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The Women's Sports Alliance


Alys Barton – From Sound Waves to Surfing Success

“Surfing is unique in that you never reach a point where you’re like ‘I have achieved everything’, there’s always ways to improve,” Alys Barton tells the WSA. “No two waves are the same, every environment is different and that challenge keeps me driven.”

Image courtesy of @alysbartonsurfer / @lugarts

As a young girl in an “active, outdoorsy family” Alys would spend days exploring the natural beauty of the Gower Peninsula in South West Wales, walking but also taking the occasional dip into the icy Bristol Channel to fully immerse herself in the environment.

She would see the surfers nearby, but never ventured near a board herself.

Now, just over six years after tagging along with her father to try out his new hobby herself for the first time, Alys is one of Britain’s leading athletes in the sport.

Her incredible rise, characterised by a host of national and international honours – as well as global brand endorsements – is perhaps all the more remarkable given the contrast with her previous choice of pastime.

“Before surfing I played the clarinet,” the British athlete says with a chuckle, as she considers whether there are any shared ‘transferable skills’ between the two activities.

“That (playing music) is the complete opposite end of the scale to surfing, but maybe rhythm? Perhaps there’s a slight crossover, but not much from a physical side, ha.”

Images courtesy of @alysbartonsurfer

Now Alys, who has a ‘Beats by Dre’ sponsorship deal, is much more likely to be found listening to rather than creating music, but it still plays an important role in her life.

“Both my parents were in performing arts and did a lot of acting, so I do usually have my dad singing some sort of piece from Shakespeare in the background, so it’s quite academic, but also very, very funny,” she tells the WSA.

“My taste it quite varied and I do like some classical music, which helps me relax and is good for my surfing, but I’ll be honest there’s a bit of Disney in there too!”

Late starter, early progress, exciting potential

Image courtesy of @alysbartonsurfer / @lugarts

Despite picking up the sport “quite late” compared to other elite surfers it has not seemingly hampered Alys’ progress, with the teenager claiming English, British and U18 European titles in 2022.

The latter, attained in Portugal, she ranks among her proudest moments in the sport, together with a second-place finish at a WSL (World Surfing League) event in Spain less than 24 hours earlier!

“The European title was a really great thing for me to win and actually a bit of a shock, because I only arrived there (in Santa Cruz, Portugal) after we travelled overnight from Pantin (Spain),” she recalls.

“It wasn’t good (preparation) but I was surfing so well and had the right mindset.

“It (form) can be difficult to maintain but this season I’ve had another second place and back-to-back thirds over in the USA as well as it’s all going really well.”

Alys also made history in March by not only overcoming sub-zero temperatures, but also some of the best surfers on the planet, to become the youngest-ever winner of the Porsche Cold Wave event in Poland.

Injuries, hospital, operations - you 'just get on with it'

Images courtesy of @alysbartonsurfer

It is not a sport without challenges though.

Earlier this year Alys was aiming to take a major step towards becoming the first British surfer in history to qualify for an Olympic Games at the 2023 ISA World Surfing Games in El Salvador.

However, she sustained a dislocated elbow, torn triceps and suffered damage to flexor muscles, tendons and ligaments across her right arm.

“I felt in a really good place and my surfing was feeling great, but it was just an unfortunate injury really and happened on one of the last days before competition,” she tells the WSA.

“In one of my first seasons as well, before an event someone’s surfboard fin went into my eye and I ended up having an operation in America, but these are things you can’t really do a lot about; you have to kind of take it and get on with things.

“I know I’m very lucky and there is still one big qualification event for (Paris) 2024 in Puerto Rico in February, which I’m hoping to be selected for as I’ve met a lot of the criteria.”

Surfers face struggles despite Olympic recognition

Images courtesy of @alysbartonsurfer

Surfing had recently been granted a place at Tokyo 2020, where it would make its Olympic debut, when Alys made her first appearance on the international circuit in 2017.

She has noticed significant “evolution” within the sport and greater opportunities for athletes in the years since, but admits many still face financial challenges.

“It's a tricky one being a surfer because on a daily basis many are having to do other jobs and things outside (of the sport) as it’s a struggle,” Alys reveals.

“Brands can often help with a board and some equipment which we’re forever grateful for, but for most of us we still have to grind it out with little jobs because we’re not getting a wage and we need the extra bit of money for flights, accommodation etc.

“It's definitely improving and I live with the mindset that I’m very grateful for everything I have and the support, but it’s an on-going battle many people are having which is something we have to tackle while trying to reach peak performance.”

Surfing at the Olympics would be a 'game-changer'

Image courtesy of @alysbartonsurfer / Sean Evans @isasurfing

Alys can certainly identify a couple of significant transformations in women’s competitions since the sport’s Olympic debut in 2021; particularly around recognition and competitiveness.

“I think it (surfing) is a little bit more respected now,” says the British champion.

“Now it’s got that ‘Olympic title’ behind it there’s that equality with other sport and a real big goal to work towards because it is now seen as a chosen career with a bit more recognition worldwide.

“Surfers, especially around the UK, are realising there’s an opportunity here and people across Europe have really upped their game with the level improving rapidly.

“There’s a real race to see who is going to be the best.”

Alys will spend the coming months in Indonesia for an extended training camp to enable her to be in the best possible condition for the final major Olympic qualifier early next year.

She hopes that by gaining a place at Paris 2024 she can inspire more girls around Britain to take up the sport themselves.

“It would be a complete game-changer,” she says with a smile.

“I have some close friends who went to the Olympics in Tokyo (in 2021) and it had a really awesome impact on their lives. I’m hungry for it and I want to inspire other young girls.

“I stand for the all the young female athletes in professional sports alongside many remarkable and tenacious women in surfing. The support we have for each other in all conditions is amazing and I feel lucky to compete alongside them.

“It’s an honour to have the opportunity to try (to qualify) and I hope to do everyone proud!”

Image courtesy of @alysbartonsurfer


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