Tuesday, May 23, 2017

I hate Byron Bay and surfing*

Kids and parents play along the shoreline and the surf is busy: daughters and sons bobbing hopefully near their parents, awaiting instruction and/or parental pride; a Sunday Boardriders contest, the competitors gaudy in fluoro pink, green, yellow and blue rashees; young men positioned in the critical take-off spot, right next the rock shelf that generates this point break; older men on longer, thicker boards, knowing as much, or more, than the younger showponies, but betrayed by their bodies they wait further down the line, hungrily asserting themselves from the inside; those on the outside, avoiding the fray for all kinds of reasons: skills, age, vibe, preference, or some other knowledge about the break born from experience; and scattered throughout are women young and old, taking their time, staking their claims, with no distinctions between their skills and the others, the men – as far as I can observe they’re no worse or better at surfing. But I already knew that.
On this warm, north coast beach, everyone is tanned, but white. Everyone is relatively fit, toned and confident. Everyone is comfortable and of the coast. They move as though they are here a lot, as though sand and salt water and bright sunshine are usual weekend fare. These are my people. But I no longer feel as though I belong with them. It’s not about the place itself - on these white sandy beaches I dress and move in ways they recognise. I know what to do, what to wear, and my body and attitude are (relatively) fit, slim, confident and comfortable. My board fits in to the local aesthetic, and I greet people I know as we walk to the water to paddle out. My discomfort is not about the place and community. It’s about the scene, the culture, the lineup.
In other places further south, my body, my movements and my board easily designate me as coastal, but what I wear and ride, and how I ride it make it clear I’m not from there. I’m from here - that stretch of coast from Noosa to Coffs Harbour. It’s a stretch of coast that is viewed and experienced by so many people as an extension of their own lives in places far away. This stretch of coast finds itself co-opted and adopted by lots of crew in parts of Sydney. Regional, rural and urban aesthetics have twisted into each other, becoming entangled through mobile surfers, shifting between places, but folding aspects of each place through the others. Stories in Australian surf history - stories of migration between city and rural areas - illustrate this over and over. Noosa Heads-Byron Bay-Sydney. It’s the stretch of coast you know from Instagram, through #vanlife #goldenhour #gurfer.
I’m from here, a place that is known for point breaks, thickly resined logs, longboards and other retro shapes, whose surfers trim and glide rather than turn and boost. And for hipsters. We’re well known for hipsters in the surf, those people my friend calls “smiling assassins” because they paddle into waves from your outside, beaming at you with white teeth and long hair, and enjoying the drop in they’ve reclaimed as “sharing”. You can shortboard here too, of course. There’s an abundance of thin, light, clean, white chips being carried about the place, but shortboarding is no longer the most visible part of surfing in this area. Shortboards are surfed on the open beaches, in punchier waves, by people I don’t know. Shortboarding is barrels and boots and flannys and beach tracks and silence. Shortboarding is reported on in Tracks, while the rest of it – the highly visible colour and carnival of popularised longboarding - is talked about in Surfing World and White Horses. Longboarding and logging used to be alternative and niche in relation to the aesthetic of shortboarding, but it’s not anymore. These days it turned into many of the things it critiqued – it’s dominant and defining, it’s corporate and hypocritical. It’s turmeric lattes and #liveauthentic #longhairdontcare, with $2000 glossy boards for beginners, and bikinis and wetsuits that are cut revealingly high on the hips and low under the arms on the chest, and as much pride and investment in vans as seems to go in muscle car culture. This version of surfing offers inclusions and sunlight and fun with one hand, while promoting and excluding and claiming place and #authenticity on the other. You want this, but you can’t have it.
I remember watching the current scene emerge – slowly at first, as small rebellions against the hyper-masculine status quo, as alternative options, as promoting women, as an engagement with the past, rethinking shapes, functionality and aesthetics that had been discarded by the mainstream – but after a while the shifts were fast and broad. You don’t notice change when you’re immersed in it, but now, this version of surfing is the mainstream.

