To be a surfer girl in the 90s

Beachbody is about to define "no gain no pain"; guys are popping testosterone like multivitamins; muscles give marching orders to the rest of your body. This is Link Letter 87!

To be a surfer girl in the 90s
The Blue Crush training scene. Surprisingly a good number of training montages in this movie!

I saw Blue Crush in theaters as a teen, and thought it was fine. The surfing was cool, Kate Bosworth was very beautiful, and the scene of her training by carrying a rock on the bottom of the ocean stuck very clearly in my mind. If you can believe it, they used to release movies without an aggressively scripted and coordinated marketing campaign about the story behind the story of the movie. So I didn’t know until yesterday that Blue Crush did not emerge fully formed into the world but was based on a magazine story, written by none other than Susan Orlean in 1998, for the now-improbably-retrograde-ly-named Women’s Outside, a monthly supplement to the regular Outside magazine.

It was called “Life’s Swell,” and it focused not on big-scene adult-age women surfers and a love story, but on young teen girls in a tiny town on the coast of Maui. Here is a bit of it:

The Maui surfer girls love each other’s hair. It is awesome hair, long and bleached by the sun, and it falls over their shoulders straight, like water, or in squiggles, like seaweed, or in waves. They are forever playing with it—yanking it up into ponytails, or twisting handfuls and securing them with chopsticks or pencils, or dividing it as carefully as you would divide a pile of coins and then weaving it into tight yellow plaits. Not long ago I was on the beach in Maui watching the surfer girls surf, and when they came out of the water they sat in a row facing the ocean, and each girl took the hair of the girl in front of her and combed it with her fingers and crisscrossed it into braids.
The Maui surfer girls even love the kind of hair that I dreaded when I was their age, 14 or so—they love that wild, knotty, bright hair, as big and stiff as carpet, the most un-straight, un-sleek, un-ordinary hair you could imagine, and they can love it, I suppose, because when you are young and on top of the world you can love anything you want, and just the fact that you love it makes it cool and fabulous…
There is nothing much to do in Hana except wander through the screw pines and the candlenut trees or go surfing. There is no mall in Hana, no Starbucks, no shoe store, no Hello Kitty store, no movie theater—just trees, bushes, flowers, and gnarly surf that breaks rough at the bottom of the rocky beach. Before women were encouraged to surf, the girls in Hana must have been unbelievably bored… The Hana girls dominate Maui surfing these days. Theory has it that they grow up riding such mangy waves that they’re ready for anything. Also, they are exposed to few distractions and can practically live in the water.

I feel a desperate need to crawl inside of this story; it is giving me Jack from Lost “we have to go back” feelings, a time of no phones and no Starbucks, the ultimate in the “touch grass”, natural, shade-grown dopamine fast that was "being a kid in the mid-90s." But it’s more than that: I feel like I can count on one hand the number of stories I’ve ever read written about women and sports that don’t treat them like dogs walking on hind legs who are brave for doing so, that aren’t ultimately about something else, some defiance of what their relationship to the world “should be,” that allows them the singular focus of a sport they love without making a big fucking deal about it. Skate Kitchen times a hundred. It's also like 25% of what I felt when I first found all those women powerlifters on Instagram and YouTube almost exactly nine years ago and made my little @swolewoman social media bubble (something that seems much less possible today; all of the old ones have become shills or have gone silent, and the new ones are trying too hard to follow the formula to be famous).

In a retrospective interview with SAB fave Daniel Duane (two great pieces about lifting by him here and here), Orlean revisited this piece and articulated a discomfort with the way these kinds of stories are usually treated, arguably where the movie Blue Crush failed that “Life’s Swell” succeeded:

I’ve always shied away from the story that is about a woman performing something that is not normally associated with women, because that had become a kind of tired trope in magazines—you know, the first woman arc welder, or whatever. So I think that I’ve avoided those stories. There was something about going, “Oh my God, oh my God, there’s a woman doing a man’s job” that really offended me, because you think, Well, wait a minute, this shouldn’t be treated as a crazy freak show; we should accept it as that’s the way things should be, so let’s not turn it into a big deal. But the bottom line is, I didn’t write the story with that as the point. I just thought, This is an interesting thing to observe, and I don’t have to feel burdened by this idea that, oh, the big point of the story is girls doing a man’s sport, but instead let’s go past that and write about the experience that these girls have doing this sport.

God, you have to read it, and let it set the vibe for your training this week.

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~Discord Pick of the Week:  I Did A Plank Every Day for 120 Days and Here's What I Learned.~

Rubbing my palms together so hard that they burst into flames:

During the past couple of decades, it has been apparent that skeletal muscle works as an endocrine organ, which can produce and secrete hundreds of myokines that exert their effects in either autocrine, paracrine, or endocrine manners. Recent advances show that skeletal muscle produces myokines in response to exercise, which allow for crosstalk between the muscle and other organs, including brain, adipose tissue, bone, liver, gut, pancreas, vascular bed, and skin, as well as communication within the muscle itself. Although only few myokines have been allocated to a specific function in humans, it has been identified that the biological roles of myokines include effects on, for example, cognition, lipid and glucose metabolism, browning of white fat, bone formation, endothelial cell function, hypertrophy, skin structure, and tumor growth. This suggests that myokines may be useful biomarkers for monitoring exercise prescription for people with, for example, cancer, diabetes, or neurodegenerative diseases.

Basically, this is an extensive paper on all the ways our muscles “talk” to the rest of the systems of our body when we work out, including our brain, endocrine systems, digestive systems, and more, and stimulate an array of positive effects. My swole brothers and sisters, we stay winning!!

And here is a beautiful essay from Dr. Colleen Farrell, MD, on heartbeats as a metaphor for a life well-lived:

During systole, the powerful myocardium contracts, generating pressure that propels open the aortic valve.Blood flows out into the circulation. Diastole, the process of letting go and filling up, is not as exciting. It could even be taken for granted, cut shorter and shorter. But without adequate time for diastole, there’s no blood to be thrust forward. Homeostasis crumbles. Just as the myocardium needs time to release and refill, so does the soul.


Beachbody was slammed with a class-action lawsuit this week alleging it used multilevel marketing tactics to leave its coaches poor and its executives rich. Feels rare to be rooting for a downfall from so very many angles!

While this guy sounds like the kind of insecure Reddit pedant I’d have to walk away from at a party (“When I tell him later that I’ve decided that the occasional full-sugar cola is probably better than multiple diet sodas every day, he replies: ‘Enjoy the phosphoric acid leaching the minerals out of your bones’”), as I’ve said before, I think there is something to paying attention to processed foods (which is not the same as saying “never have any”).

Inside the existential struggle to make the perfect paper drinking straw. Why are we doing this? Cups are made for drinking from via a feature called “the edge of the cup.” Many would argue it is even their essential purpose.

Ketamine in the “dangerous party drug” to “depression treatment” to “wellness self-care” pipeline.

The first kids who were posted online by their parents are now all grown up.

It Girls as the height of toxicity for women.

Does therapy really work?

[Public announcement system crackles to life] Attention students, the testosterone in the chemistry lab is not a toy.

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Pursuant to the above, I will be watching 100-Foot Wave, Season 2 (though it will not be the same; no, it will not be the same). I’m also watching The Yin & Yang of Gerry Lopez.

I've racked my brain for what else is closest to "Life's Swell" in terms of vibes and GLOW and Whip It are up there (and A League of Their Own, almost too obvious to even say). I'm taking recs!

That’s all for this week! I love you for reading, thank you, let’s go—