The beauty of swells under pastel skies, the surreality of paddling through sea smoke, the quietude of snow falling on the ocean — Pamela Chévez and Britt Dahlberg have plenty of reasons why they love winter surfing. But what they love most is how winter’s harshness contrasts with a surfer’s sense of delight. “The weather is callous, but we’re in the water smiling,” Dahlberg says. “There is a softness to winter surfing because you have to find ease in discomfort.”
The pair met in 2021, through Instagram. Chévez, a 33-year-old Westbrook graphic designer who immigrated to Maine from Mexico in 2016, and Dahlberg, a 31-year-old South Portlander who works with refugees and asylees at Gateway Community Services Maine, soon realized they shared a sensitivity to the barriers to entry — financial, instructional, and social — that keep people away from their favorite sport.
They started More Women+ Surf to make the beach more welcoming, offering free or very affordable lessons, complete with loaner gear, to women, people of color, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ would-be surfers. Together with co-instructors Jasmine Ayahd, Jocelyn Giammarino, and Karen Kazuet, they offer weekly lessons, May through September. Events like movie nights and craft fairs help build community and raise funds for boards and more.
At the moment, Chévez and Dahlberg are in the process of incorporating More Women+ Surf as a nonprofit, and they’re raising funds for gear for future winter lessons: pricey neoprene wetsuits, gloves, and boots thick enough for winter water temps. Winter surfing requires different skills, they say, not only to take care of oneself in the cold but also because Maine’s winter waves can be bigger and more energetic, making them more difficult to read and ride.
Winter surfing, ironically, helps put Chévez at ease when she misses Mexico. It’s what reminds her, she says, that she can make what she wants out of Maine. “I can stay in bed and cry or get out and enjoy some waves,” Chévez says. “It’s part of surviving. The more I dive into winter, the more I forget about it.”