I know this world well because I used to live in this world. Or maybe this world used to live around me. I’m not sure anymore, but even though I now live north in Brisbane, I am part of it and I still surf in those places when I can, and I still watch it unfold in magazine, films, online and on social media, and I sometimes even contribute to those unfoldings. As difficult as it is to admit my place in this world that I don't always like, to imagine being implicated in all of this, I am.
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This little beach is a bit different than further up the coast. It’s less famous, less popular, less cool. There are no high cut swimmers, no 12-foot boards, no mandala tattoos, and while there are vans, there’s no #vanlife. Instead, it’s grittier and more low key. Still busy and still mainstream, but photographers do not (yet?) line this beach and drones don’t hover over the lineup. People here support shark nets. This is not my usual place, but I know it well and I appreciate its community and politics.
I came here to meet friends I’ve not seen in too long, and to surf, which I haven’t done much this year. I live further north now, a decent enough distance to make day trips to the beach an irregular occurrence. It’s lovely to feel the sand between my toes and the autumn sun on my skin. It’s nice to be in this world that is so much a part of me, but which I’ve given up daily access to. For now.
As soon as we walk towards the water, I feel a lack of confidence rise in my chest. I worry about paddling out, about my capacity to read the waves, about my ability to negotiate this lineup. O the beach a friend had recounted an infuriating run-in with a “Walrus” who’d snaked her and her daughter. She was so pissed off that rather than stay out, she’d paddled in. We laughed at the self-sabotaging effect of her tactic, but I understand her choice – I’ve done the same in the past. It’s easier to protect your integrity of you’re not fuming and/or crying over idiots like him. I worry about being in that scene today. I worry I’m a kook, because not surfing much means I’m shaky and unpractised and so it’s more intimidating when I go.
I’ve been out of the water, I’m unfit, I’m unsure. My body feels likes a hull, rolling around on the deck of my board – an awkward counterbalance to its more gently curved surface. My arms feel weak and heavy, and can’t reach down to drag through the water – usually they pull with confidence – and my upper back and the cross bar of shoulders ride high near my ears, pulling my centre of gravity away from my hips, ensuring my balance will suck.
Suddenly, these past months of runs not taken, commutes not ridden, classes missed and chocolate eaten are apparent and I feel out of place and unconditioned for it all. It’s not just my body though. It’s, everything.
“It’s like riding a bike” replies my friend, when I tell her it feels weird to be back in the water. It is. And it isn’t. “I don’t feel at home on my board,” I explain. “You know when your body hits your board and you know what to do? Like, you know what to do without thinking? I don’t feel like that anymore.” She surfs a lot, so it’s likely hard for her to know what I mean exactly, but she knows that I’m feeling out of place and that I’ll work through it. She’s getting a bunch of little peelers on the inside and with a big smile she encourages me to, “Come over here!” I really appreciate her support. I know I’ll get more waves there, but I’ll also be deeper in the politics of the lineup: more likely to be in the way, to have to jostle and hassle for waves, to be snaked, to get frustrated. I don’t want to be part of all that today. I just want to surf. I just want to be in the water amongst the waves, and to find my way back to my board and into my surfing body.
Part of being in my body is using it to take note of al the things of surfing that I love. Of the feel of the water, the light on the waves, the birds flying by, the shadows of the rocks, the curve of the swell bending around the point, being in the water with my friend, being in a lineup full of people stoked to be there, watching younger folk get stoked on waves, watching my niece playing on the sand. And catching waves. And being stoked on the waves I catch – slow and fast, glassy and crumbly, big and small, forming up and closing out.
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Unlike when I surf back home, here I’m not much of anyone. I’m just some woman on the outside. It’s pretty good, really.
At the break I usually surf, things have changed quickly in response to the popularity of both surfing and the place. I’ve been part of part of that, for sure. I only started surfing as an adult, so although I grew on these beaches, I can’t make claims to being part of their surfing world. But even then, these processes of taking over have been going on for over 200 years, which is a blip in the history of the place, but significant in terms of the changes they’ve wrought. Like the cultural changes, it’s hard to see all this when you’re so implicated in a place, and it’s the getting away from it that’s shifted things.
The other day a social media post linked to a t-shirt for sale, that is printed with the words ‘I hate Byron Bay and surfing’. You can buy a trucker cap version too, but I'm not linking to either of them - you can find them yourself. The design is a copy of a shirt worn on a Warumpi Band cover for an EP of their song 'Jailanguru Pakarnu (Out of Jail)', which was the first ever rock song recorded in an indigenous language. It's recorded in Luritja, from the Western Desert region in central Australia. I'm not sure who designed the t-shirt originally, nor who the person is who has appropriated the design for a new time. 
I hate Byron Bay and surfing.
It made me laugh when I saw it and I reposted it with the caption, ‘A new new era in surfing’. Surfing in Byron Bay has become too mainstream for the very people who made it that way by selling the images, the films, the art, the clothes, the boards, the lifestyle, the t-shirt, that are all meant to offer a way in to belong to it.
I hate Byron Bay and surfing.
My map of the town has become one that skirts the edges. I avoid the town centre, driving over the hill at sunrise and sunset, to try to avoid the heat, the traffic and the crowds. It doesn’t always work, and anyway my map is increasingly similar to many others’. The town centre is for tourists, the edges are for surfing.
I hate Byron Bay and surfing.
The truth, however, is that despite myself I can’t imagine a time when I won’t always go back there. Go home. I can’t imagine not being part of the place, the community and the chaos. Because in amongst the too-cool culture and all that entails, there is so much that is solid and real to me. I can’t imagine not returning to the beaches where I know that in the morning when I turn up, my friends will be sitting that the same picnic table as always, eating breakfast and drinking tea and teasing each other. I can't imagine not returning to paddle out into that water, to being asked how I am, where I've been, what I've been up to. To hearing everyone around me talk about how clear the water is, how lucky we are to be there, on that day, that morning. That's why it's busy, that's why its popular.
I love Byron Bay and surfing.
For better and worse this town is changing, and it long has been. The surfing crowd talks of halcyon days of “having to look for someone to surf with”, but in the nostalgia they fail to recall that these were also golden days of sexism, and scum-baggery. While I’d happily see the back of the insane crowds, I do like surfing with other people. The town is changing and the truth is, I’ll change with it, or alongside it, or in spite of it.
*I love Byron Bay and surfing.

