Aired on 2021, Jul 13th  in Legends and much more! / Podcast / Surfers

Interview with Lauren L Hill


Welcome to the 10th episode of the third series of the Temple of Surf, The Podcast.

Before introducing to you today’s guest, I would like to share with you a great news, six amazing new episodes about the Olympic Games in Tokyo will be published starting from the 18th of July, every 3 days and they will accompany us in this amazing journey that is SURF AT THE OLYMPICS!!!

Today’s guest is Lauren L Hill, surfer, founder of the podcast “Water People Podcast” and author of the amazing book “She Surf, The Rise of Female Surfing”

I discussed with her about equality, inclusion, women surfing, ecology and much more!

You can find the episode on all major podcast platforms or read the transcribed episode in our website!


TTOS: Aloha Lauren, welcome to the show, where are you today?

Hi Alessandro, thank you for having me join you today. I am on the Northern coast of new south Wales in Australia, just outside of Byron bay.

TTOS: There is still confinement or now it's open and you guys can move? (the interview has been recorded early 2021)

Yeah, we've been incredibly lucky throughout last year, really. We were never fully in locked down in a way that lots of places have been and we've never been banned from the beach or surfing. Actually I I've been saying that most Australian surfers in 2020, we're kind of like on a government subsidized surfing holiday because of the incredible governmental support workers have gotten, you know, in getting through these tough economic times. I think people have really been taking to the ocean and, you know, so many of us have been encouraged to reassess what what's important, what our priorities are in life. Yeah, so we've been doing that

TTOS: It is not a bad thing, right? I think actually, I mean the virus and whatever goes with it is a very bad thing. The loss of jobs and loss of lives and whatever, but on the other side, what you're talking about, “reassessing the priorities or give importance to something that you are not giving importance before”, the importance of family or friendship or simply freedom. Something so big as a coronavirus had to happen and locked us down….

Yeah, I mean obviously the, the suffering, the deaths, the illness is, you know, tragic and traumatic for so many people around the world, but one of the incredible parts of being human is our innate drive to make meaning to derive lessons and to learn and to try to do better. I think that's a part of who we are and, and I think we've seen a lot of that in a way that might not have happened otherwise on such a massive global scale.

TTOS: Yeah. We have always to find the positive parts into a negative one, right. That's a good way of approaching life.

Not always, but I think most of us, most of the time do the best that we can to, to find the bright side.

TTOS: First question for you today, what is the most important thing in surfing?

Interesting question. I guess the first thing that comes to mind are waves right there, there's not really surfing without waves, but then again, I mean, most of us only catch a few waves, you know, maybe every day, maybe every other day, maybe once a week, maybe once a month, but surfing still kind of lives on in us all the time. So then I want to question that first inclination, and I want to go a little bit more meta and say maybe clean air and clean water, because if we have a polluted ocean, if we have oil spill, if we have runoff, we're going to get sick and we're not going to be able to go surfing and we're going to lament the death of the great joy and the great outlet that surfing is. What else? There are so many, many important things. There are so many important things to surfing, but I think waves and the protection of the healthy ecosystems that allow for the creation of waves and the spontaneous, the nature of the ocean playground. I think that's kind of at the core of what surfing is.

TTOS: Yeah, I think it is so important , protecting the ocean, protecting is kind of protecting the surf, protecting the air is protecting ourselves, right?

Yeah. I think that's central and I think it speaks to wave pools, for example; wave pools and artificial waves are becoming more and more popular now, but I'd like to pose the question of whether or not that's still surfing, I think that it is way frightening. There are waves being created, but for me, there's something about spontaneity and being amongst a wild space, that's unpredictable, that's really at the heart of what surfing and surf culture is and what it means and what it's meant across time and space and culture. You can surf without a surfboard, you can body surf and you can you can ride waves outside of the ocean, but I think it's an interesting topic of debate to talk about whether or not it's actually surfing or whether it's like a completely different discipline. Like back country, snowboarding is different than riding a human constructed half-pipe….. these are different disciplines.

