We’re so excited to hear the former ASP longboard champ and activists for human and female rights talk at the Women in Boardsports retreat, that we couldn’t wait the two more weeks until the event and had to chat her up before
Interview by Anna Langer
How did you get involved in this and what is your motivation behind it?
I was invited to join Women in Boardsports in Saas Fee after Lorene Carpentier of Keep A Breast Europe referred me to Carmela Fleury and Daniela Meyer. I was very grateful for this referral because it introduced me to a truly inspired idea that I believe will add substantially to the ongoing conversation of how to positively impact women and girls through a new evolution in sports. Boardsports dominate this new evolution and my main motivation for participating in WiB revolves around ensuring that women are represented in boardsports with dignity and respect. Additionally, I feel strongly that the healthy and empowering activities of boardsports should be emphasized for women rather than simply commodified as fashion lifestyles.
Can you give us a little sneak peek into what your speech will be about?
I’ve titled my presentation “From ‘Stand by your man’ to ‘Stand by your suntan': Women in boardsports from a surfing perspective.” I’ll be talking about the import and opportunity of sports for the health of women and the fact that many of today’s most successful women have a history participation in sports. Being mindful of this trend along with the knowledge that boardsports are fast becoming a popular interest for many women and girls, we’ll look at whether or not the advertising and media of boardsports are representing positive, healthy images of women and girls, and discuss solutions where they are needed. We’ll be gazing at all of this through the lens of surfing, the godmother of women’s boardsports, since it was from here that skateboarding (“sidewalk surfing,” as it was once known), snowboarding and all other boardsports sprouted.
How do you perceive the female surf scene at the moment?
I think the female surf scene at the moment is the most visible and talented it has ever been. The overall vibe of the female surf scene is playful, young, attractive… They are constantly talking on camera about going shopping, eating, dancing and just “living the life.” But if you catch glimpses of the girls off camera, there is more going on in those heads than they let on. I’ve seen this personally at contests too… There is the face-to-the-media and the face-outside-of-the-media. So, there is the “scene,” the one that is the façade and then there is the internal world that is quite different. Some may argue that “this is just the way it is” and there is nothing to be done about it but this misses a very vital point about the new challenges facing today’s generation of female surfers.
Is there still change needed? And if so what kind of change?
There are new, more subtle challenges facing the next generation of female surfers. Leaving alone, for the moment, the obvious and ubiquitous disparities in sponsorships and prize money, female surfers are trivialized through clichéd and limiting images that usually follow amazing displays of talent. Additionally, these ladies are being scooped up by sponsors quite early on in their careers (12-14 years old) which allows the socialization of double-standards, self-sexualization and trivialization without much resistance. Doing what is best for the brand becomes enmeshed with doing what is best for the female and this, I would contend, is where the greatest opportunity lies. The female surfing image is created by sponsors, socialized into young surfers and then sold as “authentic.” The creation of the fantasy is hidden in the fantasy itself, like a snake consuming its own tail. From the outside perspective it is difficult to see where the fantasy begins/ends so we assume the fantasy is real. We (the consumer) want it to be real.
What do you think of the development in surfing in general? How do you see new events like the Quiksilver Pro New York for example?
I think that surfing in general has reached a breaking point. On the one hand, you have the surf brands and the major surf media trying to outgrow themselves and reach into new markets. Many of their decisions revolve around a business model of growth, regardless of cost and consequence. On the other hand, there is a growing pulse from the core that is gaining momentum that speaks to the fact that Big Surfing does not actually represent surfing. The important thing to remember is that this schism has been in existence for some time, but it is thanks to our ability to connect on the internet that the voices of the discontent are making their way to the forefront of the conversation. Big Surfing has successfully shut-out and ignored many dissenting voices for quite some time.
The Quik Pro in New York is an example of an economically driven move. It seems that the New York and the San Francisco events are attempts to recreate the highly successful US Open at Huntington Beach. The US and world economies are struggling and surf companies along with them. I don’t think it is wise to judge the direction of the ASP Pro Tour on this year or even the next. They are in survival mode right now, as so many individuals and families are. We’ll see what the next few years hold as the economy picks back up, then talk about the development of pro surfing.
Outside of this circus, where surfers still convene at the ocean’s threshold to simply ride waves, there are some great revolutions going on: SUPs, finless boards, hand-planes, alaia boards… Just connecting with the ocean in different ways is satisfying. Here, it is less whether you throw huge airs or carve, but how intimate (or not, in the case of SUPs) you can get with a wave.
You are a very rare kind of pro surfers yourself: unsponsored. How come?
