HAMPTON — When Katlyn Tuttle is out surfing, she’s still mostly surrounded by a sea of testosterone. Yet more often, she’s not one of the only women or girls catching waves.
And the Kecoughtan High School sophomore just got a new assignment: drawing even more female riders into her sport.
This spring, Tuttle became a sponsored team rider for both Custom X Bodyboards, a California-based company, and Duck Village Outfitters in the Outer Banks. Team members get rewards such as free boards, clothing and accessories, travel opportunities and money for competitions, while providing pictures and videos for promotional advertisements and social media sites.
Tuttle, whose father first held her on a board when she was 6 months old, is stoked.
“This a great sport for women, because everyone is so supportive but you also have to push past your limits sometimes,” she says. “You get stronger and more self-confident. I love the thrill and the connection with the water and the people around you, because we’re all just there to get a great wave.”
Bodyboarding versus surfing
Bodyboarding, growing in popularity nationwide, actually is considered a type of surfing. Riders either lie on their belly (“prone”) or kneel on one leg (“drop-knee”), versus traditional “stand-up surfing”. Tuttle prefers being closer to the waves and rides prone.
Bodyboards – also known as “boogie boards” – are about 42 inches long and made of soft foam with a slick bottom, while traditional surfboards are fiberglass and anywhere from 6 to 10 feet long. Advanced bodyboarders can do high-flying aerial tricks such as spins, rolls and flips, using swim fins for extra speed and control.
While surfing has historically been a male-dominated sport, more women are embracing the full-body workout. According to The Encyclopedia of Surfing, a comprehensive reference book, they now represent at least 10 to 15 percent of all surfers, as compared to an estimated 3 to 5 percent in 1990. Girls are filling more than half the slots at some surf camps, and clubs geared toward women – including the Wahine Surf Club in Virginia Beach – have sprung up in beach communities.
Tuttle’s job is to encourage other women to challenge themselves in the ocean, says Andrew Bitleris, a social media manager for Custom X.
The company chose to sponsor the Hampton teen after she submitted photos, videos and a biography in a national contest.
“Her ambition, attitude and humbleness in the water really stood out,” Bitleris says.
Among the swag Custom X sent her: a new hot pink board.
A lifelong love
Tuttle’s father, Sean Tuttle, is a passionate bodyboarder who had his only child on a board in a pool as a baby. She was tethered to his board in the ocean at age 3, riding small waves solo at 5 and tackling bigger waves at 9.
While initially a bit timid, Katlyn has learned tricky maneuvers such as a carve – a sharp turn on a wave’s face that can create a wall of water spray – and is working up to more advanced rolls and spins. Wipeouts still can be scary, but she knows how to recover if she’s pushed under water.
Sean and Katlyn mostly surf on the Outer Banks or at nearby Buckroe Beach, which they say is particularly perfect when nor’easters roll through in October and November.
“She charges head on into the ocean in the dead of winter,” Sean reports.
The two sometimes head out before school since Katlyn, an aspiring aeronautical engineer, also is on swimming and track teams.
Top competitive female bodyboarders have inspired Katlyn to be more fearless. Now she’s ready to help motivate others, from her two younger half-sisters – and maybe her little half-brother too – to any girl who sees her in action.
“Everyone,” she says, “should get to feel the rush of a good ride.”