My versions of them anyway.



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Thursday, March 02, 2017

Bodies, movement, dance, architecture, and science

This is old, but I came upon it today when I was looking for images about human movement.


as·phyx·i·a from Maria Takeuchi on Vimeo.

Via: This is Colossal

The post I found it on linked to this piece of video art of a consistent walking body/being adapting it's architecture to the spaces it encounters. Also, mesmerising (especially from about 6.30).



Again, via: This is Colossal

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Turns out there's a male prequel to 'Hermès surf'

In an update from yesterday's post about Hermès using images of women surfing to promote their very expensive scarves, I give you, Dior and men who longboard!!



I know! Wheardo linked to this clip in the comments, for which I'm very thankful. I'm not sure how a bloke from the Central Coast links in with luxury brands, but my gosh, they've done wonders with Harrison Roach's hair.


Seriously, it looks amazing! And his skin is so perfect and smooth and glowing! I know that sounds patronizing, but I really don't mean it to be. He looks incredible. Even though, to go surfing sometimes he has to drive kilometres along the beach, because that's how far surfers will go for a wave. Kilometres! Good one, y'all.

But hell, isn't that another beautiful piece of filming. The images and perspectives are stunning and I love the stormy colours. And that last wave was pretty great.


Seriously, good for you, Harrison!

Still as, beautiful and mesmerising as this Dior, and the Hermès clips are, I cannot help but this of Mabeth's sililoquy (words by Shakespeare):

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

While I didn't have much more to say about the images of and links to women and surfing in Hermès's clip, I have a few more feeling about this offering from Dior. Not really from a surfing perspective -although some of those lines are hilarious! - but instead a critique about the links they drawing between their perfume Sauvage (trans. = wild) and masculinity.

The issue I have here is that the face of this campaign is none other than Johnny Depp. This was a fine association, I guess, except that they launched the images for this campaign for Sauvage - meaning 'wild' - a couple of days after allegations of domestic violence were levelled against Depp. The kindest thing I can say about the decision to launch the campaign with Depp is that it's distasteful.


