that anyone interested in surfing, regardless of their background, should take a lesson. “Just get the basics down… learn etiquette and educate yourself on surf culture” to keep yourself and others safe in the water.

Bianca’s surfing journey shows how hard work, dedication, and a love of surfing has propelled her to great heights. She recently placed 5th place in the Pro-Division Queen of the Point Longboard Competition in Malibu, putting her one step closer to her professional goals and accruing her invitations to other Pro-Division championship competitions in the near future.

Writer Elise A. Cline is a political science major and journalism and disability minor at U.C. Berkeley

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