women standing on surf boardsThe only LGBT Surf Camp in South America provides a safe and friendly environment for women to surf, or simply to practice their surfing skills amongst friends.

Like other lifestyle sports, surfing is part of a culture built on some pretty exacting gender norms.

All you have to do is flip through the pages of a surfing magazine to see that men are overrepresented, and even more discouragingly, the scarce pieces on female surfers tend to focus more on swimsuits than shredding.

Still, you can’t hold back an ocean, and a surge in female interest is driving a new generation of surfing fans and athletes. Around the world, surf camps aimed at women and girls are cropping up, but only one in South America—Gay Surf Brazil by Brazil Ecojourneys—specifically invites lesbians (and their gay, trans, and allied friends) to learn to ride the waves.

Although lesbian-owned and -operated, with tours specifically designed to be inclusive and diverse, Brazil Ecojourneys wasn’t originally imagined as a gay travel company. “We were never keen on offering the traditional ‘gay’ packages,” co-owner Marta Dalla Chiesa says, adding that she and partner Lesley Cushing were more interested in showcasing what the region has to offer than importing existing party scenes.

In 2013, however, the LGBT surfing community site (and force behind the 2014 documentary Out in the Line-Upgaysurfers.net contacted them to propose a partnership on a gay-friendly event in Brazil. Right away, the pair realized this was a unique opportunity. “Surf is a very non-stereotypical sport for gays,” Dalla Chiesa says. “Even I was surprised that a social website with thousands of gay surfers existed. We knew we wanted to get involved.”

An LGBT surf camp was an idea whose time had come, and Brazil Ecojourneys—already operating out of a gay-friendly surfer’s paradise—was the right company to offer it. Since the 1980s, when an influx of artists and surfers transformed Florianópolis (commonly known as Floripa) into a diverse and inclusive community, the former provincial capital has garnered a reputation for welcoming “all tribes.”

Dalla Chiesa elaborates: “For decades, Florianópolis has had a strong LGBT carnival, and its Pride has become a favourite among Brazilians.” But this is more than a South American Provincetown; Floripa is a close-knit community. “Brazil lacks anti-discrimination laws, but Floripa has one. Also, a pioneer health unit catering to trans people opened last year, and there’s an openly gay man serving on the town council.” And then there are the waves. The vast majority of Florianópolis is on a large island (read: tons of coastline) with dozens of sweet surfing beaches. One of these, in nearby Imbituba, is Praia do Rosa, and it’s where students at Gay Surf Brazil learn their moves.

The group’s instructor, Capitão David, runs the oldest surf school in Rosa and he’s taught more than 10,000 people everything from the basics (“You must stand upright, like a king!”) to the advanced art of reading the swells. With instruction and practice over five consecutive days, punctuated by two much-needed yoga sessions, for a short time at least guests get to live the surfing life.

Those unsure about their abilities needn’t worry, either. “Surfing’s not for everyone,” co-owner Lesley Cushing shrugs. While her partner spends days carving up the waves, Cushing takes a more laid-back approach to the camp. “There’s colonial history, good seafood, and lots of other activities besides surf like biking, walking trails, and really great beaches to relax.”

The camp runs for a full week and includes five days of instruction and surfing. There are opportunities for local day trips, and arrangements can be made for specific extensions.

Gay Surf Brazil 2017 will run from March 25 to April 1.