I tried the sponsorship thing when I was younger. It was what everyone did and it was closely connected to one’s value as a pro surfer. This is the first question a pro surfer is always asked: “Who are your sponsors?” Some people are really good at playing the sponsorship game. I never was. I’d rather speak my mind and not have to worry about whose “image” I might be damaging by my honesty. Being sponsored has a funny way of silencing dissent. A company can come right out and say they support authenticity but their actions and the (in)actions of their ambassadors speaks very much to the contrary.
I am not saying that there is some giant cover-up operation going on, I’m saying the subtle psychological enmeshments created by the sponsorship dynamic, by its very nature, does not readily support authenticity. I have had the uncanny opportunity to speak to and interact with a wide variety of surfers, contest directors, sponsors, etc. over the course of my career and I feel I can say this with some experience.
One of the more intriguing things to look at in professional surfing is the aftermath of professional surfing careers. Talk about an invisible group of people! There is so much emphasis on the new, the now and the next that we rarely connect the sponsorship dynamic to the aftermath, but it is here that you really see its impact. One question high on my list of ponderings: why are drug and alcohol addiction such a major theme in the lives of those who were once pro surfers? And why is there so much partying on tour? I would caution against judging individual surfers too harshly without also taking into consideration the dynamic that helped shape them.
You’re very much involved in the ASP Longboard Circuit, but you boycotted the 2011 Longboard World Tour. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
As the winner of the 2010 ASP Women’s World Longboard Championships, I was invited to the 2011 championships in February of this year. For the first time ever, the women longboarders were going to get two world championship events to surf in. The accumulated points of the two events would determine the 2011 champion. The downside for me is that the deciding event will be held in China as the first significant ASP event in history and it will be subsidized by the government of China. The surfers invited were told that we would have all our expenses paid by the Chinese government.
There are a number of issues I disagree with regarding the actions of the Chinese government, not least of all, their family planning policy known as the One Child Policy, which has been linked to infanticide, gendercide (the reason there is such a disproportionate amount of boys to girls in China currently), forced abortion, forced sterilization and sexual slavery. Additionally, the human rights violations perpetrated on behalf of the country’s “stability” by the government against dissidents is appalling. At the time of my decision, the Jasmine Revolution was in full swing and people were being put under house arrest, detained or simply disappeared in record numbers.
I have disagreed with policies (e.g. the Patriot Act; the Defense Of Marriage Act) and actions (e.g. the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq following 9/11) of my own government and I have taken a stand and advocated against them. In this case, I felt that my strongest stance would be to call as much attention as I could, by boycotting the 2011 tour year, to the growing number of surf companies who were moving their businesses to China and the ongoing human rights violations of the Chinese government itself.
Are you very environmentally aware as well?
I do my best to contribute to the health of this planet to the best of my knowledge. For me, this awareness is a constant. One of the most important aspects of my life exists at the end of human dumping grounds. Just the other week we had a 2 million gallon sewage spill here in San Diego due to a huge blackout. It was devastating! All 2 million gallons ended up in the ocean. Being environmentally aware is truly a way of life for me.
Would you say you’re a very dedicated/committed person in general?
O yeah, definitely! I don’t give up easily and have learned the value of persistence. I think this is something most athletes share, especially those who have risen to the tops of their respective games. Over the course of my life, I have learned to pick myself up after a fall… and I have had a lot of practice at falling. Being dedicated to something, whether it is a sport, a hobby or a cause, is transformative. You never know just what you hold within you until you try and try again, until you get it.
On your blog, I read about your quest for a new wetsuit – how’s that going? Any luck yet?
It’s pretty tough finding a functional women’s suit not made in China. On top of this, a lot of women’s wetsuits are either too focused on fashion and lack comfort and durability or they are drab and unexciting. The worst case scenario I encountered were women’s wetsuits made for shoulder-less, bicep-less little boys with bulges where the designer guesses the hips and chest might be! Hopefully, we can get some women in the right places to shift this trend. We need female surfers designing these lines.
I finally settled into the Patagonia long-sleeved spring suit and wrote to them about the design. I like Patagonia’s ethos and how they have tailored their company’s business ethics and told them that this was why I chose to spend the money on the suit. I feel it is important that consumers give feedback to companies, especially women in surf companies. Too often women talk about what they don’t like to each other and either don’t send their feedback into the company, or simply blame their own bodies for the bad fit.
Have you ever thought of entering that side of surfing – designing something yourself, founding your own label, etc?
The thought has crossed my mind, especially when shopping for that wetsuit.
Thanks very much and we’re looking forward to hearing you talk at WiB!
And if you want to hear her full speech and meet her in person too, make sure you sign up for the retreat NOW, as there’s only three more days left until the registration deadline on Monday, September 19th!