Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Robin Lanei art

I've been really enjoying Robin Lanaei's illustrations that she's posting on Instagram. It's so easy to recognise myself and other kinds of surfers in her drawings, sometimes, when I don't even want to!

I like that she's drawing about the everyday things that happen in the lineup, the internal dialogues that we have with ourselves, the things we'd like to say and do. I like her take on the moments of shame and embarrassment when we miss a wave or kook one, aware that the lineup is watching and judging us, while at the same time making sure we know it really doesn't matter. I like that the girls she draws aren't trying to be mermaids or #gurfers or anything like that. Instead, they're just people - grumpy and cranky and determined and sneaky and funny and fun. They seem to be white girls, for sure. But they're certainly recognisable in so many ways and with the kind of complexity and real-ness that I'm always searching for in any kind of surfing media and culture.

Also, I love that she calls surfing smurfing, because I do that too.

If you like these as much as I do, then you should go follow her over here.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Sea changing

In Australia, we have a Federal election coming up on 2nd July. Even more significant, it's a double dissolution, which means the whole government is dissolved and is up for election, including the entire  (Senators sit for 6 years and usually only half the Senate is elected every 3 years). A double dissolution can be called if the Senate and House of Representatives fail to agree on a piece of legislation twice. The Governor-General (the Queen's is still our Head of State and the G-G is her representative. I KNOW!!) calls it, but the Prime Minister asks them to do so. There have only been seven double dissolutions since Australia's Federation, so it's a pretty big deal. Since we have three layers of government - federal, state and local - and since under Australian law, it is compulsory that all citizens over the age of 18 enrol and vote in elections, many Australians find elections annoying. Not me though. I love them.

I love elections for lots of reasons, not least because people like me - women - have not always had the right to vote. At a Federal level, it was only in 1902 that women over 21 were able to vote in Australia, and not until 1921 that the first woman, Edith Cowan, was elected to Western Australian Parliament, and it was 1943 before Enid Lyons and Dorothy Tangney were elected to Federal Parliament - the House of Representative and the Senate respectively. And it wasn't until 1962 that Aboriginal Australians were universally granted the right to vote. 1962! In Australia, prisoners in gaol still don't have the right to vote in an election.

Here's me going to the polls on 24 November, 2007, a few days after turning 30. Look how happy I was! That was an exciting time. (Note: Despite what the angle may hint, I didn't vote for the National Party.)

Lots of other Australians love elections and politics too, which is evident from the enthusiasm with which people contribute to #auspol as a constantly trending hashtag in this country.

Because elections are so regular and at so many different levels, and because electorates/divisions (geographically defined areas of the population represented by a single elected Member of Parliament or Council) can be diverse and take in different geographies, things can change and get complicated. So, for example, my electorate at one stage had a Labor Federal Member, a National Party state member, and a Green Party mayor. Currently, we have a Labor Federal Member, Greens State Member and a Greens Mayor (I think).

To be sure, Byron Bay is a diverse town in terms of demographics, and the population here continues to change as new people move here from cities and overseas. This has been the case for this place since the town was established colonial settlers who logged the red cedar, immediately changing the and literally changing the area from the ways the indigenous population and custodians had lived here for so long. From that point on, changing industries - dairy farming and production, whaling, an abattoir, sand mining, farming various produce, tourism - and changing cultures amongst the baby boomer generation brought consistent change in this town and this region. Workers, surfers, hippies, travellers, developers, all flocked here and all wrought their own influence over the town. Most recently, sea-changers from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane have bought residential and holiday properties and opened small businesses again changing the kind of interests, desires, ideologies and motivations that shape the town geographically, demographically and politically.

This is not a critique of any of this, this is a description.

The point being that as we head to another election, the region we live in remains an interesting and uncertain electorate, and with a constantly changing population of residential renters and owners. Mostly likely, it will be Labor or the Greens, but who knows. Living in a marginal seat and knowing that your vote really, quantifiably has weight in this way is pretty exciting. I think.

The story of Byron is not unique. With making a sea-change so popular in the last couple of decades, lots of other coastal regions are facing these kinds of demographic and thus political changes too. I was reminded of this the other morning, as I listened to a story on the ABC's AM program about Corangamite, the electorate that takes in the southern suburbs of Geelong through the hinterland area down to Torquay and much of the Great Ocean Road. You can listen to the audio here. Turns out, these issues aren't new for Corangamite either. Here's another ABC Radio story from the 2010 election as well.

