Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Atkins family ties

I didn't grow up in a family of surfers. My dad surfed when he was a teenager. Apparently he surfed quite well, but he gave it up. Now I think about it, I've never asked him why he gave it up, so that should be a conversation I aim to have in the near future. My mum spent loads of time on the beach throughout her life, but never really took to the waves.  My sisters and I grew up next to the beach but none of us took it up when we were young either. My youngest sister did for a while, but she never really committed. And this was despite spending hours of our lives out at the Maddog surf factory, where my mum worked in the office! We were around the beach and surfing all my childhood, but for some reason, it never caught any of us in its grasp. Too much ballet I suppose.

It took me until my mid-20s before I felt any interest in taking to the waves, which I then did with enthusiastic gusto! But surfing has remained my own, and it has never been an experience I've shared with my family. I am often rushing from the sea to make it home in time for family dinners or for christmas morning (always on christmas morning!). They, like my other non-surfing friends - make room for my surfing, but other than dad giving me a surf report, its not something they share with me.
That is changing as my niece and nephew grow. They love the sea, and have no fear in the waves. My niece would have me help her into 'epic' waves all day if she could!

I have a sort of surfing family of my own now. I have friends in Byron and beyond who share wave riding with me - Izzy, Ryan, Brett, Em, Isaac, Erin, Leroy, Jules, and many more - but it's not the same as growing up with the people you share your home and history with. It's not the same as having been pushed into waves by your parents, as fighting over boards with your siblings. I grew up in a noisy family of three ballet girls who practised together, shared costumes and leotards, watched each others exams, criticised each other and choreographed collaborative dances in the backyard, so I know how that stuff would roll.

Image taken by the lovely Yoko over at Slideaholics.

But I've been lucky enough to have been adopted into another family - The Atkins family - who can often be found arriving in their VW convoy to surf together. In the mornings the girls are free, texts fly back and forth as they check breaks around the area deciding where to go. Rachel and Jess grew up surfing with their dad and are very at home in the waves. Their ocean knowledge is amazing, and their courage, skill and technique in the surf always impresses me. I've learned a lot from them. Al Atkins, their dad, is nothing but amazing and he is always a standout in the surf break. He gets so many waves and he always rides them with style and confidence, which reflects his years of surfing for fun and competition. Many of you might know Al, and those of you who don't should probably look him up. He is generous with his knowledge, so if you are lucky enough to have him impart a bit of advice, make sure you listen! Our conversations have taught me history, given me tips, picked me up, shared waves, and (along with Erin) have introduced me to the mighty Geelong Cats!

The Atkins family are the kind of people who you know will be surfing forever. I mean, I know I'll still be finding them out in the water at Wategos for as long as I care to check. Not because its cool or trendy, not only because they love it so much, but because it is an inextricable part of their family history and relationships.

I'm so stoked that I get to share this with them.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Surfing. I love it.

This summer I have surfed more than I have surfed in a really long time. And I've basically only surfed one break! Seriously, I haven't even checked anywhere else the entire time. Isn't that terrible? Well, it would be except the waves have been so incredible that it's hard to feel bad about it. The sand and swell and winds have been lining up to create long, clean, clear waves that break from the point all the way into the beach. And for some reason, things have been lining up for me, so that I catch a wave, paddle back out and then catch another and another and another. It feels as though something has lifted - a weight, a fog, a sadness, a darkness - that has opened me back up to this place and to surfing in a way that I have not felt for longer than I wish to admit. It has allowed things to come together in ways that I can't really explain here. I wish I had the words and the courage to explain it - maybe I'll try to find them sometime soon.

But for now, waves and clouds and friends and community and the sea.

(Photos all my own)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Carissa Moore is awesome.

One of the things that frustrates me about a number of the women on the World Championship Tour is that they promote themselves as female surfers without engaging in the politics of their choices beyond things like, 'We're beautiful women and we should be able to celebrate that' or 'We're promoting the sport and it's good for women's surfing'. What I mean is that while the women are happy to defend their choice to pose in a bikini, and to speak up about what they should be able to do, what they should be able to expect, and how we should celebrate their beauty, they avoid talking about the implication of their decisions for the image of women's surfing, as well as for other women who surf. Of course, there are some women on the Tour and in the qualifying series that speak about this stuff, and do so regularly. One excellent example is when 'Curl' magazine ran a great feature in 2012 called, 'Over Exposed', where they asked a number of professional female surfers what they thought about the sexualised marketing of women surfers. The answers were really interesting and it's totally worth checking out.

Yet despite this, most of the highest profile, highest paid women defend modelling and posing in bikinis as their choice, while avoiding more challenging questions about what that might mean beyond their own career - for the opportunities and expectations for the women who come after them, as well as for surfing more broadly.