Around this time, Amber Heard had released images of her bruised face, and later a video of him ranting and yelling and slamming cupboard doors and smashing bottles, all quite early in the morning. Wild, most certainly, but other descriptors could include aggressive, violent, and frightening. And in this image, they have him rolling up his sleeves, as though he's about to get to some kind of physically demanding work, the kind of work he can do in a waistcoat and a full face of makeup, like yelling at or hitting someone. Probably not the plan, but for me the link between the two will never be separated.

Allegations, not charges, against Depp they may have been, but with domestic violence against women a major problem in Australia and elsewhere, using the image of Depp as the face of a marketing campaign about wild men is pretty fucked up. Companies take a gamble when they pay individuals to represent their products and their brand. So often it works out, but when it doesn't, they should cut their losses.

This image, released after allegations of domestic violence, has created absolute links between this product, this campaign and violence against women.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Hermès surf? Pour quoi pas!

Following Chanel's love affair with surfing, it's not surprising to see images of women who surf being used in other luxury campaigns.

This time it's Hermès who surfs.

I can't find the film to embed (yet), but you can check it out via this link.




Famed for their exquisite scarves and handbags, Hermès is luxe to a new level. This little film they've shot to promote their beautiful, hand made, labour intensive scarves (apparently engraving the silk screen takes 750hours!), is very pretty. It does all the usual things relating to mainstream marketing images of women's surfing - young, slim, feminine, white women - but it's pretty.

The bit where the scarf shimmers like the surface of the water is mesmerising. I wish there had been more of that because the rest isn't particularly interesting or innovative in terms of images.


Like the Chanel film and film and images before it, this is hard to read or think about or critique this of marketing beyond it being a pretty piece of not-very-original nothing-much-at-all. In a way, it looks like a day in the water with friends, but then, it could only look that way if your friends were all wearing scarves worth almost A$700.


Friday, February 24, 2017

Waves lacking in power work for women. Really, though?

Fred Pawle, is a journalist with The Australian* and is well known amongst surfers for his contributions about surfing and surfing culture. He is a talented writer, a driven journalist, and his stories are engaging and often touch on difficult issues in surfing. I mean, he's a journalist, so that's kind of the deal. For me, one of his best pieces is about Matt Branson and homophobia in surfing. I abhor/ed Stab magazine - a publication that contributed to ongoing sexualisation of women, (especially athletes, entrenching the issues they face in obtaining sponsorship) and once ran a story that talked about "how to go from date to consensual rape". Truly, they did - but Pawle's profile on Branson was great.

He's spent a bunch of time up in Byron Bay recently, writing stories relating to the spate of shark attacks and the different community responses to them along the coast. Some of the responses differ hugely and they're causing a lot of controversy on the north coast.

One short piece Pawle produced from his time in Byron was about the opening of a photo exhibition by visiting photographer, Saskia Koerner. She is producing a series in which she photographs women who ride single fin longboards, in particular celebrating their femininity. Whether women who surf need their femininity celebrated is a whole other issue, but Keorner's photos are part of a current growth in how women are represented as surfers by female photographers and writers, which is cool.

Pawle met Koerner on the beach at The Pass, where she was photographing some women for the series and they got talking. He ended up writing a short piece on her and her the project, as well as on the number of women who surf at The Pass in Byron Bay. The Pass is an interesting place in that on many days, there are as many, if not more, women in the water as there are men. It's a highly photographed place, and as a result, there are a lot of images of women surfing there in the internet catalogue of women's surfing.

In promoting the opening of Koerner's exhibition in Byron Bay at the beginning of March - as part of the Byron Bay Surf Festival - he talked a lot about how many women are in the water, and included this total clunker of a line:

The wave works for women because it’s not overly powerful, but runs cleanly along the beach. “It’s a perfect running wave,” she says. “It’s not scary but it still has some power. You can do so much on it. The girls are just dancing on them.”

