“I’m just a surfer chick, really,” says George Cronin, founder of Surf Worthy. The English expat settled in Bali almost 20 years ago so she could devote her days to chasing waves, but she found herself missing one thing: a bikini that the ocean couldn’t shove aside.
“Bali is a mecca for surfing,” Cronin says, “but the local shops sold nothing for women that was functional.” Regular bikinis have always been fraught with problems for women surfers. “The boob parts get ripped straight off, sideways,” Cronin explains. The bottoms also go AWOL or ride up as you paddle. “You can tie them as tight as possible on the sides, but they’ll still come off,” she attests. One-piece suits just weren’t her style.
So, in 2004, Cronin, who worked as a diving and surf instructor (she still teaches surfing today), started to tinker with her own swimwear designs. She knew she wanted some version of a sports bra that would secure and stabilize breasts, and she longed for boy-short bottoms with a drawstring waist so she could cinch them tight enough to stay on.
Using Facebook, Cronin polled her community of Southeast Asian expats about potential factories that made quality products and treated employees well. She found a contented and capable group of seamstresses in Canggu, Bali, where Surf Worthy is now produced. In Denpasar, Bali, she shopped for fabric and eventually selected a durable nylon-Lycra blend with UPF 40+ protection.
In 2010, Cronin put her first factory samples to the test. “It was a game changer for me,” she recalls. For years, she had to readjust her suit between every wave, which cost her valuable time and focus. Suddenly, Cronin could stop thinking about what she was wearing and simply surf. “The prototype stayed put on every single duck dive,” she says.
The transformation made Cronin suspect that unreliable swimsuits were holding women back more than they realized. “I often wondered, because I like to go out for bigger waves, why I was the only woman out there,” she says. “But I could go for these waves because I knew that no matter how I got smashed, I wouldn’t have my bikini around my ankles.”
Other women noticed the difference. Surf Worthy sales grew by word of mouth as women rippers saw them on Cronin and other Bali wave riders. Shops in El Salvador and other surfing epicenters around the globe started carrying her line. Scuba divers and dive-boat guides adopted them. “They’re great for wearing underneath a wetsuit,” Cronin says. “Because when you rip off your wetsuit, regular bikinis get ripped off too.”
Large-breasted women are also among the brand’s buyers. In fact, Cronin has a hard time keeping larger sizes in stock. “Apparently, the industry is not factoring for women who do sports and have big boobs,” Cronin says.
Her suits, which cost about $55 per piece online, answer that call. I asked Costa Rica resident Cara Naylor, who wears a 32DD bra and surfs at Manuel Antonito and Playitas, to test a Surf Worthy bikini. She reports that in strong currents and heavy waves, the suit stayed on great. “The top holds my breasts well, even when duck diving and getting beat up by waves,” Naylor says. The bottom also earned props. Although the full-coverage boy-short cut didn’t suit Naylor’s body (she altered her suit by trimming away some of the fabric), she says the drawstring “is awesome, and I love the way it helps hold the suit on.”
What’s more, Cronin is using profits to help the environment. Although Surf Worthy is a tiny company—Cronin’s one employee is her partner, Lauren Harris, who helps with sales and marketing—with a small budget, Cronin devotes 10 percent of the company’s profits to the Coral Triangle Center, an Indonesian nonprofit that protects at-risk reefs. Her new Eco Warrior line features 100 percent recycled nylon, some of it sourced from discarded fishing nets.
Next, Cronin wants to offer a wider variety of bottom styles to cater to women’s various fit preferences. But all designs will share one common theme: They’ll stay on.