To be honest, I find all of this really difficult to write about because on one hand I think it's great that some women are able to take the attitude that they can do what they want and promote themselves in this way, and I also understand that they have the threat of the loss of sponsorship and promotion held over them. But on the other hand I feel like there's still so much bullshit to be negotiated about how and whether posing in their bikinis is even a choice they have anymore and that the women on the Tour have responsibilities to think beyond their own careers and to look at the bigger picture regarding the growth and perception of their sport. Because as sportspeople, they should be respected for their skills and achievements. They should be respected for their abilities in the waves. They should be respected not because they are beautiful or sexy, but because they are talented and have worked really, really hard to be where they are as athletes. And while the companies that pay and promote surfers have responsibilities in all of this too, I've pretty much given up on them changing their approach.

So it is refreshing when some like Carissa Moore - 21 years old with two world titles to her name - does engage in these discussions. And she does. She recently published a piece in Surfer Magazine where she talked about making choices about how she represents herself and why. She talks about how she sees the possible effects of her choices on (especially) younger women who look up to her as a hero and role model. You can read the whole piece over at Surfer, but this is my favourite bit:
I’m not going to wear the small bikinis. That’s not me. I’m going to take the more athletic approach. I love surfing, so I want to inspire people through my surfing. I’ll admit, two years ago, I did a sexy photo shoot with a magazine (though I made sure I wore more clothes than a lot of girls who’d done similar shoots in the past). I looked at the pictures and they were beautiful—probably some of the most beautiful pictures I’ve ever seen of myself. But I looked at them and thought, “Young girls look up to me right now because I don’t do that stuff.” I wear clothes. I’m sexy because I leave stuff to the imagination, and I let my surfing do the talking. I ended up pulling the plug on it. The photos never ran. It just wasn’t me. But that’s not to say that Alana or some of the other girls’ approach is bad—in fact, I think it’s great that we all appeal to a different audience. That’s great for our sport. 
More than anything, I want to leave behind a Tour that is thriving for the next generation.
This is not to say that the young women who look up to role models are stupid and uncritical and don't understand the influence and power of media, because young people are smart, educated and savvy and often they have a really great understanding of these issues.* And it's not to say that it's even fair that Carissa Moore feels that level of responsibility, but that's the thing with fame and success - it comes with lots of benefits, but it also comes with obligations. 

But you know what else... those obligations can lead you and other people to really great places.

For me Carissa Moore is awesome because she is an amazing athlete, but also because she speaks up. And this is important beyond being a good role model for younger women. It's also about standing your ground and demanding respect from the people around you. I loved her response to Dusty Payne's comments a couple of years ago, where he banged on about how shit women are at surfing, and how they don't deserve the money they make because, according to him, the guys are better. Here's a snippet of his articulate brilliance:

