Friday, September 23, 2011

Overhearing the neighbours

Now that winter is done, everyone in Brisbane is venturing back onto their verandahs of an evening; sitting, reading, eating, drinking, talking with friends. It's lovely. Where I live the blocks of land are big, but they're longer than wide so the houses are close together. It means you hear a lot of conversations, music, tv and other goings on that aren't happening in your house. Mostly, we all pretend not to notice each other, so even when we are all sitting outside and can see each other only metres away, we just mind our own business. Or at least appear to.

Last night I was sitting on our verandah, drinking a beer and working. Next door a couple of women were having a cup of tea, some ciggies and a catch up, gossiping away unselfconsciously about work, parties, friends, guys and hook-ups. Although I wasn't really listening, the conversation drifted across my table and this snippet of conversation caught my attention:
I don't know what I was thinking. He was so gross! I mean, he was a surfer, so there was that. (Cackling laughter from both women) But he was filthy and he stank and his house was disgusting. I would sit on the couch while he played playstation, and it was sticky! And his mates were so irritating and rude. I'd go out with them and they'd just sit and watch the football and completely ignore me. Like, hello! I could be home drinking wine, you know!
Haha! I love that she went out with someone just because 'he was a surfer, you know'. But I also love that, in the end, it wasn't enough. It shouldn't be enough! Sometimes I forget how other people see guys who surf - as mysterious or exciting or hot, or something. Bless. I just see them as guys who surf - not too much mysterious about that to me. I grew up in a town where surfing is central, so I had no illusions about the surfers I went to school with. Not that they were horrible, but they were, well, they were surfers. But for a lot of girls from inland and women from the city, there is something about surfers that really ignites their imagination.

I've noticed this works the other way too. When people I don't know very well find out that I surf, they're interested. They ask questions about it. Unfortunately, I'm about the least mysterious person you could ever meet, so who I am in reality conflicts with their fantasies. That I surf also makes the students I teach think I'm cool... for about 5 minutes! It's amusing how much the idea of me surfing surprises people. I suppose I fail surfing's stereotypical and exciting image;

Rebecca Olive: dork who surfs.

Not that that bothers me in the slightest. To be honest, I'd rather people didn't meet me and assume I surf. I like that it can be my secret.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

'Point Break' revamped: 21st century masculinity?

So, you might have heard that there are plans afoot to remake Point Break*.

According to producer Michael DeLuca, the 1991 film, "wasn't just a film, it was a Zen mediation on testosterone fuelled action and manhood in the later 20th century and we hope to recreate the same!" (exclamation point Michael's own). Except that this time, I'm assuming they hope to create a "Zen mediation on testosterone fuelled action and manhood" in the early 21st century, which could make it an entirely different film.

Either way, I'm not sure about this. I mean I honestly love the original, but mostly for its 90s kitsch and the camp performances of surfer dude-ness and bro love by Patrick Swazye and Keanu Reeves, rather than for any deeper meaning, connection or zen meditation. But could they really still get away with "Surfing is the source. Surfing is the ultimate"? Could anyone honestly take themselves that seriously again? Will the main characters show their diversity and masculine connection to surfing as a soulful pursuit by busting out logs, alaias, handplanes and mats? I hope so. But how would that connect with contemporary "testosterone fuelled action and manhood"? Yeah, I know - it's Hollywood. But still, I love listening to all the hyperbole that surrounds it all.

Oh shit! I just thought... if there is a Bra Boy in it (and you know there will be) I'm going to be pissed. Ugh.

*Note: There are also (apparently) re-makes of Footloose and Dirty Dancing in the works, but how it would be possible to improve on such perfection, I am not sure. Have you seen Footloose? It stars Kevin Bacon and is about him moving to a town where dancing is banned. But he sure shows them (as is evidenced by the excellent and inevitable glitter-filled prom scene). But looking at the 1984 original and based on this scene, perhaps Footloose is a good zen mediation on mid-80s masculinity...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Liquid Light

I recently wrote these words to appear alongside Joni Sternbach's images from Byron Bay in a gallery for The Anthropologist on Facebook. Check them both out!

Melissa (by Joni Sternbach)

Liquid Light

The Pass is a very particular place. It swells and swirls with adults, children, families, old and young. Locals and tourists sit alongside each other, indistinguishable in their swimmers and boardshorts, lying on their towels. The sweep of beach curves the inside length of the Bay, arcing back in on itself before trailing north again to the town and beyond. The mountains peak and trough in the distance, with evaporating oil rising from the eucalypts turning the landlocked horizon blue, bottle green and purple – that very particular Australian bush palette.

