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.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Ghost Ship

Life can be brutal.

Often we focus on the joy and fun and freedom of surfing. There they are, these pleasures of surfing sparkling in the water, rising in us as we jump to our feet, filling us as we feel our strength pulling us into a breaking wave.

Much more rarely do we talk about those times when surfing is beyond our reach.





Obligations of parenting and work.

The only one I can think of is my favourite surf film ever, The Surf Magazines Don't Talk About Lapsed Catholics, by Toddy Stewart.

The Surf Magazines Don't Talk About Lapsed Catholics from Todd Stewart on Vimeo.

I see myself in this film. Maybe not in the murky water, but in the guilt of not surfing and changing access to the sea. I see myself in the frustration of knowing myself as a surfer, but realising I rarely surf anymore. For now.

But films like Lapsed Catholics should be more common in surfing culture, because experiences like that are. I have watched as surfing friends renegotiate the place of surfing in their lives as they hurt themselves, go through treatments, have babies, get hip replacements, recover from cancer. In my own case it's the tension between my commitment to my working life and the coast that keeps me dry and disconnected from the tides, winds, and swell. That is my choice. I suppose.

For others, the choice is not theirs.

Recovery from injury and operations takes a long time, and how these will impact abilities in the water are never known. Re-entering the sea can take a long and frustrating time. So far, in my life, I've been lucky to not really know what this is like. But I've watched.

For some it's a really difficult path back to riding waves. If your skills have been high and your abilities recognised and admired, well, things can be different once you're back in the sea. I've watched a friend's dad, whose ageing body is betraying him and his relationship to the waves. He still gets more waves than most, and surfs them better than anyone else out there, but for him, it's different.

I remember reading Owen Wright's post about his first surf back, and realising that things weren't the same anymore. One minute he was stoked just to ride a foamy on his belly - stoked to be back in the water, catching waves. The next he realised that he wasn't where he used to be and his excitement abated. I loved reading this post of his. I really admired it and the layers of challenge that the story poses to how we think about surfing - what we expect of our own surfing, and that of others. Owen Wright's story is fascinating to me.

Today on Facebook, I saw a clip posted by my friend Mahuru, who started surfing this year and has fallen in love. She's pumped on being in the sea and catching waves. For Mahuru (and for me!) there are still so few stories of women that aren't just stories of babes in bikinis hanging out and being cute together - young women with long hair, slim bodies, white teeth, big smiles, talking about bikinis and boys. I don't mind those things except that clips of these women have grown in such volume that they're difficult to tell apart anymore! So this clip, The Ghost Ship, that tells the story of Bernie Shelley recovering from a hip replacement and longing to surf, is refreshing. The style of writing is a little flowery for me, but the content isn't. The content is great. It's a story of ageing, of losing youth, of realising you have fewer summers left ahead of you than behind you. It's a story of facing mortality.

Bernie does not seem to be frustrated by her changed abilities on a board. A little bit, maybe. But mostly she seems to love the chance to be in the sea on a board again. To float and fly and sink and swim. To surf waves. Her story is not a performative moment of #gratitude, so much as it's an honest exploration of mortality and pain, and embracing what remains despite these.

THE GHOST SHIP from Brett Shaw on Vimeo.

This is the best surf film I've seen in a long time. Thanks for posting it Mahuru x

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.