His comments in a follow up interview with Transworld Surf showed how lots of people see the focus on beauty and sex appeal in relation to the women's abilities. (This is kind of long, and it pains me to republish so many of his words, but I think it's worth posting here to show the kind of attitude I'm talking about.) 
So, you know, this is in the women’s issue, so obviously, we’ve got to talk about your comments in Lost Atlas. Do you ever regret your comments in the video?Oh, this is gonna get me in trouble. Do I regret it? It wasn’t really a serious quote. Well, I guess it was kind of serious. Shit, how am I gonna get out of this? I kind of regret it. Chicks do surf good, but I just think it’s crazy that chicks are getting paid as much as some of the dudes, as much as the bottom tier of the ‘CT. And some of the chicks are making more money than those guys, and those guys are pushing it one hundred times harder. Not saying that the chicks aren’t pushing it very hard, they’re doing great, but they… It’s just crazy.
It’s a good point because, to be honest, women’s surfing in the last few years has come a long way.Oh yeah, no doubt. But at the same time, men’s surfing has progressed in leaps and bounds, so much further. For a minute there it was almost like the ladies are catching up, and then all of a sudden they got left way behind.
Do you think this is because of innately physical differences, or they just aren’t pushed to try as hard?If you look at pretty much any sport, if you put a guy and a girl up against each other, the guy will out do the girl to a huge degree. Men are just built more physically to do physical sports. Not taking anything away from the women; they are insane athletes. There are women athletes who I respect, and in surfing, they’ve come so far and are surfing unreal. I wish I could surf like that right now. I’m just saying that for a guy on the ‘CT to not be making as much as the ladies on their ‘CT is crazy to me. Because the things the guys on our tour are doing are just ridiculous, and the women just aren’t there.
Sometimes it seems like the marketing side of women’s surfing focuses so much on their physical attractiveness as opposed to their ability.That’s true.
And the ads—there’s no way guys would pose for that. I can’t imagine Stab asking any of the guys to pose nude for photos.Exactly. They’re way more attractive than the guys. And that’s great. Women are supposed to be more attractive than the guys. But in surfing, that’s kind of a recent development. A lot of the women in pro surfing in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, they were pretty masculine, and all of a sudden, the tour is made up of these gorgeous, tan girls in thongs. It seems like sponsors may, sometimes, be rewarding attractiveness over ability. There’s no doubt. They’re attractive, and that sells a lot. You know, a guy in a thong is not going to sell much.
If Nike called tomorrow and offered to double your salary, but you had to surf in a thong or one of those high-cut wetsuits, would you do it?No way. I’d tell ’em I’m moving to Oklahoma and I’m never gonna surf again.
What’s your take on Carissa Moore’s wildcard in last year’s Triple Crown?My hat’s off to Carissa for winning the world title, first of all. I was really cheering for her to win, and I’m so stoked she did. I’m really proud of her. But, you know, the guys are really good at surfing these days, and for a world champ to go and try to compete against some of the top men in the world, it’s just going to be really tough for her. Honestly, I would have rather seen one of the former world champs from the men get in instead of her, but I’m glad she got to go and compete against the men. And she beat poor Alain [Riou]. But, personally, I would have rather seen someone like Derek Ho get in.
After your comments from Lost Atlas came out, did anybody call you out on it?Carissa’s kind of given me grief, and she called me out at the Surfer Poll last year, and that was pretty funny. And this one time I was walking over to the Billabong house, just to hang out with Granger [Larsen], and I was trying to open the gate, and you have to open it from the inside because there’s a code on the outside. And this girl pulled up on her bike, she’s like, “Oh, you have to reach over the inside.” So I reached over and opened the gate, and she looks at me and goes, “Are you Dusty Payne?” And I was, like, “Yeah.” So she doesn’t say anything and just walks in the gate before me and Dean Morrison and runs up the stairs and turns around and looks at me and says, “You shouldn’t say those things about women’s surfing.” Dean looked at me, and we started laughing so hard. That was about as bad as it got, so it was really just funny.
Is there anything you’d like to add?Yeah. This is no disrespect to women’s surfing. I don’t want anyone to take it the wrong way. The girls are surfing insane, and whatever I said in Lost Atlas was not meant to be taken the way it was. Sorry to all the women surfers. You girls are great. But, men are just great surfers, you know?
Nice, Dusty Payne. Real nice. Carissa Moore totally rocked her response in an awards speech though. She explained how she had taken Payne's comments as inspiration to motivate her during the year.

Carissa Moore is a high profile and successful surfer, and by speaking up and talking about the world she travels in, as well as the implications of her position with that world, I have no doubt that she will, at the very least, leave behind a Tour that is thriving for the next generation.

*You should check out this interview between Tavi Gevinson and Lorde, who illustrate just how switched on teenagers and young women are.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

'Kelly Says' (Episode 3)

These two women crack me up!

Here in Byron, going surfing no matter what is made simple by the warm water, soft waves, and easy access.

However, for Dannie MacClainne and Hannah Bristow, following the advice of Kelly Slater who says you should surf no matter what is made a bit more difficult when the setting is snowy, wintry, freezing cold Scotland. Their attitude that 'it's never too shite to paddle out!' is admirable and committed and fun to watch.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

Memory etchings

Yesterday was one of those memorable surfs. One that you know will stick in your mind, etched in your memory, warming your heart. The kind of surf that you feel coming, in the unexpected swell you find blown out by an on-shore wind in the morning, but which you know will be great if the speculated wind change actually happens. The kind of surf preceded by a flurry of texts between friends with the same sense of anticipation.

And so I spent the day with my fingers crossed, periodically driving the trip into town to see if I could catch that window before everyone else figured it out too.

In the end it came late in the afternoon. I got a message:

RDK says it’s pumping off the point!

I jumped in the car and straight into town. As I sped along, the flags along the ridge showed that the wind had swung, and as I drove around the hill and down to the break, I could see how the waves had cleaned up – it really was pumping.

I waited for Izzy and Brodie before I went out. It’s nice to share all of that with friends. By the time they arrived my sunscreen had soaked in, I’d sorted my board, had texted friends to cancel plans for that evening and was ready to go. 

The waves were good. Some were solid, and we all got caught out by clean up sets a couple of times. But the faces were long and clean and walling up and, oh my! It was lovely. Izzy and I were beaming at each other. We have surfed this break a lot together, but it feels like a long time since we have shared such lovely waves here together. 

Days like that feel like a treat. For me, they always feel like the reward to for paddling out in mush or when it’s howling onshore, or when it’s tiny and barely breaking. Days like that feel like a reward for all the times you go home frustrated and insatiable. Days like that feel like a reward for all the times I couldn’t go out because I was in the city or working. Days like that are a dream.