Thinking about how you vote is important - votes are precious - but in a marginal seat, it becomes pretty real. Last election, Indi's winner was decided by just over 300 ballots! For me, it's a constant reminder of the responsibility we have when we vote, and the importance of participating in the decision of who will represent our place and community for the next three years.

Friday, June 17, 2016

In love with the world

One of the things I love most about surfing, is being outdoors and in nature. I love watching the surface of the water, the changing colours of the sky and sea, the clouds that drift across and light up in the sunrise and sunset, the birds that wheel above us, the creatures that swim below and around us, the line of the shore from the water, and the cool and warmth of the air, water and wind.

Being immersed in this world of light and colour and sensations and creatures has taught me a lot about my place in the world. It's taught me that I'm part of something, that my behaviour has effects, and that being a human in the sea has consequences. It's taught me I am not in control of the world and the plants and animals that inhabit it, but instead that I'm a part of that web - that ecosystem.

With so much of my focus on surfing being about the culture and the relationships between people - good and bad - there have been times when immersing myself in the beauty and immensity of the world around me has saved my own relationship to surfing. When I'm disheartened or frustrated with surfing culture and lineups (including my own place in them) I can take note of the light sparkling through the water, a dolphin sharing a wave with me, golden lit sunset clouds, and the changing coastline over a season, to remind me what it's all about. Of course my relationships to people in the water are important too, but it's the degree to which I'm in love with world that really pulls me back.

I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. Every day I hear people who have lived and surfed their whole lives in this town, who still paddle out and comment on how beautiful the day is, how clear the water, how close the dolphins, how sweet the waves, how lucky we are to be here and now. I see these same people picking up rubbish from the sand, worrying about the treatment of the beach by those visitors who don't make the same connections about our impact on places - dropping cigarette butts, using synthetic soaps with micro-beads that flow from the drain of the public shower onto the sand below, or who leave bottles, plastic bags and paper plates on the grass. Who don't love the place quite as much, or to the depths that they feel.

But this is not just true of surfing.

I've learned the same things from my regular walks and runs along various beaches, through bush tracks, across hillsides and through suburbs. On my walk/runs along the roads I'm always shocked to remember that people still throw waste from cars! On some roads, I'll take a bag so I can collect the large amount of trash I know will be there. I'm not the only one either. David Sedaris wrote a wonderful essay about the never-ending rubbish he's collected on his country walks, and Responsible Runners, has groups all over Australia (check Facebook for your area) who are very active in combining their love of running with their love of nature.

This short video, which I found over at The Atlantic, is about the love of nature we develop from the ways we experience it, the ways we move through it. Sport and physical activities have given me a wonderful way of thinking about the world and my place in it. From being immersed in water, riding through a forest, standing on top of a mountain, running along a road, to walking through a city, I have come to fall deeply and undeniably in love with the world I live in.

Admittedly, this little film is a bit earnest, but then again, so is this post. Being in love can be like that.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

A woman alone, in public

*To be filed under: #notallmen

One of the joys of life is walking alone, taking in the world around us. I love it. I love walking around cities in the day and night, looking at buildings, watching people, learning the lay of the land, but even more I love walking on the beach or in the forest - surrounded by trees and sand and rocks and water and birds and animals and clouds and sunrises and sunsets.Walking alone, taking it all in. Sometimes, I even run on tracks like these, challenging myself as I negotiate the twists and turns on the concrete paths, roads or bush tracks.

One of the places I often walk and run is the Lighthouse track in Byron Bay. It's beauty and accessibility makes it a very popular track with all kinds of people, from those returning from watching the most easterly sunrise on the mainland, to pairs and groups of women walking and chatting, pairs of men walking (and chatting?), as well as lots of people on their own running and walking, often with earphones in, listening to a soundtrack as they go.

I'm most commonly one of the latter - on my own, walking or running, with or without music. I always feel free and happy (and breathless) as I enjoy the scenery and my luck that I get to call this place home.

Sometimes - not everyday, but sometimes - as I make my way alone through the bush I take out my earphones. Sometimes - not everyday, but sometimes - I worry that I wouldn't be able to hear footsteps approaching if I needed to. If I see a lone man on the track and can tell I'll need to pass him or that they'll be behind me for some time, I find a way to speed that up, because I get nervous and uncomfortable and worried.

