Chicks don’t surf. That’s what male surfers told Izzy Tihanyi, CEO and owner of Surf Diva in La Jolla Shores, back in 1996 when she and her twin sister, Coco, opened Surf Diva. The passionate surfing sisters sure proved them wrong.
In 1996, there were no surf schools for women and Izzy and Coco were two of the very few women who knew how to surf in La Jolla. They grew up surfing La Jolla Shores in elementary school, taught by their father. Their mom loved the opera and taught them the meaning of “diva": someone with talent, confidence and class. Hence, Surf Diva was born.
“Our dream was to get more women in the water and own a surf company in La Jolla,” Izzy explained. “We can’t believe how lucky we are to be on Avenida de la Playa, the coolest little beach neighborhood with such great people who really care about the ocean and the community around it. Our staff and students have become our surf family, and we are blessed to have our own children now surfing in the camps we operate.”
After launching Surf Diva for women, the sisters bought out a kids’ program called La Jolla Surf Camp, because the owner was moving. Later, two more camps were added when their owners wanted to sell for similar reasons — American Surf Academy and Menehune Surf School — which are now all under the Surf Diva umbrella.
If you’re wondering why the twin sisters don’t look alike, they are fraternal, born nine minutes apart. Izzy handles all school operations and trains the surf and standup paddleboard (SUP) instructors. Coco is on the retail side and oversees the surf boutique, fashion and buying. She also designs their lines of beach-focused apparel and surf gear.
The partners also sponsor an annual trip to Costa Rica called the Surf Diva Costa Rica Adventure. “The Costa Rica Adventure is magical,” gushes Izzy. “It is a week-long trip to the Guanacaste Province of the Pacific Coast in lush tropical surroundings with 80-degree water and howler monkeys in the trees overhead. We discovered this beach many years ago and it reminded us of what La Jolla Shores was like when we were little — wide open beach, plenty of waves, and long sunny days in the water.
“In Costa Rica, we offer surfing, yoga, massage, meals, hiking, dinners out with locally sourced fresh fruits, veggies, and casado, the Costa Rican typical dish with fried plantains, rice and beans, salad and wild fish or free-range chicken. Our surfing experience in Costa Rica is about slowing down, enjoying each moment of nature — from the walk to the beach through the jungle path dotted with hibiscus and the occasional iguana — to the showstopping sunsets from the beach each evening.”
Until 2000, the surf sisters only taught women to surf, but now they offer lessons to men, women and children of all skill levels and physical abilities. More families are learning to surf, as are corporate groups and even wedding parties that sign up for lessons.
But Surf Diva has ridden some choppy waves through the years. “Our surf shop and school successfully weathered the recession, our street being torn up for construction for two-and-a-half years, El Niño winters and the major surf brands selling directly to consumers online,” said Izzy. “Thanks to the support of our locals, who shop with us and refer us to their families and associates for surf lessons and beach apparel, we are continuing to break barriers as one of the very few female-owned and family-operated surf companies in San Diego.”
The surfing industry has come a long way since the sisters opened shop in 1996. Surfing is now the official state sport of California and women now get equal pay in the World Surf League. Furthermore, surfing has been added to the Olympics as a new sport for Tokyo 2020.
Both sisters are involved in the community they love. They volunteer at La Jolla schools and donate countless lessons and product to schools, shelters and non-profits. However, according to Izzy, the City has presented them with some of their biggest challenges. “Our costs have gone up substantially due to new City and County fees. Our days of operation are being cut during City holidays, which makes no sense as these are days that school children need surf instruction,” she said.
Despite these obstacles, Surf Diva continues to grow. The company has employed more than 800 people since it opened. Some staff has stayed since the beginning. Others return with their families to attend surf camps. Some former students come back to become instructors. “We hope to be able to continue to teach surfing and share our passion for 20 more years,” Izzy proclaimed. “We feel so blessed to be a part of this community.”
• Surf Diva is open daily 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at 2160 Avenida de la Playa, La Jolla Shores. Beside offering surf lessons, camps and rentals, Surf Diva is also a surf shop and boutique. (858) 454-8273. surfdiva.com
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