On the sand, warming in the morning summer sun, families have staked their claim. Children run and scream with delight as they play in the shallows, build castles and ride in the foamy waves close to shore. Parents stand guard – arms folded, legs square – or lie on their towels, relishing the summer break. People running, walking, playing, swimming, throwing, catching, talking, yelling, sleeping all the way along the coast as far as sun-filled eyes can see. The Pass is busy and beloved, it seems, by all.

Especially by those who surf. Those with bodies brown and tan, those with sunscreen thick across their cheeks and nose, those with loose, crispy hair. Those who walk across the sand, ignoring adults, children, families, young and old, looking instead to the waves. Those who stand in the wet sand just beyond the lap of the water, stretching their arms and legs, zipping up wetsuits, wrapping leg ropes around their ankles and knees. Those who walk into the water confident and sure of the way the ocean moves and where it will take them. Those who rise to catch waves of water and light, gliding, turning, speeding, dancing, laughing into the distance. Those who fall into the water and come up smiling. Those who ignore the perils of the sun and sea, dedicated to the water and waves.

The sun and sand and water mingle in between my toes. Friends gather around. I laugh and call to people I know as they emerge from the water. I paddle out myself, catching the waves that roll and peel from the headland. My body tingles with joy and the water catches me, passes me along the glassy face of the waves, spinning beneath me in invisible circles, lifting my board my body, my heart. The sunlight shifts, and as I walk back up the beach the sweat drips along my hairline to my jaw and onto the rocks at my feet. I’m smiling.

In amongst all this, in the sand beneath the pandanus palms, is Joni Sternbach - an artist’s tent, a hive of activity and an antique camera lumbered across the beach, rocks, pools of water collecting on the shore. While the children scream, the athletes jog and the surfers dance on water, Joni’s camera catches the space and time and light and bodies of the ocean people with sand on their skin and salt in their hair. In an unexpected way, Joni and her camera create moments of stillness as surfers and ocean lovers stand motionless for her. The time it takes to capture an image is like a held breath... then a slow exhalation and anticipation as the plate is run from the camera to the tent, the result unknown.

The Pass is rarely shot in black and white, its colours too beautiful to ignore. But by centralising the practice of photography, Joni’s collodion process uses liquid and light and time, there on the sand, to reveal the subjects and space in a way invokes dreams and memories, turning familiar faces into questions. For those who have never been there, it highlights the beauty of the place and people in ways that are warm, cold, tonal and stripped back, but which are all contained in the salty bodies captured on the beach. But for the locals – those who know it well - it asks them to think again, and to know The Pass and their place within it, anew.

Jemma (by Joni Sternbach)

Rusty (by Joni Sternbach)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

My girliest post ever.

Over the past few years, I've thought and written a lot about the ways the ocean, sun and surfing mark my body. From the tanlines that map my skin, to the aches and pains of paddling and even down to the sadness I feel at getting back to the city and washing away the ocean from my skin, hair and eyes. I've always loved the salty way my skin and body changes when I'm surfing a lot, and I've come to accept that my eyes turn red and wet, and that my hair is dry and brittle and that my skin gets odd marks. At home these things are normal, but in this city they are strange and difficult for some people to understand.

Now, living a life so far from the ocean, my body has changed again - in ways that make me sad. Sure my eyes are clear and healthy and my skin is an even tone, but my muscles have softened and I'm not nearly as strong as I was a year ago. My hair has lost its salty blonde and the mere sight of a bikini fills my heart with fear. Nay, terror! But I've been trying to look for the positives...

...and I found one. But before I tell you what it is, I feel I need to point out that although this blog is a lot about women and surfing, I tend not to be particularly 'girly'. That's not to say I'm not a keen lover or purveyor of girly-ness, it's just that it's not my universal or abiding preference. However, one (potentially) girly thing I have noticed is that as a consequence of not surfing much lately my fingernails are really strong and pretty. When I surf a lot they get ragged and split, but at the moment they're lovely and shiny. As an added bonus, I can paint them 'Bubble Bath' or 'Blue Satin' or 'Vamp' or 'Candy Cane' and it stays on and isn't chipped or peeling within a day.

(Note: colour is 'Bubble Bath')

So there you have it. My ocean-free consolation prize: strong, pretty fingernails.

(And yet, oh! How I wish they were ragged and chipped!)

Friday, September 09, 2011

White Wash

Yes. YES! This new film, White Wash, looks great. It's opening in the USA this month - go see it!

From the White Wash website:
White Wash, the documentary, is a film exploring the complexity of race in America through the eyes of the ocean. Examining the history of “black consciousness” as it triumphs and evolves into the minds of black surfers, we learn the power of transcending race as a constructive phenomenon. The story is narrated by the legendary, Grammy Award winner Ben Harper (Fistful of Mercy, Relentless 7, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals) along with Tariq “Blackthought” Trotter of the Grammy Award winning hip hop group, The Roots whom also originally scored the film.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming...

