An interview with Michelle Shearer, the filmmaker behind Women Who Run With the Tides – a short surf film about older women in surfing & the wonderful qualities they bring to the line-up. Featuring Carol, Marg and Sally from Lennox Head.
Words & Image by Carly Lorente.
You’re from the UK originally, how did you get to call Australia home?
I arrived in Kings Cross from India and jumped on one of those North Coast Surfaries, but I only made it to Byron Bay where I ended up barefoot and pregnant, living on a rainforest commune with Steve (surf forecaster and journalist).
How did your short film Women Who Run With the Tides come about?
Not long after i’d had my daughter Mia (now 10 years old) I went for a surf at Lennox Head. Marg and Sally were in the line-up and we got chatting. I was feeling extremely vulnerable, going back into the full exposure of the ocean after the baby cocoon and these women were so reassuring and encouraging, they had a good humour, and were just so generous. Not quite what you’d expect in any line-up in Lennox Head! I was deeply moved by the way these women were to me and that impression stayed with me. Living with a surf journalist our family is constantly surrounded by images of the surf media and I felt that what I had experienced with Marg and Sally was a very long way off how the surf media represented women. I felt strongly that the qualities that these older women, a group of people largely ignored in the main, needed to be put out there to the women in surfing who were disillusioned by the tired marketing campaigns of the surf corporates.
You touch on gender in a very subtle way in the film, what’s your take on women’s surfing at the moment?
The surfing world for me is like walking into a mechanics workshop, you know the ones with the pictures of topless girls. Here we are at the turn of the century and the surf industry marketing departments seem stuck in the 80s or worse. They don’t seem at all in tune with women who surf – certainly not women I know. Society seems like it is ready for an alternative to boobs and bums but they are still forging ahead with the sexy calendars, it doesn’t matter that these women are elite athletes with extraordinary skill, stamina and prowess.
I’ve always had a fascination with the gender divide. Since becoming a young woman I realised that women were very different to men, not just in the obvious sense, but on many other levels. There used to be big family debates around the dinner table when I was growing up. They were often between the strong women and the men in the family: the women were career driven and the men would be quite staunch around where women ‘belong’ e.g. in the kitchen. I used to find these debates fascinating, and as I grew older realised pretty quickly that there really is no such thing as equality.
I think the way that elite pro women surfers are represented in the surf media now is the result of too many little boys in the marketing departments; these female pro surfers need to be represented for the outstanding and elite surfing talent they are.
What do you hope people will take from the film?
Older women bring something very unique to the line-up and I hope that those qualities are conveyed through the film: good humour, generosity, a warmth to everyone around. They seem to embody things higher than physical looks and beauty – they feel the pure joy of surfing and the meditative effects it can have. I hope that women feel a sense of relief when they watch it and that there is an alternative to society’s skewed version of what being a woman means.
What do you hope you’ll be doing when you’re 64 years old, like Marg, one of the surfers in the film?
Being fearless in who I am. Just a healthy vital human contributing in ways I see fit.
What’s next for you?
Really, the end game was to finish the film and get it out there to as many eyes as possible. Recently collaborating with photographer Carly Lorente has opened up a couple of possible avenues like a book/DVD pack and I’d love to take the film around to different places. But one thing at a time.