"Not overly powerful" waves "work" for women? What does this actually mean? That women don't like to paddle out at punchy beach breaks, at solid point breaks, at pumping reef breaks? Koerner clarifies that this is about a particular approach to a wave that links with a particular approach to surfing and self - in her project she identifies this as 'femininity'. But classing a wave as working for women because it lacks power, well, that's just lazy. It's lazy, generalising, and it's in the national broadsheet newspaper.

To be fair, The Pass is a long, peeling point break, that is most usually 1-3 foot, but can also hold bigger swells that come through during the year. But it's definitely not only popular with women. It's huge popularity and and over-crowding by women and men is easy to understand when you see how long, lovely and accessible the wave is, and how pretty the location. A local nickname is The Monkey's Arse, a name that reflects the chaotic mix of boards and boats and people - women and men, athletes and beginners, locals and non-locals, and so on.

And to be further fair, many of the women who surf there when it's small clear out when it gets bigger. But guess what? So do loads of the men. Some people stay and surf and love it, while others arrive, loathing the knee high peelers and crowds, but happy to take on the solid swells and the brutal sweep that accompanies them. Some women are happy and comfortable to take on even more. The film, It Ain't Pretty, explores women in that space, including the fights they have to surf those waves.



I get that this is one sentence in Pawle's short article, but given that article is also about femininity, I think the sentence is more than a throw away line. It belies the notion that women's surfing is still about small, peeling waves. And for many women it is about exactly that. Just like it is for many men. Not every one wants to push boundaries of wave riding, let alone their own capacities. But the idea that a wave is perfect for women because it lacks power is, well, belittling and not true.


*Note: The Australian is the only national newspaper here in Australia, and is part of News Ltd.


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Winners are grinners: The 2017 Australian (Men's) Surfing Awards (with bonus woman!)

The winners of the 2017 Australian Surfing Awards were announced on Sunday at a ceremony in Newcastle. Pretty exciting stuff! It's easy to argue that awards like this are kind of empty, but they're not. These kinds of events and awards area moment to think about what surfing is, what is important in surfing and surfing culture, and to talk about the people we see as contributing to that. Awards like this are one of the times surfing culture is visible in the mainstream media, so it's worth paying them attention to see something of who surfers are supposed to be, or who, at the very least, surfers represented as being.

So here are the 2017 winners!

Australian Surfing Hall of Fame inductee: Peter Crawford
Male Surfer of the Year: Matt Wilkinson
Female Surfer of the Year: Tyler Wright
Rising Star: Ethan Ewing
ASB Greater Good Award: Walk for Waves – Jade ‘Red’ Wheatley
Peter Troy Lifestyle Award: Jack McCoy
Milwaukee Heavy Water Award: Jamie Mitchell
Simon Anderson Club Award: Burleigh Heads Boardriders Club
Surf Culture Award: Men of Wood & Foam
Nikon Surf Video of the Year: You and Me – The David ‘Barney’ Miller Story
Nikon Surf Photo of the Year: Luke Shadbolt

First of all, sincere congratulations to the winners. It's always nice to have your achievements admired by your peers. Also, this is an interesting range of awards that recognise how surfing culture is linked to everyday, recreational surfing, as well as to the achievements of professional, competitive surfers. I'm really pleased to see that the diversity of surfing in Australia (and beyond) is acknowledged.

So that's all great! But this year, when I saw the images posted on social media that went with the 2017 list of winners, my heart really sank. You already know why, but as you can see the only woman included won the only award that a man couldn't win. Also, the Awards are pretty shortboarding-centric. Like the greater inclusion of women, maybe that can change in coming years, especially given the dominant place that longboarding plays in everyday surfing in so many communities.

There are lots of reasons why this might be. For example, there mightn't have been enough women nominated for the awards. The panel might have been all-male and thus not so engaged with issues of diversity. The only information I could find on the panel was this snippet from media about the 2016 Awards: 'The judging panel included 11 members of the surfing community including competitor, industry and media representatives.' That link is interesting because it also lists the three finalists for each category, so we get a better idea of nominees, which are pretty male-dominated.

