One of the most hotly anticipated local surf events of the year, The Sisters Sea Surf Classic kicks off at the Jacksonville Beach Pier on Saturday, September 15th. Going on two decades now SOS (a 501c-3 non-profit) has been giving back to the community and promoting women in the water, with proceeds from their various initiatives supporting the Bosom Buddies Program at the Women’s Center of Jax.

And this year’s SOS event holds special significance, as it’s the 20th annual contest in the series and comes at a unique time in the history of women’s surfing. In early August the U.S. Open played host to the first ever all women’s Duct Tape Invitational—a contest that’s become the premier event in classic longboarding. And just last week the World Surf league announced that starting with the 2019 season, men and women will be offered equal prize purses at each contest, making the WSL the first American-based global sports league to offer gender pay equality.

With the additions of all whitewater beginner and the Kokua 11 & under assisted (or push-in) divisions, as well as the Sage shortboard/longboard division’s adapting to a 50 & up age-range, there’s a lot of new, innovative fun to be a had this year. But that’s not all that’s new with SOS.

This year’s event marks longtime SOS veteran Samantha Ryan’s first contest as the organization’s President. The 48-year old Ryan will be familiar to local surfers in Jax Beach, as she came of age during the Hixon’s Surf Shop era (hanging swimsuits in the shop beginning at age 12) and surfed her first ESA in 1982.

We recently caught up with Ryan to talk about taking the reins of this distinctive local organization, the state of women’s surfing and what to expect from this year’s Sisters of the Sea Surf Classic.

New Sisters of the Sea Prez, Sam Ryan.

Congrats on being named President of SOS. How’d you come to be involved with Sisters of the Sea and was there an experience in your life that helped you connect with the mission of SOS?  

Thank you, I am thrilled to serve in this role. I was walking on the beach 22 years ago with my friend Eva Duran and she talked of starting an all women’s surf group and had already painted a beautiful logo for it. Immediately, I was all for it and supported her in the idea. Then several of our surf sisters came together for a surf at Dolphin Plaza and the idea was realized.  We were already living our mission statement of friendship, wave knowledge, and beach improvement because of the bond we had, our love for surfing and taking care of our beach.

There is one experience that stands out as far as connecting with the mission statement. I moved to Maui shortly after SOS began. I was surfing Ho’Okipa and a crazy swell started coming in—it looked like huge buildings on the horizon. The wind kicked up and the conditions became dangerous fast. Well, I learned how to free fall, hold my breathe a long time, get dragged across the reef, and lay on the beach appreciating land and air when the coolest Hawaiian woman came up to me to make sure I was ok. She hung out with me, we laughed about it and I gained another friend that day. Although a bit more of “wave knowledge” would have been good on my part, I made a good friend.  Women naturally connect with each other and the water creates a stronger bond. It is a simple mission statement but it sums it up beautifully. 

This year’s contest marks 20 years of SOS. How has the organization and contest changed/evolved over the course of two decades? 

I feel because of the past 20 years we are certainly solid in knowing how to run a surf contest, have fun, empower women/gals and raise money for our charity. It is absolutely a group effort. As far as evolving, the sky is the limit. I’d like to add a Pro Division next year, we have done it in the past, but I feel for SOS 2019 we will be primed more than ever to do so. 

There was an all-female Duct Tape Invitational at the US Open this year. And then the WSL’s announcement this week that they’ll offer equal prize money for men and women was a splashy headline for sure! What did you think of that announcement and what does it say about how far the recognition of women’s surfing has come since, say, Rell Sunn’s time? 

First of all, yes! I am super happy about it! It speaks volumes for how the surf industry has evolved and how the women on the WSL tour have evolved because they weren’t going to settle for less. What excites me most, as someone who has a personal goal to get as many girls in the water, is what this decision will do for all the girls out there with the dream of surfing—talk about elevating the sport!  It certainly adds more validity and will have a ripple effect throughout all professional sports for women.  It’s such a cool time to be living! 

Anything special planned for this year’s SOS contest that you want to tell us about?  

Oh yes indeed! Not only will we have 150 gals of every age and ability surfing their hearts out, we will also have some of the coolest sponsors on the beach giving promos and product gifts. Eidon Surf, our title sponsor, has been awesome to work with. They are very excited about women’s surfing and SOS, you definitely want to check them out! Can someone say raffle? Yes, we have the best raffle hands down!  Nine surfboards —by Savage, Tim Chew, Skip Smith, Cyclone, P Surfboards, Bunso, Bru Surf, The DEV model, Aqua East Michael Dolsey Designs—plus wetsuits, skateboards, jewelry, food gift certificates, sunglasses, an Indo Board, on and on. Come down to the beach to buy your tickets, you do not have to be present to win. This is how we raise money to help our charity Bosom Buddies. So show up, watch great surfing, check out our sponsors and buy some raffle tickets.  

Last but not least, we will have a super fun after party at Surfer The Bar from 6:30p.m.- 8:30p.m. All contestants, families, friends and surf community are welcome. We will still have the raffle going on for the surfboards and will call the winners out at the party. We will show videos from the past 20 years as well as photos from the day.  Come celebrate 20 years of women in the water and giving back to our community. It is where you want to be this weekend.