TTOS: Yeah, I see your point, we were talking in the past episodes about what Olympics, you know, and the surf pool and the ocean, they had decided to go for the ocean whether or not there will be waves is going to be another story because Japan is not famous for big waves, nevertheless, they decided to go for the ocean, when, if they were choosing for the pool, it was probably was more spectacular…. But that would have been a different sport. It's like, as you said, snowboard and  X games, you know, X games is all about tricks and with the snowboard, you can just be in the middle of the forest, nobody sees you…

We have also to remember, talking about surf pools that,if you live in the middle of a country, like could be Australia or US, with such a huge space between you and the coast, surf pool would give an opportunity for young kids, for adults to be part of a broader culture, I know it's not the same, but helps…

Yeah, it's interesting…. I mean, surfing has the great fable of the film North Shore about Rick and how he went from Arizona surfing wave pools and then he had to learn how to reckon with the real thing. That was a process and that film showed that it was a very different experience, but you're right. Like who are we to take the, the experience of people riding these waves away from them. And it's interesting…

TTOS: I believe it's part of our culture, we should spread as much as possible while maintaining its roots, you know, and the roots are ocean, for sure.

Let’s talk about you as a surfer, you remember your first surfboard?

Yeah, I guess I have kind of two that I have to mention. The first one was one that I borrowed from my dad, it was a seven, six dusty, really pinned out single fin that he had shaped in St. Augustine, Florida by  a local shaper. I still have it. It was great to learn on it had a lot of buoyancy and caught waves easily and that, but then my first real board was when I went into my local surf shop, the Surf Station and saw it on the rack. It was a CC rider. Who's an Cod Kajan is a Floridian shaper, I think it was a nine too. I was in love with it, I'd walk to the beach every day, I was lucky to live in on a small barrier island off the coast of Florida. And I could walk to the beach with it on my head and I think my head got flattened considerably from carrying it on my head and my right arm definitely is longer than left arm from carrying its weight for years…..

TTOS: What was the transition between you as surfer, loverr of the sea into author of surf books, how did it happen?

That was a long way, I knew I wanted to write books from the time I was probably six or seven. I knew that was in me and I, and I waited a long time. I had a lot of frustration for a long time because I didn't know what would this book be? What should it be? I started many different times and it never felt quite right. I started out, you know, as a surfer, just trying to figure out how not to flail in the ocean, how to feel like I had some sort of control I guess, or flow with the waves and then I picked up a few sponsors in Florida and started doing competitive surfing, but then I went to university and stopped surfing competitively. I ended up studying abroad in Australia, and that was hugely shaping for my creative life and my surfing career.

I fell in love with the point breaks here and so I was at university and wrote this thesis about how surfing basically could be seen as environmentally destructive, how our culture through travel and commercialism and consumerism and right down to the boards and the wetsuits we use in wear can be seen as not, not so great in terms of our impact on the planet. I graduated from uni and started working with surf brands again, and I started blogging about the intersection of surfing environmentalism and feminism, and that sort of set the path so to speak for gathering lots of stories over the course of about 10 years surfing with women going on surf trips through different sponsors, surf sponsors that I had exploring off the beaten track locations, surfing in places like Uluwatu and Tonga and the Seychelles and Sri Lanka and meeting women all around the world who not only were surfing, but they were interpreting their relationship with ocean, with the ocean and with surfing as a call-to- action to show up and get engaged with their communities and to protect their locally ecology. That really struck me as something quite unique and quite defining as part of women's surf culture inherently across, across the globe. I'd been collecting these stories for years and working with brands like now I work alongside Patagonia and then just last year, I two years ago now, 2019, the publisher Stalton European publisher reached out and said, we want to put this “Women's surf book: together, I was like, wow, I'm, I'm so ready to do that. I've really got most of the stories already in my brain, and I just needed the, the inspiration and the structure to get them all down in one place.

TTOS: it's definitely a great book and well done, what do you, what did you want to achieve with this book and have you achieved it?

The book is called, “she surf, the rise of female surfing”. The goal was to celebrate women's surf culture across time, across space, across cultures, across the many subdivisions that could divide us and show many of the missing links in our surfing history, you know, back to ancient Hawaii to show how the root, the heart of our culture is one of inclusivity, you know, surfing in its inception, was for children and for old women and for young men and for chiefs and for goddesses. Some of those stories are in the book, it kind of balances historical essays with modern women across the world from many parts of the world, many unexpected parts of the world from China to Japan, to Morocco and lots of places in between yeah, India. My goal really was just that just, let's get these stories and told these. There are so many amazing women who have contributed to surfing culture in ways that are not recognized, you know, in terms of shaping and glassing and writing down surface stories. I think our culture has been largely shaped by and for young white men and that's no fault of theirs. They've told the stories that were most interesting and resonated most with them as most of us do. We're attracted to the stories that speak to us. I felt a real responsibility as a female surfer to a very privileged female surfer to pull in as many women and as many stories as I could and try to just spread them as far and wide as I could. With that goal, I feel like, yeah, I've been moderately successful, but I can always do more, I can always contribute more. I think it's a step in trying to amplify these stories and interject the missing points.

