Vanessa Yeager’s original vision was to get surf moms together to trade off watching each other’s kids, a support group on the sand and in the sea to offer each other a break from life’s stresses.
The Costa Mesa surfer never imagined how many wave-loving women wanted to feel connected.
What started as the “Surf Mommas” Facebook group when Yeager had her son, Marley, 12 years ago has morphed into the largest female-only, surf-centric social media group, Women Who Surf, that is now a global community nearly 30,000 women strong.
For Yeager, who on most days can be found riding waves at Blackie’s surf break just north of the Newport Beach Pier, it’s just part of her mission to connect the surf community in ways that didn’t exist when she started surfing as an inland teen growing up far from the coast.
Yeager, 40, grew up in Moreno Valley some 60 miles from the beach, becoming enamored with surfing at an early age while watching “Gidget” on PBS, she said.
She played soccer and was a cheerleader in her younger years, but after traveling to Newport Beach with a few friends to catch waves, her desire to be immersed in the surf world grew, she said, driving her to graduate a year early just so she could move to the beach.
“Nobody could stop me,” she said. “I wanted to surf and I couldn’t do that in Moreno Valley. I came out here pursuing surfing for my life.”
She was absolutely hooked.
Yeager started competing in the Western Surfing Association, but didn’t have big dreams to be a pro surfer, simply liking the camaraderie among the women surfers.
Yeager noticed something while out in the water. As a Puerto Rican, there weren’t a lot of Latina surfers.
She started teaching physical education at a continuation school in Santa Ana and thought taking the kids to the beach to surf might add some more joy to their lives.
So she created the Lantinx Surf Club and has since taught hundreds of Latino kids how to ride waves at no charge, becoming their adopted surf momma who helped introduce many of them to the sea.
“I was just creating a community that was welcoming,” she said.
After having Marley, she transferred to Edison High School in Huntington Beach as a resident substitute, allowing her flexibility to catch waves and juggle motherhood.
But as a new mom, finding the time and support to keep surfing wasn’t easy. So she started the Surf Mommas group.
“It was super helpful, I met a lot of other women who surfed, who were mothers,” she said. “We’d meet up at Blackies and take turns watching each other’s kids.”
The small group of two dozen women started to grow as more people caught wind of it online. Then, women without kids wanted to join the community.
So nine years ago, Yeager posed a question to the other moms: Should we open it up to all women who surf?
They agreed and the Facebook group name was changed to “Women Who Surf,” giving all female surfers a safe space to share their experiences, travel recommendations and pose questions to others with a shared passion for surf around the world.
On any given day, the posts range from tips about surf techniques, to sharing aggressive experiences with men in the water, to advice on how to surf while menstruating.
Just a few days ago, a soon-to-be mom sought advice on knee paddling as her belly grows, with others sharing how long they were able to paddle while pregnant.
New surf moms ask how long it took others to get back into the water after having a baby, or how surfing can help with postpartum depression.
In a way, it’s like a support group – sharing everything from recommendations on bathing suits and sunscreen to safe beaches and surf travel advice.
“There’s so much that goes on in the group, now I feel like a fly on the wall,” Yeager said. “The women are always talking, always sharing something.”
The members grew by the thousands, but it was during the pandemic that the social media page really expanded, she said. Today, there’s more than 28,000 WWS members from across the globe.
Though she doesn’t get paid for running the group, it can feel like a full-time job, she said, making sure the posts are positive and supportive.
Yeager has made friends around the world through the group. Every time she goes on a surf trip, women surfers come out to meet her. One woman in Puerto Rico recognized her out in the water and got off her board to give her a big hug between waves.
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“I’ve just met so many cool women. I think it’s probably the coolest thing on Facebook right now – if you’re a woman who surfs,” Yeager said.
It’s a way to use social media in a positive way – whether for the surf mom, a seasoned surfer or a new wave rider looking for guidance, she said.
“It’s really broad,” she said, “it’s everybody.”
Yeager has been featured on podcasts and in articles and was a finalist for a “Community Creator” award as one of the top Facebook “passion” groups in the world.
Yeager and Women Who Surf were recently selected to be featured in an advertisement for the new Meta Facebook Community Chats currently in development.
Yeager also sits on the board of directors for the International Huntington Beach Surf Museum, where she can be found working every Sunday to help visitors learn about the region’s surf culture. She wants to get more women surf artists featured and to be a voice for surfers of color.
On June 14, she will be moderating a discussion with author Mindy Pennybacker, who recently released the book “Surfing Sisterhood Hawai’i.”
This summer, she’ll be featured on the Netflix show “Restored Rides,” her surf van getting a makeover thanks to her role in creating the surf community.
“I’m constantly just promoting kindness,” she said, “because that’s what the surfing world needs.”
In a way, as creator of the Women Who Surf group, Yeager said she feels like a mom figure to surf women around the world.
“They come to me for advice and guidance and even just when they are having drama or something major happening in their lives,” she said. “I think being a mom helps … I want to be an inspiration, to uplift them and leave them feeling better, more confident and sure of themselves and give them positive feedback and love.”
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