I know my feeling that way is not fair, but experience has taught me to be wary. Over the years, as I've walked through cities and forest paths alone, I've been touched, stared at, grabbed and made to feel uncomfortable. Once, in the middle of the day in the middle of a city, a group of men asked me the time as I walked past, and as I looked at my watch, one of them grabbed my breasts and then they ran away laughing. Perhaps that was funny for them, but it wasn't for me, I stopped wearing a watch that day and learned to take a step back when men approached me to ask for the time or directions. It was yet another moment of everyday threatened and real sexual assault that has littered my life: men in cars pulling over as I walk home at night to ask 'How much?'; men driving alongside me and masturbating as I ride a bike; unexpected hands up my skirt while their mates laugh at the joke; unwanted kisses from strangers in bars; men following me home late at night after I caught a bus home from work; men peeping as I get changed by my car after a surf. Often, afterwards, I'd tell people, and they wouldn't believe me, or they'd play it down and tell me I was over-reacting or mis-interpreting the moment. So I'd question myself. But these things did happen.

This incomplete list of stories has accumulated over my lifetime, starting when I was a teenage girl and continuing today. Each of them alone is horrid enough, but after a while, sadly, I've become slightly numb to them. Sort of. But they have effects. They make me feel alone and vulnerable as I walk thought a city, as men ask me the time, as I get changed by my car after surfing, and as I walk through a popular bush track. It's not fair - on me or the man I avoid and feel concerned about - but with so many experiences shaping those responses, it's hard to consider changing my thinking or reactions.

Today, a story came out in the local paper about a man who is approaching women on the Lighthouse track, grabbing their bodies and then running away. (Update: Here's a link to a longer news article from 26th May.) I felt so sad when I read it. I felt sad for those women, I felt sad that people will worry on that section of the walk, and I felt sad that my own concerns about being out and about and walking alone are once more validated. The are tracks that people know well, that they've been walking for years, or maybe just a day. Places that people feel relaxed, free, calm, upbeat. Places they feel safe. This guy and his hands are changing that, for some women at least. I'll still walk that track, but I'll definitely be on the lookout while I am. And that sucks.

Of course, I've had many more experiences where men have asked me the time and that is all it is, and where they get changed at the next car without staring at me, and where men have helped me feel safe, secure and independent. And I remind myself to focus on those more usual everyday experiences of care and generosity. I don't feel ashamed of my body or my movements when I'm out in public, I'm usually not scared and I don't hide. But all of that is largely consciously chosen as well. Because ignoring the cumulative bad moments when I felt threatened, afraid, ashamed, or assaulted, ignoring those and not letting those change my responses, that is impossible.

Sometimes I respond to men's looks or movements towards me with great suspicion, or in ways that shut things down or move them along un-necessarily, and I know can make those men feel shitty for something they weren't actually doing. Sometime I do explain, 'It's not you. It's just... things have happened.' But my reactions are born from moments like the ones happening to women who are just out for a walk on their own.

But this applies to surfing too. I've heard stories from some female friends about how intimidating it is to be a woman alone in a lineup of men. Mostly, there's no issue, but you get one creep and the whole thing can feel terrible and threatening. For women who travel to new spots or to remote places, this weight can be even heavier, but it can happen at home as well. A good friend once had a close call in a carpark at a popular break. It was winter though, so there were not many people left by the time she got out of the water. There was however, a guy and his mates, who'd been hassling her out in the water for her number. They walked over to her as she looked for her key behind the wheel but she'd lost it. The guys circled the car and she was starting to worry. Luckily a male friend came in at that moment and was able to drive her home ad back with a spare, taking her away from that situation. She was rattled.

I'm not writing this post to make anyone feel bad (unless you're hassling women and in that case, fucking STOP IT!!!), but I wanted to highlight that getting changed in a carpark, walking though a city at night, or going for a walk in the morning or a surf in the evening, should not be experienced that are worrying.

Women should not be made to feel vulnerable just for doing things alone.

I also want to give some insight into why women might jump or act worried at men's sudden appearance. Why they might look continuously over their shoulders as you walk behind them, or stop or cross the road so that you go past them and they know where you are. While they might glare at you if they catch your eyes on them - even for a moment - while they're getting changed. Why they might snap at an errant but accidental touch in a crowded place. I'm not saying I do any or all of these things regularly, but I have done them all, and I've seen other women do them as well, and they are responses born of gross experiences. It's not about you guys, it's not personal - it's about terrible people doing threatening things.