TTOS: You read my mind, I wanted to tell you, like now is the time to amplify right? The book is actually there. Search is a starting point. The book is an achievement, but the journey is not over, it starts….. There could be many, many, many more pages in the future….

Yeah, there are so many stories that had to be left out of this book just because of page count, you know, and that's part of the reason my partner, Dave and I started our Water People Podcasts. That's because we wanted to keep diving into not just women's stories, but all the different voices  that aren't necessarily always pulled into the core of surf media. Just alternative narratives.

Courtesy of Boda Surf Caravan

TTOS: I would like to you to tell us a little bit of the story of Princess Ka’iulani, amazing woman that is featured in your book….

Princess Ka’iulani was a very skilled Hawaiian surfing princess part, Scottish part native Hawaiian. She's recognized as maybe the first woman to surf stand-up surf in in England, in the UK because she traveled there for her studies, I believe it was. She really became a liaison between native Hawaiian culture and the US government when they were trying to take over Hawaiian sovereignty. She became a representative for her people and spoke in the high offices of American government to try to convey the humanity and the beauty and the brilliance of her culture. She's just a great, a great figure and a great ambassador for surfing that isn't often recognized.

TTOS: And unfortunately, she died young,  she was only 24….

She was very young who knows what else she could have done…

I think her story echoes somewhat a modern surfers story, like Ishita Malaviya, India's first recognized female surfer who also bridging two cultures, maybe less literally than Princess Ka’iulani did, but she is trying to bridge traditional Indian culture and surfing culture, which is a global culture of its own now. And, and like many of the women in the book they're using surfing, riding waves, taking the inspiration and freedom that born from that feeling of the wind on your face when you're riding a wave and they're reconceptualizing what femininity and womanhood means. What's possible as a woman in their communities where gender roles have been traditionally quite narrow or not inclusive of physical pursuits, like surfing.

The same can be said for surfing and, you know, Morocco and in China and in Sri Lanka where women are pioneering surfing in their communities as well.

TTOS: Yeah, definitely, talking about equality, what is the biggest challenge in today’s surfing?

I think just outdated attitudes, more than anything. I think I'm so blown away by today's youth, by how comparatively radical their concepts are of gender and gender fluidity and inclusivity. That's a huge and normalized conversation amongst young people, maybe starting like with my generation and then younger. I think our parents and our grandparents still hold on to a lot of, and I'm speaking about my own personal parents and grandparents hold on to outdated ideas that are going to have to die for things to change, you know, ideas about gender and race and hierarchy and expectations about what's possible. I think some of those worldviews are going to have to change for us to experience real and deep egalitarianisms in surfing.

Yeah. It's like the pushing of time and those bold enough to ask the tough questions within the culture and to stretch the culture and those who are willing to have difficult conversations. Someone like Tyler Wright, who, you know, is wearing the progressive pride flag on her WSL Jersey and is standing up for equality and inclusivity in a really bold way and professional surfing that just would not have happened 10 years ago. I mean, a lot of people speak badly about culture in general and how backward we are and how we're not moving quickly enough on so many things from climate change to any number of issues. What I witnessed in surf culture, is just this radical transformation, dramatic transformation, just over the last 20 years of my surfing life, while maybe we're not moving quickly enough, there's definitely a forward trajectory that's moving toward pulling people in and including more.

And interestingly, I think the dissolution of some of our major media sources is having this effect where it's democratizing surf media. There are these little pockets of podcasts like yours and local magazines and town hall, gatherings of surfers and little festivals where people are really taking it upon themselves to have the conversations. “What does it mean to be a surfer? What does it look like to be a surfer? How do we adapt the surfing thing locally? So it makes sense in our climate and our culture and our ecology”. I think that's a really exciting, exciting thing for surf culture.