Recently, a very wise friend of mine has been imparting advice from an unexpected and amusing source: via scenes from the animated film, Finding Nemo. While usually this would concern me, coming from her it's hilarious, thoughtful and well-timed. So this post and this song (which has been stuck in my head for a week now) is dedicated to the truly wonderful, Rebecca Vonhoff. You're a doll xx

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Keala Kennelly is hardcore: NOW do you believe it?

Often, when people talk about women's big wave surfing, they talk about it as though it's somehow 'lesser' than what the guys do or as though women don't go as 'hard'. While I'm not going to go into why that's a redundant and ridiculous argument (I've talked about it previously anyway), I am interested in a couple of images of Keala Kennelly circulating at the moment, and what their affect might be on this way of thinking.

First is this wipeout of hers at Teahupo'o during the now infamous two-in session there at the end of August;


But also, here is an image of her one of the waves that she made;

Also heavy. And finally, this image of an injury she got shortly after;

Again, heavy.

Seeing Keala Kennelly's horrifying injury made me think about how this photo, it's timing and connection with the recent focus on Teahupo'o and the wide-ranging distribution this image is getting, might affect the way we thing about the women who surf these waves - or Keala Kennelly at least. I wonder whether this image of Keala's very real reef encounter in connection with her very real and incredible surfing at Teahupo'o might be significant in shifting those kinds of perceptions. Kind of like evidence that women go hard. As though injuries like this one are the gold-standard against which commitment and courage must be measured.

I think these recent images and the profile they got because of the comp there will certainly cement Kennelly's reputation as a dedicated and crazy heavy wave surfer. I wonder how this reputation might play out for other women, or how we think about other women who surf similar waves. I will admit I was pretty irritated that in an interview at the comp, Kelly Slater singled out Maya Gabeira as being 'out of her depth'. I mean it probably was a fair call but there were plenty of guys who were probably much further out of their depth than she was. Anyway...

Maybe there will be some slight shift, maybe there won't. But it's pretty hard to ignore that Keala Kennelly is one awesome (and insane!) woman.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Lady logging

And I love, love, love this section from 'Sprout' by Thomas Campbell!

(Thanks for reminding me of it Mar Lake)

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Lapsed Catholics

I've mentioned this film by Toddy before, but I never actually got around to posting it.

I think about the ideas and feeling of this film quite often, and how commitments, connections, relationships, time can lapse without you even noticing it. How things shift so slowly that they escape attention until they've changed so significantly that you don't really know if you can ever go back. Of course, you can't. You can only move along and in other directions, and maybe those things will be a part of where you're headed. Or maybe they're finished, relegated to be an inescapable part of who you will be and become - a memory, regret or yearning.

Melancholy? Perhaps. But beautiful with it.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Cornish summer

Years ago, I spent a northern summer living in Mawgan Porth in Cornwall. It was lovely. I lived at a surf school, right on the beach, where I spent a fair bit of time. In the days I was working long, long hours at a cafe, but in the evenings I would take walks along the cliffs to watch the sun set into the ocean, which is still a thrill for an east coast Australian person.

The culture of the seaside holiday crowd is very different to beach culture in Australia. People bring more stuff for starters. They are armed with buckets, spades, balls, bats, hats, sunscreen, boogie-boards, picnics, clothes, rain-gear, multi-coloured plastic wind-blocks and chairs, while ice-creams, chips and tea are always for sale close by. When the holidays first began, I was amazed by how many people could fit on one beach - especially since they had so much stuff with them. And they were all there through sunshine, rain and fog! At first, I didn't understand it at all, but after a while I felt a great affection for it.

Recently I discovered Sue's watercolours through her blog, Studio Window, and seeing them brought my Cornish summer rushing back. Her images are straight from the sand, capturing the everyday ways that all kinds of people use the beach, the coast, the sea. Far from young and athletic, many of her coastal images are of families, older women or children, all off to play in the foamy shore-break or sitting in a chair on the sand, enjoying the seaside.

But once the summer crowd disperses, many of the businesses pack up until the next holiday or the next year. These villages and towns often seasonal places, so there is a distinct difference between the tourists and holiday-makers and the people who live there year round. Like the coastal town where I am from, you discover that the locals use the beach very differently: for walks, for collecting shells, for romance, for losing themselves, for bracing swims, for surfing.

My favourite of Sue's pictures capture these people and these moments - drying off and getting changed at the back of a car or sitting wrapped in a towel in the sun post-surf, watching the waves and avoiding peeling off the rest of your wetsuit.

I love these two images most of all. I love that they are so candid and quiet and personal. I love that, even though they're thousands of miles from me and my world, I can see myself in both of them. They make me miss the beach. They make me miss surfing.

You should check out Sue's blog. She makes some wonderful art. Not just watercolours either...