I so hope this guy is caught.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Networked surfing

It's no secret that I'm not a fan of the notion of mobile phones in the surf. I know it would be really useful for those whose jobs mean they're on call etc., by giving them more flexibility in the water, but still, the idea fills me with dread. I accept that it's inevitable, but it sucks.

Voluntarily and involuntarily, our lives these days are so connected to friends, social networks, knowledge, news and media. W're constantly looking, listening, watching, reading, absorbing, responding, capturing, posting and sharing, and I'm totally part of that and I think there's lots that is wonderful about it. I mean, I'm writing this on online an online blogging site, using social media video sharing capabilities of YouTube, with text messages popping up on my screen and two email accounts open in my browser, all while listening to Cat Power via Spotify. So, yeah. Because I have so little discipline when it comes to being logged on, I really love those moments when I'm unavoidably out of range and offline.

Going for walks, flying, driving in the country, surfing... there are so few spaces left that are unavoidably disconnected from the Web and the networks we belong to as part of it, that they've become oddly sacred.

So the possibilities raised by this innovation in mobile communications technology embedded in Gabriel Medina's board bum me out.

I can totally see the potential of such communication as a training tool, but then technological advancements in surfing continue to be all about high and elite performance - something so few of us ever truly achieve. In everyday surfing, we get enough feedback from those round us to know when we're doing well or badly, and I think that's about all we (I?) really need. For athletes, it's different, but for those of us who do it for the love alone, surfing isn't all about performance. It's about not caring about that, about enjoying the moment, enjoying the feeling of riding waves. Or it is for me.

Or it should be.

As well as the constant connection, the sense that we need constant feedback on our surfing is terrible. That we need always to be judged on how others saw our abilities or capacities. Yes, Medina is an elite athlete, so that's different for him, and that's fine. But I'm quite sure there are days when being removed from that is an incredibly welcome respite: to be alone, away from coaches, fans, social media, and photographers; to not worry about how your every moves looks or could be improved.

Considering how much it means to a mortal like me, that must be a special kind of moment.

Then again, I'm not a hyper-competitive, world class athlete in a highly commodified individual sport, so truly, I could be so very, very wrong about that.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Dolphin chop

As it happens, I've moved back to Australia! Back home to Byron Bay. It was a sudden move and it feels weird, but it's also wonderful and I'm enjoying the familiarity of home.

Yesterday, as I was looking at the shitty waves being messed about by a strong on-shore and strong currents, I noticed some commotion over at the Table of Knowledge*. I could see there was attention being paid to the nose of a longboard, so I went to have a stickybeak.

Sure enough, the board was damaged. A long incision that cut through the whole board, deep into the body of the nose. The cut was as long at the span of my outstretched hand from my middle finger to my thumb. Obviously, the board had been hit hard.

It was a dolphin! the man told me. He looked, while not exactly in shock, certainly in bewilderment.

Yeah look, it's left some skin behind, John pointed out, sticking his fingers into the torn fibreglass.

I stood, mouth open.

I took the opportunity to talk for a while about how I've been telling everyone for ages now that dolphins can be a bit sinister and smug, and how I've heard a researcher explain that they can be a bit clumsy. We have a lot of bottlenose dolphins around here, and it's really common to share a surf session and even waves with them. Along with turtles, stingrays, fish, sharks and, in migration season, whales, bottlenose dolphins are a part of our everyday surfing experience. According to a research project about the local populations, there are 1000 bottlenose dolphins that use the area regularly. When they swim around me, I can't deny how amazing it is to share the waves with such a huge creature, who moves so incredibly through the water. At the same time, I find it intimidating and a little uncomfortable, especially if they've come in chasing schools of fish. People often paddle over to them when they're in a pod, feeding, which I always find insane - they're feeding!! My relationship to surfing with them is combination of amazement, stoke, terror and suspicion...

But of course, I hope that poor creature is okay. It certainly got hurt in that interaction so fingers crossed the injuries are superficial and heal quickly.

*The table of crew that surf that spot at that time everyday. At this break, it's claimed before sunrise by John, who leaves his board bag and wet-basket on the table to make sure no-one takes it. I always stop by for a chat and banter and to dissect the waves fro that surf before getting on with my day.