TTOS: Let's talk about, I actually want to ask you one question, I don't want to create polemics or talk about politics I just want to understand your point of view. A few episodes ago I spoke with Fred Hemmings, the first world champion, and he was telling me about surfing innovation…. he said if we want to talk about equality, why we don't create like a league where men and women are competing against each other. His point of view was through competition, if you win against each other, then you can have equal pay. I don't know if I told his words properly, but that was the meaning more or less, How do you see his position? What he's saying is something that is right, partially right, totally wrong. Again, I don't want to create a debate, you know, I just want to understand it.

It's a great question, I think his response comes from the privileged place of not having to consider all of the details of that point of view. One of those details is that men's bodies and women's bodies are different, we acknowledge that in almost every other aspect of our lives, but we often neglect to recognize that in surfing men tend to have broader, wider shoulders and more upper body strength. That equals a significant advantage when you're talking about paddling, we're talking about paddling into big waves when you're talking about entry speed and that sets you up for a different speed and different momentum when you're on the face of a wave…. that's that creates a foundation of, I wouldn't call un-equality, but just difference. My argument and my point of view in the book as it is in real life, is that why are we still comparing men's and women's surfing?

Our bodies are different, that's okay, it's only a problem when we have to compare them.

I think that men have been given disproportionate resources access and  really dominated the space of surfing and they've created surf culture in large part. And for that, it's been a generous thing for me personally, but it would be unfair to expect women to surf exactly the same as men do because there's a historic lag in support in resources like I was sayingand just basically because of physiology.

I just think we're different and I think that women's surfing can be very different than men's surfing and still be skillful and technical and progressive. I think of it in terms of ballet, right? You see female ballerinas with their exceptional flexibility, right? This just mind-blowing flexibility and then you see male ballet dancers with their incredible high leaps that defy gravity and you would never say, “oh, why can't she do that? Or why can't he do the splits like she can”…we would never say that it's absurd.

It's actually the difference that highlights the beauty of the other, it's about appreciating the full range of human movement and the spectrum that's possible in our case on a wave, I think that as women's surfing grows and there is more access to resources and support, we're going to see, I mean, we're already seeing, you know, with women like Leah Dawson, who's a pioneering free surfer, who's riding, mid-length in such beautiful and creative ways that are distinctly feminine….. then someone like Steph Gilmore, who is at the top of the game competitively, but if you watch her ride, you know what we call a so-called alternative craft with spaciousness and flow and ease, that's also really feminine.

I think we're just going to see more of these new lines drawn and I think we'd lose that newness and that creativity, if we were saying, well, as we've done, we've monitored cultured, like we have in terms of agriculture, as we have in terms of so many aspects of our culture, with monoculture the idea of what defines so-called good surfing or right-surfing. And when we do that, we lose out on diversity and diversity is at the heart of what makes a healthy culture or an ecology. We're really just putting ourselves into a box when we try to define surfing in one way, it's silly and it's absurd and I don't think it's the healthiest way to go. …..That's a long answer.

TTOS: Thank you for clarifying in effect, the way you were talking, I was like thinking…in effect you are right….

With all respect to Fred Hemmings, he did contribute so much to surf culture, but I think maybe he's not considering what it's been like for other female surfers to try to grow up in a culture that is very exclusive, it's not an equal playing field and our physiologies create another playing field, that's just not the same

It is a topic that I'm pretty passionate about. If you want to talk about un-equality and it's to the benefit of a very few surfers, we can talk about the way that female surfers who have tended to be the most nude and to be the most gratuitous with showing their bodies have been paid the most. That works out as a benefit for the very small handful of female surfers for whom that's true, but then when you think about the other surfers who are pursuing technical proficiency and that's not to say that that those women who are focused, who are exploiting the culture that we're in to make a living, which is fair enough, but women who maybe aren't conventionally attractive, who don't abide by the rules of a patriarchal surf culture, they have been giving very few opportunities and in the past haven't been able to stay on something like the world tour because they don't have the outside sponsorships to support it. Whereas now, with equal pay, we're seeing a situation where surfers who are focusing on their technical proficiency are rewarded for that.

TTOS: Yeah, definitely. I agree with you up there is like a shock in the system that is needed, right?

Something has to change to balance things out a little bit. I can, I've had this debate with many surfers, some young male surfers who are on tour. I've had this conversation with, and if we want things to change, if we want, you know, if we want something we've never had, we have to do something that we've never done. we have to change things up and I think supporting professional athletes equally for equal output of energy is the fair thing to do.

