28 June 2022
Meet the UK’s coolest surf society, Women + Waves
Women + Waves is a surf collective that brings women together to have fun through learning to surf.
Based in Newquay, Cornwall, the company organises surf coaching weekends in the south west and in other leading surf spots around the UK. It also offers bodyboarding, wild swimming and SUP, spreading the message through a rapidly-growing online surf community.
“It's all about getting women in the water, giving them the good foundations to be able to enjoy themselves in the sea, whatever the weather,” says Women + Waves founder and CEO, Rachel Murphy.
“We now have our Rip Curl Surf Academy which is helping people over the bumps, accelerating their learning and getting their surfing up to intermediate level,” Rachel adds.
After the restrictions of the pandemic, Women + Waves is very much about freedom, connecting women to the thrill of riding waves in spectacular coastal locations right on our doorstep.
“Our customers come from a huge variety of backgrounds and have different levels of experience in the water; even some who have never been in the sea before. We work with a great range of people,” Rachel continues.
Founded in 2017, the company’s growth through successive lockdowns is testament to the strength of its ethos and the resilience of its core team.
Overseas trips are now in the pipeline, while partnerships with the likes of H&M and Rip Curl, mean Women + Waves stands out as much for its seaside-chic clothing (capsule collection available online) as for the industry-leading quality of its surf instruction.
The WSF was delighted to host Women + Waves for a coaching weekend at Llangennith, last autumn. We spoke with Rachel to get the lowdown on their Gower adventure, and to learn more about the journey of the UK’s most exciting surf tribe.
How did Women + Waves come about?
Originally, me and my girlfriends would always just go out for a surf. Then one summer we were just working constantly and we decided to find time in our diaries to just go surfing regularly – no matter what the conditions are, let's go surfing!
I worked at surf school at the time, so I was just running down after work, getting in the sea and doing the same thing on Wednesday nights with friends.
Slowly, more and more people we knew began joining in, then one of my friends asked about how to build confidence in the water. She had lived in Cornwall for 10 years or so, but she was scared of the sea. I think most people at some point, no matter how big or small the surf is, have lost their confidence at some point in the water, myself included. I taught her the techniques that I was told by my husband, and gradually the community all sort of came into being. Whether it’s dipping your toes in the water, coming for a surf or a body-surf – it’s just about getting into the sea.
By the end of the summer we had about 40 of us rocking up on the beach on Wednesdays for surf club, so that was really cool. Afterwards, we’d go for pizza and it became a really nice thing to do.
We realised that coaching was really in demand, and so we started tailoring the surf coaching weekends. I had previously worked with a lot of surf camps and surf travel schools, so I knew what the recipe was for creating a great package, and I just put the two together.
Our first surf club night was in September 2017, and we kept meeting until the daylight ran out on weekdays. We started back up in the spring when we began developing the coaching weekends.
How has the company grown since then?
I set up a Facebook group in our first year, and I remember thinking it would be nice to get 200 members in our group by the end of the first year. We ended up getting around 1,000 members and we’re up to around 8.8k members and nearly 40k followers in 2022, so it’s really grown fast and in a short space of time.
We only really started doing the coaching weekends officially at the end of 2019, so realistically that’s the year I actually went full time on it and there was enough there to grow properly as a business.
What have been some of the major milestones in the company’s growth so far?
Reaching a full year of coaching events has been big. When I first started, I just did a couple, and we had three or four events. Then it escalated to through 2019 and now we have an event on nearly every weekend, plus we’ve been able tobook through the winter as well, which has been great – we knew people love to surf through the winter; I do too, so I was stoked, but convincing other people to get in too can be a little harder.
As a group, we have such an appetite for getting in the sea in all weathers. We put on such lovely weekends all year round and there’s so many benefits to that.
Another huge milestone for us was our collaboration with H&M, which really came out of the blue. The collection came out in 2020, and it’s just so cool that they would want to jump on board and support us. We’ve recently partnered with Rip Curl, too. They’re pretty much the kingpins of the surfing world, I’ve always loved their gear and it’s a dream to work with them.
What challenges have you overcome to get to this point?
In the first year, we did a test run of our international trips, so we were all ready to go and we revved things up online. It took us so long to get everything nailed, then a week before we launched, Covid hit and suddenly everything we had built the business on was in jeopardy, so we were forced to pivot.
I didn’t really know if this was going to be a three- or six-month thing, we had no idea. But luckily, we’ve got the UK and loads of surf spots. Navigating around Covid was genuinely so hard.
Part of what we do involves sitting down for surf video analysis, and we do so much lovely social stuff, but it all went out the window because we simply weren’t allowed. We worked around it and did everything by the book as the laws changed, and it just taught us to stay flexible and open minded. Often, we knew we could still go ahead, it was just a matter of mixing things up and finding a solution. There were various social distancing rules coming out making us change staffing ratios, so we just had to adapt.
Another challenge is that over the last few years, we’ve been watching people learn to surf, and I’ve just wanted to fine tune that process. This led us to develop our 2022 Academy comprising beginner weekends that progress to intermediate level, allowing everyone to join in and have a really fun experience.
It can be difficult to cater to every person’s individual needs and requirements when you have everyone there at once, so our 2022 Academy is detailed and in-depth. I’m really excited about it. Ultimately, Covid forced us to pivot majorly but the experience has made us go over what we offer and make it even better.
We definitely experienced the staycation culture last summer, which was our busiest summer yet. I think the pandemic pushed us to be really flexible with what we can offer, so that really helped.
It’s been hard, but we’ve still been able to run, and I’m really glad that we did because I think even more through lockdown, it’s been hugely appreciated. People just needed to get out and surf.
