Legions of young and not-so-young women are plunging into the waves at surfing beaches worldwide, challenging the male domination of a sport once restricted to Hawaiian kings.

Male surfing "safaris" in search of the perfect wave, glamorized decades ago by bands such as the Beach Boys, have resurfaced as female-only getaways run by trend-savvy tour operators in Australia and California.

All-girl surfing schools that put enthusiasts onto surfboards as early as age 7 are also gaining popularity, sometimes subsidized by women's surf magazines -- riding a crest of enthusiasm bigger than the Hollywood-inspired "Gidget" surf craze of the early 1960s.

In the United States alone, board sports research firm Board-Trac estimates, there are 150,000 female surfers age 12 to 19. Add in all other age groups and the number of women in the waves swells to 484,000, many in their thirties, forties and fifties who are trying the sport for the first time.

"It's gone beyond just having role models," said Louise Southerden, a surfer and former editor of Waves SurfGirl magazine, who is writing a learn-to-surf book for women. "There is a whole culture around women's surfing."

Surf Diva Australia tour operator Natalie Jandl has one rule for the women who sign on for her adventures to remote beaches along Australia's east coast: "Chicks only."

"My surf trips are strictly for chicks, who tend to be in their mid-thirties and are looking to develop surfing skills in a more supportive and less competitive setting than you might get if guys came along," Jandl said.

Half the Pacific Ocean away, professional surfer and Hollywood stunt double Rochelle Ballard was planning a teach-in to build confidence for about 75 surf-smart girls and women, 8 to 19, itching to tackle the powerful waves of Hawaii.

"It's not about discrimination toward males. It's just that girls are more responsive in certain situations and less likely to focus on simply trying to impress each other," Ballard said from her home in Oahu.

Typical surf training exercises include running underwater while carrying heavy rocks to build lung capacity to withstand wipeouts when massive waves come marching toward shore.

The advent of female surfing daredevils like Ballard, happy to risk their lives to ride the biggest waves, and just-as-good-as-the-guys surf flicks, such as last year's "Blue Crush," are drawing women in droves into the water.

Ballard doubled for "Blue Crush" star Kate Bosworth's show-stealing big-wave surfing scenes.

"It just takes one person to show it can be done and a lot more girls start doing it," said Layne Beachley, reigning world women's surfing champion and a sport icon at home in Australia.

Fellow Australian professional Kate Skarratt says she believes the current crop of fearless female surfers has a responsibility to guide newcomers into the ocean.

"Women's surfing has hit a new level and with that comes an obligation to help the next generation of girl surfers," she said.

Skarratt nearly died in a wipeout at the feared Banzai Beach Pipeline during filming of "Blue Crush," in which she plays herself.

Like almost all professional surfers, Skarratt is sponsored financially by apparel and equipment manufacturers, allowing her to follow the summer around the globe in search of ideal surf.

In beach cities such as Sydney, "girls-only" surf days at schools for beginners are booked weeks in advance by parents eager to see their daughters take the plunge.

"Sixty percent of our students are female and the number grows every year," said Matt Grainger, owner of a surf school at Manly Beach, where the last all-girls learn-to-surf day drew 270 participants.

"I wiped out three times," said a beaming 15-year-old Jessica Honeywood of Sydney, who was up at 5:30 a.m. to squeeze in a surf lesson after gymnastics training. "But it didn't hurt and was so much fun."