The woman from Co Down, who runs a revolutionary surf school on Wild Atlantic Way, proves that nothing is out of reach.
Elani White from Strangford traveled the world and settled on the west coast of Ireland before founding Ireland’s only female run and run surf school.
“It wasn’t an accident, it was definitely a goal to create that kind of life because, like many people, I just lived a life that I didn’t like very much or that was just inherited,” says Melanie.
“I didn’t want to go outside, I was really claustrophobic. So I went to travel alone,” she explains.
Melanie traveled to Australia and New Zealand, among other places, and found a lifestyle that was much more nature oriented.
“I worked as a chef, babysitting, gardening or landscaping, odd jobs, and then traveling, so pretty much the job was to fuel the fun and the experience,” she says of her decade away from Northern Ireland. .
She also surfed – having fallen in love with it in Iskey, County Sligo – and through discipline noticed a profound change in herself.
“It just shifted my attention and my focus to something much healthier. I really liked it; it gave me a path that didn’t exist before. I was recovering, traveling, and my motivation to travel was much deeper.”
Melanie returned to Ireland and realized the country’s incredible surf environment even though she was the only woman in the water 99% of the time.
“Then I moved to the west coast of Ireland,” she explains. “I am really connected to this island. I trained as a lifeguard and surf instructor and I wanted to still be able to surf and not get back into the groove I was in when I lived in Belfast.
“I wanted to not be a weekend visitor who just comes in, surfs and goes back to a life he doesn’t like.”
She quickly realized her teaching abilities.
“People kept coming back because they had some pretty big private moments with themselves while surfing and just a breath of fresh air that they didn’t get in their lives.
“I worked for a few years, gaining experience, and then, in the end, I realized that my teaching style was completely incomprehensible compared to everyone else.”
Reviews suggested she was somehow teaching the wrong way, but her approach earned her support.
“My approach was really different, and women especially wanted me to teach them, because before when they tried to learn how to surf, they couldn’t, but suddenly they could,” she says. “I ended up with my Rebelle Surf company because I was sick of being told I was doing it wrong.”
After the closure of the Co Mayo surf school run by another woman, Rebelle Surf has become the only surf school run by women and aimed at women, but also offering lessons for men, children and families. She hosts a twice-weekly women’s surf series, which she describes as “a beautiful thing.”
“Women tend to come every week for a year. People go through school and TV shows, and end up surfing on their own. What’s happening is absolutely phenomenal, it’s just kind of evolved.”
Melanie’s goal remains to challenge and change the perception of surfing as exclusive to people who look a certain way.
“The biggest thing that drove me crazy about my own surfing experience was this judgmental, selfish, very image-based, body sculpted nonsense and a certain type of way of surfing that is very aggressive,” she explains.
“If you look at a lot of professional surfers, they break the waves. My style of surfing is all about surfing the waves and making beautiful lines. For me it’s more of a dance.
“There are days when I am more aggressive and that shows up in my surfing but I am not naturally angry all the time so for me my surfing is an expression of how I feel and most of the time when I am in the water I am I feel very good!”
She is frustrated with the sense of ownership and ownership that mainstream surf culture has tried to impose on those who participate in it.
“I don’t have a size 8 at all, but a 10-12 depending on the season,” Melanie laughs. “I don’t fit into that mold and I have a different motivation for entering the water.
“Some of the best surfers I saw at my school were in their 50s and they got so fired up with these women because they don’t give a fuck and if they want to do something, they do it. .
“Women over 70 came to me and took a surf lesson. It’s something they’ve always wanted to do, but thought it was only for really fit people, or only for people of a certain weight or gender.
“Accidentally, I’m redefining what the female surf culture is in Ireland. I’m not going to just take something that was handed to me, which doesn’t seem right to me, which is bikini blonde Roxy from Australia, who is also incredible.
“No condemnation. But we are Irish: what is the female surf culture for us? I’m at the forefront of it and I really like it.”
For Melanie, the transformative effect of water is very powerful.
“Don’t get me wrong, surfing is one of those tough disciplines. This is often the most frustrating thing you can do because you are absolutely face to face with yourself.
“When your head is in the wrong place or you have something going on, surfing is very difficult because it requires total presence and that is why it is so magical.
“If you want to surf, you have to immerse yourself in this rhythm of total presence with yourself and connect with the waves. That’s why it’s so powerful, because you can’t help falling into it.”
In August and September, Melanie teams up with Cassia Meador, Leah Dawson, Makala Harmony Smith and the Salty Sensations team from California. Retreats suitable for beginners, intermediates and advanced surfers aim to improve their surf skills with eco-lodge accommodation, treatments and meals.
• For information about the Salty Sensations and Women’s Surf Series, visit reinlesurf.com/salty-sensations-ireland/ and reinlesurf.com/womens-surf-series/. Follow Melanie on Instagram @rebellesurf