Can you tell us a bit about the UK trips that Women + Waves organises?
We offer two-day coaching weekends in Newquay, where we’re based. We also offer those weekends in Croyde, North Devon, and in Llangennith on the Gower peninsula in Wales. Each of these spots has been chosen because they suit the abilities of our surfers, and because they’re just beautiful places to get to at the end of an epic road trip.
We know that getting down to Newquay can be a mission, so having those options higher up in the UK makes Women + Waves more accessible and puts us in touch with new audiences.
It’s fantastic to go out to different spots together because it can be so daunting to rock up at a surf spot by yourself and not have a clue what’s going on. At Llangennith last year we had the Welsh Surfing Federation welcome us and make us feel at home. It’s great to have someone there who knows you when you arrive.
How did your 'Gennith experience go?
It was amazing, more than I could have ever imagined. The drive there was beautiful, going through all the little lanes on Gower, and going around every corner the view was breathtaking.
I hadn’t surfed in Wales before, and hadn’t been to Llangennith. It was such a cool place with a really nice local vibe and everyone was really friendly in the water, so yeah it was a wicked trip.
One of the great things for us was that there was so much space. There’s incredible sand dunes and miles of beach, loads of peaks to surf all over the place, so it was just perfect and we couldn’t have asked for more. After surfing we went to the King’s Head for dinner, visited PJ’s surf shop, and it was lovely. We drove home stoked with how the weekend went and we’re buzzing to visit again.
Do you have plans to go to other surf spots around the UK?
I’d love to go to Scotland, and Ireland as well. We have to make sure that places we go to are suitable for our guests – there’s so much logistics to take care of when you’re doing surf lessons, and lots of things to consider.
The sea conditions could end up being really bad on any given day, so you need a contingency plan in place. The sea might be flat, so then you look at options to SUP instead. Beaches may have permits or licensing that we need to work around. We’re still establishing connections in the North East of the UK and over in Ireland, but hopefully we’ll make some good partnerships and more trips will be on the cards soon.
Can you tell us about the overseas trips that you organise?
Looking back over the pandemic period and how we’ve had to restructure, I think we’re going to play things safe this year. We did have plans to go to Morocco, but we had to bin it. I’m so glad we did because when the flight dates rolled around the airlines started cancelling. Maybe we can do that trip again in the near future, though.
We have a Morocco trip booked into our calendar for September this year. Also, we’re organising an El Salvador trip for January 2023 (details to be announced) because they have a really safe and amazing place to surf out there which is great.
We’re slowly adding trips back onto our agenda, but I think we need to be in a place where everyone feels safe travelling. Personally, I’d love to get back out again asap, but obviously there's a huge responsibility taking a group with you, making sure everyone is safe and having the best experience that they can.
It’s just turned out to be such a crazy time to launch any kind of business initiative, let alone one that relies on travelling, so we’ve been pioneering in that sense.
What’s the mission statement of Women + Waves?
We’re just about having fun with other people. I think you make the most progress when you’re having fun. We don’t try to overthink things or put too much pressure on ourselves. It’s just about bringing people together and improving our surfing together.
We’re also dedicated to helping people fast-track their learning and improve their skills faster thanks to our Rip Curl Surf Academy.
Today, there’s more focus than ever on people’s mental and physical wellbeing, and I think that when you enter the sea, you come out in a better mood and that’s something we really need; it’s weird how addictive it is.
It’s cool when you live in these small surf communities, you all share that one thing in common and you can always just talk about the surf – when you last got in, what the session was like – especially if the sea’s been flat for a while. It’s such a nice thing to be a part of.
Who are some of the key people who help you with the smooth running of Women + Waves?
I was pretty much a rookie at the start, so a huge shout out goes to Rob Barber, my business partner. We go back ten years or so, and I worked with him when I was younger in his surf school. He’s been a real inspiration as he set up surf schools and a bodyboard school in the UK. He’s really helped, and came on board with Women + Waves about a year in and basically showed me how to do business.
Rob and I talk every day about our plans and how to improve Women + Waves. We don’t have many lazy days as we always have good ideas about how to make things bigger and better.
Also, a huge shout out to our team – everyone thinks we’re really big, but there’s just a small core team. Monica is my right-hand woman, she always keeps a good vibe going, and always remembers all those last little details to keep things running smoothly. There’s our coaching and photography team who stand on the beach, sometimes in the pouring rainand never complaining! So yeah, I’m really thankful for the team.
What’s currently going on with Women + Waves, and what are your goals for 2022?
We’ve partnered with Rip Curl to deliver our Surf Academy, which launched in January of this year. It involves working with Rip Curl’s pro riders and getting their guidance for beginners, then using that in our tutorials and for a whole heap of other stuff.
The Rip Curl Surf Academy introduces special coaching techniques and we record progress with official log books, which really helps people along their surfing journey. It’s been a huge success so far and really well received. We’ve launched a clothing capsule as well.
It’s just great to have Rip Curl’s support. We’ve been doing some product testing with them too. It’s great to have them on board for equipment and to really bolster the advice we’re giving.
The other thing we’re really working on is stand-up paddleboarding, which I think is really needed at the moment. People need a nice introduction into it and have all the tools there so they can go out and do it safely.
And you’re returning to Wales...
Yes, we can’t wait to get back to Llangennith. We’ll be back there on September 24th and 25th, and you can book online for that trip now. We’re doing a beginners’ trip because Rhossili
Bay is perfectly suited to that level – easy waves breaking on a lovely sandy beach, it couldn’t be better for people who are new to the sport.