Lauren Lindsey Hill embraces her role as one of surfings ecofeminists. After travelling, surfing and sailing down the Californian Coast with her for the Surfers for Cetaceans TransparentSea Voyage I wanted to learn more about her views on gender and environmentalism within the surf industry.
NF: Tell us a bit about your surfing background.
LLH: I grew up at the beach and in the ocean at home on Anastasia Island in Florida and started surfing when I was 13. I longboarded competitively for 6 or 7 years, won the U.S. women’s longboard title for under 18’s in 2001, and then quit competing to go to university. While earning a degree in environmental science, I started researching surfing and sustainability issues.
Can you put into words why you think men and women’s surfing are so different?
A Cirque du Soleil performance really crystallized my ideas on the difference between men’s and women’s surfing. I watched as men acted out impressive, powerful, and intricately choreographed acrobatic stunts. Then I noticed that there weren’t any women performing those stunts. Rather, women tended to be in roles that highlighted flexibility and grace: those roles that generally focused on form. No one wondered, “Why aren’t the female performers doing the tricks the men are?” No one was making assessments about men or women being better or worse performers than another. It’d be totally irrelevant to do so. If the whole show were a feat of only flexibility or daring acrobatics, it’d be much less impressive. Appreciating the diversity of movement is key.
Do you think the mainstream industry realizes this, and respects it?
It seems mostly like the mainstream media uses women as novelty or as pretty accessories, with the exception of a small handful of women who are respected within the culture. Generally speaking, there are more shots of girls on the beach in bikinis than women surfing in men’s surfing magazines. There’s nothing wrong with women in bikinis, but that imagery just perpetuates tired old stereotypes of women as passive spectators instead of active participants in the surfing world.
What responsibility do you think the brands should take in order for women’s surfing to head in a direction that honours, liberates and empowers the women behind the industry, taking it in the most enigmatic and diverse direction?
I don’t think that solely relying on brands to change our culture is a good idea. They are businesses that ultimately are trying to make money and they will create their brand’s imagery according to whatever our culture deems cool or relevant for the time. But then again, the brands are the driving force behind most surfing magazines, so they do have some control over editorial and, of course, advertising content. It is up to us to create the surfing culture that is inclusive of diversity.
Do you think the female stereotype in surfing has the power to evolve?
Unfortunately, many of the upper echelon of competitive female surfers (who mostly happen to be very young) are buying into the hyper-sexualized versions of female surfing. And why shouldn’t they, when they are making good money and seem to be living great lives. None of them are at fault individually. But, from a broader perspective, by sexualizing themselves over and over, allowing raunchy non-surfing, bikini photo spreads to be run continuously, they are perpetuating the static image of female surfer as passive sex object. On an individual basis, I’m sure it seems harmless, but the cumulative effect is detrimental and sets eroticized imagery as the accepted standard for female surfers. And, why would our male-driven magazines, companies and culture change this when these kind of characteristics fit into the mould of how they are taught (and then demand) women should be: passive and sexualized.
This imagery will only evolve when we as women surfers demand something different with our dollars and our sense.
What responsibility do you think the surfers should take in order to assist this progression, and who has been influential in this area already?
People in power are almost never agents for changing the status quo they control. We, as women surfers, are responsible for interjecting our perspectives and opinions. Cori Schumacher is a great example of progressing women’s surfing by not only being a talented surfer, but also by revealing her ethical responsibilities for social causes. Her rejection of pathetic sponsorship offers from companies on the grounds of the undervaluation of women’s surfing stands as a bright and brave example for me.
Can you tell us about your role as an “ecofeminist”?
Eco-feminism has to do with the eradication of pollution. From an ecological perspective, this means realizing, educating, and working to end all behaviours which threaten the ecology of the planet, including all places, processes and biodiversity on Earth. From a feminist perspective, this means eradicating the mental, physical, and ideological “pollution” that a patriarchal system creates as it divides through oppression.
We all belong to environmental and social systems that support us and allow us to thrive as multifaceted beings. The healthier these systems are, the healthier we are as individuals and as societies.
Do you agree with the statement that “The state of the oceans reflect the state of humanity” and what have you learnt on your recent journey which relates to both aspects?
I Agree. All animals alter the environment in which they dwell, but we seem to be most likely to foul our own nest, that is, this beautiful planet that sustains us.
Slowly sailing down the Californian coast, I witnessed the endlessly busy human stream of development and pollution. Similarly, the ocean was cluttered with the refuse of that world.
Can you offer any advice to surfers keen to take the first steps to help protect the source of liberation and joy found at the core of the surfing lifestyle; The Ocean?
Yes, education is the first step in creating change. Surfing can be a powerful source of reassessing your place on land and within the water.
When you learn about how amazing this planet is, and specifically how intricate systems conspire to allow us to do this thing called surfing, it is easy to be inspired and called to the defence of the systems that make it possible to ride waves.
Lauren is currently working on a project called Sea Kin, which combines social and environmental values through the joyful framework of surfing, find out more at theseakin.com