Wave Goodbye to Gatekeeping

Sophie Robson and Sally McGee open up the conversation about inclusivity in sport, as they share their hopes of creating a welcoming environment in a sport traditionally dominated by men.

Molly Taylor
13th November 2021
@newcastle_surf instagram
With 62 sports clubs to choose from, Newcastle University caters to a wide range of interests. But how many of them promote an inclusive environment, and strive to be part of a community where people from all backgrounds are welcome?

Newcastle University's Surf Club aims to change the male-dominated stereotype attached to surfing, and offer a safe space that caters to everyone. Through an external company called ‘Yonder’, the club has held two taster sessions for ‘Women and Gender Non-Binary surfers’. I had a conversation with Sophie Robson, the president of the Surf Club, as well as Sally McGee, the driving-force behind Yonder, in order to better understand the importance of inclusivity in a sport traditionally dominated by men.


Why were the taster sessions organised, and what do you aim to achieve by creating an inclusive environment?

Sophie: “Surfing is a sport that has historically been pursued by mainly men, and can be quite an intimidating space as surfers show their dominance in competing for waves. We want to continue this changing narrative by giving female and non-binary surfers the space to come together and develop their skills so they feel confident heading out into the waves and having their moment to shine in the water. Sally from Yonder is the instructor we work with, and has built her brand around this narrative so it is amazing working with her and learning from her expertise!”

Image from @surfyonder

Sally: "We founded Yonder to offer a different path into surfing; a path which appeals to many women and non binary individuals of all ages, backgrounds and experiences. We recognised the physical and mental health benefits of the ocean and wanted to create something that we felt might go some way to breaking down barriers and giving others opportunities. We're still learning how to break down the barriers and create a positive and active community around surfing; not just for women, but for their partners, kids, friends and the wider community. I believe that my role, outside of my own personal surfing experience, is to try to create a positive image of female cold water surfing, and invite others to experience that stoke, together. Ultimately, we all surf alone. Yonder isn’t about sectioning off parts of the beach and reserving them for women; it's about empowering women to join a positive community with a confidence they might not have on their own."

"We want to continue this changing narrative by giving female and non-binary surfers the space to come together and develop their skills"

Sophie Robson

What are your plans going forward to increase inclusivity?

Sophie: “Inclusivity in sport starts at the core of the committee, by recognising that not everyone may have equal experience in the sport and opening the conversation about what can be done amongst those organising the club. From there our Club Captains and Welfare Officer are on hand to talk whenever people need, and address any concerns they may have about the sport with us.

@newcastle_surf Instagram

Creating equitable opportunities for club members through small focussed sessions works well in the water, but also keeping our social activities varied helps to include as many students as possible. We make sure to have some non-drinking socials throughout the year, and keep the society low-commitment which works well for students with high workloads. We participate in local “paddle-outs”, which show solidarity for a variety of issues in the community and to elevate voices that may otherwise not be heard. But overall, we aim to create a space where everyone feels welcome and can enjoy the experience of surfing, whatever their ability.”

Sally: "We will continue to do all that we currently do but we will be increasing our work through the CIC Yonder Surf Academy to teach more local women and girls the benefits of surfing and the ocean. The CIC relies on funding to provide free or highly subsidised sessions to women and girls that would not otherwise be able to access surf sessions. We are proud to work with and collaborate with the Queer Surf Club to increase visibility and stress that surfing is and should be for everyone, not just straight white men. This is hugely important to us and we will continue to do this through representation."

Yonder isn’t about sectioning off parts of the beach and reserving them for women; it's about empowering women to join a positive community with a confidence they might not have on their own.

Sally McGee

With more students from different backgrounds beginning their university journey at Newcastle, it’s important that we promote an environment where everyone feels welcome and safe. By being aware of issues surrounding gender, we can take a step away from the unnecessary, and sometimes subconscious, gatekeeping of certain sports. An awareness of these issues can help make a move towards creating a friendly and welcoming environment in our University sporting community that feels accessible to everyone. Starting with taster sessions like the two organised by the Surf Club in collaboration with Yonder is a great step in the right direction, and this will hopefully be emulated by more University clubs and societies in the future.

For more information on Yonder, visit www.surfyonder.com

If you fancy joining the Newcastle University surf club, visit www.nusu.co.uk/getinvolved/sports/club/6400/

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