Manola & Vanusa


Text: Monica Garau | Photography: Pedro Ramires and Almira Avdyli


Did you ever feel inspired by someone who shows you how to go beyond your limits?

During a surf session, it happened to me to meet two very special surfers and I couldn’t resist to exchange some words with them. What I figured out was way more remarkable than expected.

Manola, born in Lisbon in 1967, and Vanusa, born in Alentejo in 1982, belong to two different generations, however they have something in common: they started surfing when no many other girls were interested to the cold Atlantic’s waters and they learned as autodidact. At that time, they grew the dream to become instructors of a discipline which was still typically manly. And they did it!

Manola, born in Lisbon in 1967, and Vanusa, born in Alentejo in 1982

I wondered what must have been growing up by the ocean, watching the foreigners coming to Portugal from all around the world to ride the gentle summer waves and the massive ones in winter. Did they crave to do the same despite was still difficult to be accepted as a woman in a typically men’s scene?

The ocean was always present in the life of Manola because her father used to take her for a swim all year long, from January to December. She told me: “My very first contact with surf was at University in 1986, I will never forget that day. It was summer and an Australian guy left me his surfboard as a present to sell it or to start surfing myself. Well, I started and I never stopped until now. I didn’t know any other girl surfing at that time, usually I surfed just with boys.”

Vanusa remembered the good summer times in Nazaré, when the parents let her play in the waves till her lips get purple from the cold water: “I was excited when I surfed for the first time because I was looking for this experience since long time, however 15 years ago it was very difficult to get a board and a wetsuit. It took me really long until I finally stand up because I had a 6’1’’ very hard to balance, also I didn’t have any particular teachings. I remember that I was the only girl in the water at that time.” (By the way, you’d never guess she is a self-taught!)

Vanusa Pereira - ph. Almira Avdyli

Nowadays its normal to see girls sharing the waves with other surfers, regardless of the gender. This is a considerable topic for the International Surfing Association (ISA) that, denoting the growth and development of the sport for both women and men, keeps supporting gender equality (1). Indeed, equal competition slots for both sexes were also promoted by the World Surfing Games 2018 (WSG).

But how was to be a surfer girl some decades ago in Portugal? Did they sometimes have bad experiences due to the gender gap (2)?

“I welcome everybody in Ericeira and surfers, both men and women, are generally very friendly all over Portugal. Except Peniche, since I remember there were sometimes rude people there. – affirmed Manola, and she went on reminding: “In the ‘80s in Caparica there was enough space for everybody, but sometimes a group of guys didn’t leave me get waves at all, so I used to move to the side of the peak to surf on my own. At that time, also the girls were picking on me, because they used to say that surf is a men’s sport. Anyway, I never cared about it!”

Vanusa also had something to say about this topic: “Men and women are treated differently since the childhood, but it’s normal because we have different charters and attitudes. Beside this, in my opinion, we must have equal opportunities” – and she continued: “I see a lot of disrespect in the water – as in the daily life – but I’ve never personally had bad experiences for being a woman. If you paddle hard, get the waves with concentration, power and no fear, you will own the same respect despite your gender. Actually, I realized that during surfing the dialog between women and men is often politer and less aggressive as between men.”

The two women choose to dedicate their career to children’s education

Manola’s son is 21 years old and Vanusa is a mom of a 6 years old girl. The two women are not only surf instructors but they also choose to dedicate their career to children’s education. In fact, the first one is a Physical Education teacher who attends a University Master’s Degree on the subject ‘High-Performance Training’. The second one is a Speech-language Therapist, who plans to organise surf lessons for kids with special needs.

Vanusa told me: “My daughter loves the sea, she tried to surf but she prefers to experience the waves with bodyboard and bodysurfing, because she feels more comfortable and independent. I wish for the next female surfer generation to grow up happy, sensible and smart, to become both example and inspiration of a peaceful world on the respect of the nature, the others and themselves.”

Manola added her opinion too: “My son learned to surf with me, now we sit in the line-up together and we share lots of happy moments. Nowadays I see many girls and boys with a real feeling for the sea, but this new generation should not just concentrate on high performances and competitions. For me the beauty of surfing is in the connection with the wave that expresses flow, power, harmony, simplicity, courage, original moves. I wish for the girls, and everybody who dares to go to the water, to find this truth.”

Their comparable stories recalled to my mind unique, genuine and passionate experiences. Nowadays, a discipline like surf is turning into a well-known holiday’s recreational activity with an annual revenue between 70 and 130 billion$ (3) and a worldwide surfing population evaluated between 17 and 35 million (4), which is estimated to increase up to 50 million in the next years.

The old and new surf’s generation counts many people with a strong feeling for this discipline with a full connection with the nature; they feel grateful and aware, enjoying the charming landscapes.

Just like these two beautiful women do.

They definitely inspired me that day when we surfed together, and sometime when i’m in the water i still hear their motivational words.

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  1. The ISA crowned its first Men’s and Women’s World Champions in 1964
  2. The difference between the way men and women are treated in society, or between what they do and achieve
  3. How many surfers are there in the world?” appeared on, 30 June 2018
  4. According to ISA, SIMA, and Surfing Australia, “How many surfers are there in the world?” appeared on, 20.03.18