Because these annual Awards play a role in highlighting what's important to surfing culture from an industry and media perspective (ref: the panel), the exclusion of women matters. The exclusion of women from this list has nothing to do with the old favourite excuse that 'not that many women  surf', or that 'women don't surf as well as men', or that 'it's mostly men contributing to media', etc. Sure, lots of the media and industry might still be male-dominated, but that's not because women aren't participating. That is because, while Awards panels and magazine editors and CEOs and the leaders of surfing stay as men who love shortboarding and high-performance surfing that meets a particular criteria, women won't be seen as relevant or worthy of Awards. At this point, women have done as much as they can to participate and be visible and to contribute. At this point, it's up to those men in the leadership roles of surfing as a sport and culture and industry to make more room for women and to include women as valuable voices in the development and future of surfing.

Pointing this out about the absence of women makes other absences clear as well, because most of the men in leadership roles are also white, hetero and shortboarders. That's not to say that these men aren't opened minded souls who are able to recognise and respect ways of knowing and doing things that are diverse and that include women, Indigenous Australians, migrant Australians, and longboarders (amongst others), but it might be that unless there is an explicit effort to think more broadly about what constitutes a relevant and contemporary and award worthy contribution to surfing and surfing culture, such perspectives and contributions might still be marginalised. And they are.

As one of my research participants once explained to me, no matter what women do, they just won't take that natural place in the lineup. What she meant was that women who surf well, who've surfed at one break for a long time, who are competent, capable, skilled and strong, these women are still viewed differently and as being not-as-good as men who are less competent and skilled. Some women break though this, for sure, but it's harder for women to take that natural place in the literal and metaphorical lineup than it is for men to do so.

So what can we do?

There are some things that need to be changed at a level I can't impact. For example, does the criteria by which they're chosen need to be changed? Perhaps Surfing Australia could ask panellists to be a bit more self reflexive about who they choose? Including more women (and other others) on the panel seems pressing as well.

But we can do things too. We can nominate more women. We can take the time to write great nominations that acknowledge, promote and celebrate the contributions that women are making to everyday surfing and to the surf industry and media. We can pay attention to the things that women are doing during the year, and recognise the diverse range of contribution to surfing culture women make as surfers, artists, administrators, and more. We can recognise that surfing culture isn't only about who is best on the wave - that's what competitions are for - but that surfing culture occurs out of the water too.

And please, know that I'm pointing the finger of blame as squarely at myself as anyone else! One I found out that these were things we could nominate people for, I should have made it a priority to write nominations for cool women. But I didn't. Because I am as tied up with time as everyone else.

But for next year, I'll be making time, so that I KNOW that there were good nominations, so that I can look and know that there were women for the judges to consider. I'll be keeping my eyes and ears peeled for the cool women I know populate surfing culture as colourfully as the men, including in ways that might not be as easily recognisable at first glance. So, in this, I ask for your help. Not only from women who surf, but from men who surf as well.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Diversity is not a white woman

A couple of days ago, I saw this film about  19-year-old surfer Kadiatu Kamara (aka KK) from Sierra Leone. It's a mesmerising film, in which surfing is a very recognisable aspect of KK's life, whose life is, in some ways, very unrecognisable to my own.


(Check out the rest of the Surfs Up series at Nowness)

What I like most about this film is the lack of narrative about white people bringing surfing to an African community. In this film, surfing is KK's own, removed from California, Waikiki, the North Shore, Byron Bay, Biarritz, Tahiti... And yet, we can hear ourselves in KK's relationship to the waves - to that sense of removal from the mundane, the stressful or the sad.  KK's story is a surfing story, and yet it's something else as well. It's a story in which how we look, who we know, where we're local and have status is unimportant. It's a story that doesn't claim a place, or demand anything. It's a story that reminds me what surfing is about once you strip surfing culture away - that surfing is about our relationships to and experiences of places, water and our selves. Community can come into that, and skill can play a part too, but for KK, just being in the water on a board catching waves is the thing. She doesn't even talk about lots of waves - she's just seeking one!

One wave can change someone's world, let alone their day.

This clip, along with The Ghost Ship, Bernie Shelley's story about ageing and injury, have had me thinking about the kinds of stories we see in surfing. In particular, the kinds of stories we see about women in surfing.