Yeah, definitely. But those are the statements that shock the system that is like, okay guys, wake up, not guys like, man, you know, okay. Wake up, you see, I have to be very precise with the use of war. It's just, I didn't have coffee, but people, people, people. Okay. I have, since we talked quite a lot I am one last question, and then we're going to end up with a Q and a very quick statement though, a lot of surfers, or most of them pollutes the environment while they should serve it, the ocean and environment while they should preserve it. That's first I'm talking about what suits serve works. Okay. Fine form. And I don't, I'll go back to, but you know, and leashes and Ellucian in general, it's like, it's a, you know, just topic, right. And how we, as surfer, we can protect the ocean first and the industry. I know there are a lot of changes that are going through the industry, like recycled clothes or organic but it will take a lot of time. How do you see it going?

TTOS: Let’s talk about surfers and ecology, a lot of surfers pollute the environment when they should preserve it as first…. What do you think about it?

I mean, we're all animals who shape and change our environment, humans just happen to be the only ones who really, “shit where they sleep” so to say and that's a product of many larger systems that we could talk about for a long time, but I mean, I'm a huge hypocrite, I've participated in systems that contribute to the degradation of ocean and air. I drive a car, actually, I drive an electric car now, so that doesn't really count, but I buy plenty of things and consume plastic and have wetsuits, but I guess what I try to focus on is purchasing less and supporting local whenever possible and choosing things that have longevity. With surf boards, I I work with Bing surf boards and their boards that will last for decades, instead of, you know, lightly glass boards that maybe aren't going to stand the test of time. With wetsuits, there are options like Yulex now, which has made out of natural rubber recycled content, leg ropes, and bee's wax or other plant-based wax concoctions that we can use. There's so many different streams to make better decisions, you know, small decisions that have a big impact. I'm a fan of thinking about the personal, but I also think we live in a world where big corporations are actually doing a lot of the major damage and pushing responsibility back on consumers, which is appropriate to a certain degree, but I would say a great place to start is thinking about where you put your money in terms of a bank, many large banks fund, huge environmentally disastrous projects like fracking and oil exploration, because they're investing your money, even if it's a little bit of money in those big projects. So great place to start. If you want to lighten your footprint is to think about what bank you're working with and think about pulling it back into a local community owned community-driven bank that invests, reinvest your money back in your community, I think that's a small, but big sort of impact step.

TTOS: I think one of the things that I want to start talking more in the podcast is about our surfers are really like polluting without knowing, you know, I'm a surfer. I love the ocean collecting cigarette butts when I take three for the beach or whatever, and I am super good, but I'm using when I'm shipping, when I'm waxing my board and my leash broke and I just throw it and I buy a new one or my, my wet suit is not made by Yulex, but it's just like a rubber, you know, I think that is a lot to talk about sustainability in the things we use as a surfers..

Getting back to that conversation we were having earlier about monoculturing, I think there probably have to be many different solutions, right? If we, we decide to switch a whole industry over to only soy based wax, soy has its own environmental impact and challenges. You know, if you look at somewhere like soy farming in the Amazon forest and how that's having you know, having major impact there in terms of clear cutting forest. If we diversify and look at our local solutions and support local brands and maybe demand a little bit more of our local brands, maybe send an email to a company who's making wax locally and just say, “Hey, is there, is there a local wax that we can experiment with all support? You I'd love to, I'd love to pay for that wax if you're willing to put in the time to help develop it”. I think it's an exciting time because so many people like yourself are asking these questions and wanting to do better and that's how we're going to change things.

TTOS: We finish our interview with a short Q/A session, please answer the first thing that comes up to your mind.

The best surfboard that you ever ridden.

Oh, the one I have it right now, It's an FCD Fletcher Chouinard 7/0 2 plus one, mid-Length it's the best board. I love it.

TTOS: Your favorite shaper, woman shaper…

Ashley Lloyd Thompson, she's in Santa Cruz and has been shaping for quite a few years now and just makes really beautiful, fun looking boards.

There's a chapter in my book about women and surfboard design, check that one out.

TTOS: Personal question, your favorite song…..

Bird song….

TTOS: favorite surf spot….

Wherever is clean and uncrowded. Isn't quite the same as where most people are surfing, but you can still get a few waves and have a good time and be out of the pack. It's possible in most places, especially in Australia.

TTOS: Your favorite woman surfer.

there are so many…..Steph Gilmore.

TTOS:  the last question is a little bit unusual, I want to know your best relationship advice.

Play together, whatever that means.

Whatever that means, find a way to play together.

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