The rumors are true. I went to surf camp. Laurel Pinson, fall-down-gal-about-town, got up on a surfboard and now I’m addicted: I’m saving up for an eight-foot Bonzaii board that I’m going to refer to as “Bob” on the train to whichever beach has the best wave break.
But I digress: shopping for surfing was a bitch. I needed a rash guard, board shorts, and a swimsuit that wouldn’t fall off when a wave hit (avoiding one-pieces that made me look like an 11 year old). I burst out of Roxy and Billabong practically in tears after trying on a bunch of gear that all made me look either like a tweener on MTV Spring Break or a NASCAR driver.
Surfing was the first sport that really excited me and I had fun imagining the ‘surfer girl’ outfits I was going to buy to cultivate this new, dare-I-say, athletic version of myself in Costa Rica. Is that superficial? Hell, yes. But the more frustrated I got trying to find something to wear in the ‘active’ departments, the more convinced I became that my problems with sports stemmed as much from a fear of looking ridiculous on the field as looking ridiculous on the field. It takes guts to get up on a surfboard and — terrible as it may sound — I considered my appearance a kind of life jacket. Hey, some people feel that way just going to work.
Women’s sportswear has long been plagued by a “pink is for girls” problem, looking like menswear, but with flower and hearts crap all over it. Nike, Puma and Adidas started making simpler women’s gear, in a running-and-exercise-class kind of way, but nobody seemed willing to admit that form could go along with function.
Yoga gear was the first to really burst the bubble, inspiring a line of clothes you could practice in and then walk to the subway without fear of being seen. After Christy Turlington’s Nuala line for Puma, the big story became Stella McCartney’s line for Adidas. McCartney, always the innovator from eco-friendly fashion to couture athletic gear, managed to create haute-looking clothes that are made of the same breathable, ultra-light, technology-too-advanced-for-your-feeble-mind material that professional athletes wear. Is it perfect? Not really: the stretch pants don’t hold up that well; the oversized jerseys are a little comical. But it’s a start. Norma Kamali has since started designing some oversized sweatshirt shrugs and cropped pants that I might actually wear for grins.
None of this is to say manufacturers like Patagonia are making crappy gear. If you’re going hiking in Antartica, I’m not going to tell you your parka makes you look fat. But, there are tons of fitness-conscious people who don’t necessarily plan on a life of sport. Try making something in black, for crap’s sake. As for me, I ended up with a silver and highlighter-yellow rash guard and called myself Spaceman Spliff, prancing around Costa Rica trying to pretend I didn’t feel as ridiculous as I looked.