For a long time, surf media represented women in ways that are sexualised and marginalised and really shitty. This wasn't always the case. From the early 1900s to the 70s, women were a visible part of surfing in mainstream and surf media. A couple of my colleagues recently discovered that, actually, women were the most represented group associated with 'surfing' in Australian media in the early 20th century! You can find their article here. (Email me if you have trouble and want to know more.)

And in the last few years, things have been looking up. More women are more visible in the surf everyday, competitive surfers are getting higher pay, and there are increasing opportunities for women across the surf media and industry. Surf magazines are going out of their way to feature women. The problems of course, is that features about women are still seen as a great achievement, rather than part of the surfing more usually. As I just wrote, magazines are going out of their way to do this.

And there's something else. As we see more women in surf media, I've noticed that in fact we see basically one kind of women - slim, tanned and long-limbed with long hair and a big smile across her face. With some Hawaiian girls and women making it big, the majority of those we see are white women, straight women, heterosexy women. Women who fit established ideals of beauty that Krista Comer describes as 'the clear eyed, super fit female surfer'. Some of these women are hyper sexualised (think Alana Blanchard and Laura Enever, and the back covers of Stab magazine), but that's not entirely what I'm talking about. Far from diverse, the women we most often see represented as surfers fit a mould of femininity that is accessible, palatable and marketable.

This has been playing on my mind a lot lately, evoked by the recent Billabong Women's campaign that took  their female surfer to Hawai'i to surf and film a bunch of things and to engage in live Q&A sessions with the girls and women on Facebook. While this group of young women are great surfers and seem to be really nice people, claims of their collective diversity are difficult to buy. Slim, long-haired, and feminine, they are, despite their difference, very similar. They're all even around the same height!

(via @seakin Instagram)

I should clarify here that I don't have any problems with any of the women who are participating in this campaign, and I'm stoked to see that women have so many more opportunities to be visible in surfing, as surfers, and to make some coin for doing so. I know and have a great affection for some of the women in the image here as well - they're smart, kind, fun people who are always lovely to have in the water. These women did not choose this campaign, they did not appear to be particularly stoked about being part of the live Q&A on Facebook, and I doubt they had much say in who was part of this whole thing.

That's all on Billabong.

And Billabong should be embarrassed at some of the activities they go these women to participate in. The live Q&A included questions about who they had a surf crush on (ever asked John John that?) and their favourite karaoke song. While there's surfing and rock jumping and fun-looking silliness, the whole thing feels one step away from a pillow fight!

Billabong aren't the only company to pull this shit. I remember a teenage Carissa Moore blowing a raspberry at the interviewer in the Roxy film, Shimmer, when they asked, 'Aussie boys or Hawiian boys?' I really love Carissa Moore. In the same interview, Kassia Meador answers the question, 'Is this the most stupid interview you've ever done' with a resounding 'Yes!' (Watch Shimmer here - the interviews are from 44.40.) So none of this is new. In Billabong's videos they got the women to line up and perform a parody hula dance, something that is a common tourist activity in Hawai'i. Hula is more than a cute summoning of (male) attention, but is an important and amazing form of storytelling. Billabong wouldn't ask these women to dance on the spot with feathers in their hair in a Cowboys-and-Indians parody of Native American dance, so why this? Again, I'm not finger pointing at the women in this clip, who I believe are committed to greater visibility for women who surf. I'm questioning the lack of sensitivity of Billabong's marketing and media folk, and the practices they promote as normal for women who surf.

What is great in this Billabong Women's campaign, is the emphasis on women's relationships with other women. These women all support each other and are playful in their relationship to the sea. They use different kinds of language and metaphors to describe their experiences of surfing, and focus on different aspects of surfing culture. It's also great that women's surfing in this case isn't only in the realm of high-performance competitive surfing. Like men's surfing, Billabong is using a range of people who surf well but not in World Tours as part of their brand identity. This is great news! And most especially, what this campaign does well, is highlight that women's surfing no longer requires men's surfing for commercial or recreational success.

