By Jeff Hampton
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Bri Vuyovich is the founder of “Outer Babes”, a group of young women who meet weekly at the Ocean Bay Lifesaving Station in Kill Devil Hills to paint, draw, talk and catch waves.
KILL DEVIL HILLS, N.C.
As a young teen, Bri Vuyovich often followed her older brother and his friends into the ocean for a day of surfing.
She was the only girl out there most of the time.
Now the 24-year-old hopes to even the odds a little.
Last fall, Vuyovich started the Outer Babes, a group of Outer Banks girls who meet weekly at the Ocean Bay Lifesaving Station in Kill Devil Hills to paint, draw, talk and catch waves at no charge. Vuyovich even provides the art supplies.
She shares qualities that surfing has taught her, such as humility, patience, getting back up after a nasty fall, working hard for a worthy goal and having fun. She opens it up for the girls to talk about whatever’s on their mind.
“The ocean has always been a big influence in my life,” said the Outer Banks native.
Temperatures on a recent Saturday rose into the 70s, and the waves were good.
Maddy Wagner, 15, Ivy Cage and Eva Klauser, both 14, and Chloe Wienert, 12, squeezed into their wetsuits and dabbed on sunblock. Two other regulars — Acy Davis and Zoe Morris — could not attend. Riley Young, a guy who lifeguards in Kill Devil Hills with Vuyovich, joined the group for extra safety.
They were eager for the rare chance of surfing with other girls despite the 50-degree water.
“We don’t have a lot of girls on the Outer Banks to surf with,” Maddy Wagner said. “I go surfing a lot with boys.”
Surfing each Saturday with Vuyovich and her friends is the highlight of Maddy’s week, said her mother, Michelle Wagner.
“I think for girls Maddy’s age, it’s important for them to have a positive role model and one they can relate to,” she said.
Vuyovich taught the girls to position themselves on the peak of the wave instead of settling for the shoulder.
Girls often hesitate to aggressively catch the best part of the wave, especially when boys are around, she said.
She demonstrated how to follow surfing etiquette without submitting to anyone, a lesson that also applies to life in general, she said.
Her brother Brad, eight years older, remembers her fearlessly following him and his friends when they went surfing.
“She didn’t have any fear of paddling out there as hard as anybody,” he said. “She got pummeled a couple of times but kept going.”
The girls watch champion women surfers and talk about their surfing technique and character traits. Vuyovich showed a video a few weeks ago of three-time world champion Carissa Moore, who is known for an aggressive style on the waves but a humble demeanor elsewhere.
Women’s surfing is on the rise, said Leanne Robinson, an owner of the Secret Spot Surf Shop in Nags Head. The skill levels of pro women surfers have greatly increased in recent years, making them more fun to watch and inspiring to other women.
“There are more women surfing now than ever,” she said.
A dozen children 11 years old and younger enrolled in Robinson’s surfing camp last summer. For the first time, half the class filled with girls, she said.
Vuyovich has worked as a lifeguard in Kill Devil Hills since she was 16. She plays guitar and sings at Outer Banks hangouts. Her paintings of trophy fish and ocean scenes are strong sellers online and at art shows.
She and the girls keep an art journal each week. Art and surfing go together, she said.
“Both are healthy outlets,” she said.
Vuyovich is not competing now after breaking her ankle last year surfing and enduring two major surgeries. She plans to return to competition in Puerto Rico after she heals. Before her injury, she surfed in such far-flung places as Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, California, Indonesia and Costa Rica.
For a while, though, she plans to stay home mentoring girls on the Outer Banks.
“I feel like a proud parent,” she said.
Girls interested in joining the Outer Babes can reach Vuyovich at her Instagram account @outerbabessurf.