Still, the women in this campaign deserved better. The women this campaign is aimed at deserved better. The live Q&As in particular brings up some awkward moments, with some women clearly uncomfortable answering the stupid format questions that get each of them to talk about how much they love bikinis.

Why couldn't we hear more about Josie Prendergast's family connections to the Philippines and how surfing fits into that? Why couldn't they get Lauren Hill to discuss her activism? Why couldn't Laura Enever be asked more about her experiences on Tour? Why aren't we treating the girls who these campaigns are aimed at as intelligent, thinking people, interested in politics and the environment as much as they are fashion and boys. They don't have to be mutually exclusive! Teen Vogue knows this, and their recent article, Donald Trump is Gaslighting America, should have come as no surprise to anyone who knows teenagers.

I suppose that what I'm most worried about with the Billabong campaign is that it is seen as representing diversity amongst women. It doesn't. These women in the campaign have a range of skills and identities, but collectively, they're pretty similar. I'm not suggesting that throwing someone like me in the mix would change anything at all either. While using me to sell bikinis might see your sales drop, and while I hate to admit it, I'm still a middle class, hetero, white girl whose body is comfortable in swimmers and who mostly conforms to the surfer girl stereotype.

It's women like KK and Bernie who offer new perspectives on women who surf. Women like Melissa Combo, Jodie Barsby, Isabelle Braly, Cori Schumacher, Keala Kennelly, Pauline Menczer (who, despite her World Champion title, never received a major sponsor, paying her own way over the years and surfing with severe arthritis), and Marg, Sally and Carol who star in Michelle Shearer's film, Women Who Run With the Tides. Women you know in your lineups but who don't get thousands of followers on Instagram or use #gurfer.

And I know this isn't only a story in surfing. Look at representations of yoga! Going by the most visible representations, you'd be forgiven for thinking on skinny white people are allowed. They're not of course, and there are an increasing number of diverse bodies presenting themselves online, my favourite being Jessamyn, who is incredible and talks openly about body image and her yoga practice. She's awesome.


We know full well that images have a big impact on body image, and research is showing that the constant stream of babes on social media is taking this to a new level. I've been thinking and talking about this a lot lately in my work in other realms, but it's a story that is increasingly coming to light in mainstream discussion as well. This story on Hack is a good example and links to the study I mention above.


My issue with all of this isn't about the privileging of slimness itself, but the effects of this privileging. I mean, look back at the Billabong photo. Who gets left out of surfing? Who can't see themselves? This is not a new argument about women collectively and we know that representation is an important aspect of encouraging participation and equity. So now that women are in the surfing frame of visibility, it's time for us to think about what that looks like. And for now it's white, hetero, slim, long-haired, young, smiley and bikini-clad. And while there's little that companies like Billabong who are are in the business of selling bikinis are going to do about it, those of us who write and take photos and edit and film should be thinking.

What are the stories we tell and who do they leave out?

More than anyone else this question is aimed squarely at myself. I am well aware that my own work has focused on women like me, and while we all like to think we're so different from the mainstream, I'm really not. I need to make an effort to tell more diverse stories, to listen to other women, and to step right back to allow for more diversity to emerge. It's not that the stories of women like me don't matter, rather it's that while we're still at this tipping point of greater visibility of women who surf in the media we should all push to do something different than how it worked out for men. We shouldn't just support the women around us and the women we know, but open up the discussion to include women we don't know, women we disagree with, women who challenge us, women who look different to us, women who will take up some of the space we've fought to have. We can do something bigger than allow companies to decide what surfing looks like.

And this isn't just about women. This is about people. Ted Endo recently published a great article about racism and surfing - one of a few he's written on this topic. We can pretend all we want that surfing is this inclusive, open activity and culture, but we'd be lying. I do feel like things are a lot better in the water than they are in the media, but the two are linked, shaping our ways of thinking and our assumptions about surfing.

We shape who is included and excluded in surfing in our everyday decisions - what we click on, what we read, what we watch, how we react, what we write, film, photograph, who we put on the cover is all political. These decisions can seem small at the time, but they are cumulative and come to tell a collective cultural story, to shape our cultural memory.