Australian longboarder Belinda Baggs’ graceful surfing style makes her one of the most instantly recognisable female gliders. Deeply insightful and highly in tune with nature and her surroundings, her love of the ocean has not only seen her surfing waves all over the world but also try to give a little back, offering help by bringing supplies to communities struggling in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami and acting as an ambassador for environmental awareness.
Belinda, introduce yourself…
I’m 29 years old, currently living between Noosa Heads, Australia and West Sumatra, Indonesia. I exist around the ocean, and its many movements determine my days. My goal is to live a happy life, free and inspired by the world; to follow my dreams no matter how much they keep changing; to learn from my mistakes and flow with whatever it is that may come next.
How did you get into surfing?
My dad surfs, and my family was always at the beach – we spent long days in the sun, sand and surf. Dad had me playing around on his board before I can remember. I grew up in Newcastle and the swells were always too big for a learner, so up until I was 14 surfing was more of a summer-holiday novelty. At 14 or so I started swimming, becoming stronger and gaining more ‘water knowledge’; from then on, no matter where I am in the world I have been drive by the need to ride waves – or at least try to – every day.
Who have been your biggest influences?
My dad for passing on the lifestyle, and both mom and dad for encouraging and allowing me to do the one thing I love most in the world.
Dane Peterson for his style, showing me how to log and help with my surfing. Joel Tudor for his ability and the Malloy brothers for their approach to ride anything, how well they do it and seeing them do things in the water that I though impossible. On a daily basis I’m influenced by anyone that is having fun in the water and really connecting with their surroundings, nature and just how beautiful this world is, my friends in Noosa for always smiling and anyone that is following in their dreams no matter how off centre they maybe.
What’s daily life like for you right now?
Every day is different and brings with it so many different opportunities and paths that I could choose to follow. The past week has consisted of dawn surfs with one of my best mates on shortboards somewhere on the beach breaks; a few hours of work, usually on the computer; a long walk down the beach with my dog Mulie (usually me chasing him); and a quick bodysurf to cool off before we leave. After lunch I try to relax for an hour, but eventually I get antsy because I can’t handle the day passing me by no matter how exhausted I am. I usually have a late-afternoon surf, ideally on my longboard on the points of Noosa but wherever there is a wave peeling excites me enough to jump in the water. Sometimes I hang out with friends in the evening, otherwise I pass out on the couch about 9pm watching a movie or reading a book.
What prompted your move away from the contest scene?
I haven’t entered a contest for at least two or three years now. I used to compete mainly because it was an opportunity to catch up with friends and have a lot of fun, but I guess somehow the thrill of winning and being ‘the best’ lured me in.
Now I get really nervous before a heat to the point that I shake and can’t really surf how I want to. I realised that I get to spend more quality time with those friends on surf trips or visits to their home town, and I no longer feel that I need to prove anything or beat anyone to enjoy surfing or love it more.
I’d rather go to off-the-beaten-track destinations exploring, learning and experiencing different cultures with no crowds, surfing where I want, when I want, on whatever equipment I want, and how I want.
Sometimes the best feeling I get riding waves comes from doing nothing at all. Other times I will fall 100 times before making a certain section or finally doing a certain manoeuvre, and the best thing is that it doesn’t matter who’s watching – how it felt and the experience of being there is all that matters.
Being a surfing ambassador for Patagonia seems to involve more than just sponsorship – what exactly do you do?
Everything from product testing to writing stories for the web site, shooting photos to occasionally doing something crazy and extreme. I’m stoked to be involved with a company that maintains such sound environmental ethics and people that actually put words into action. Patagonia’s products really do make harsh climates, be they hot, cold, dirty or wet, much more comfortable and easier to cope with, but they’re all developed and manufactured with more than one eye on their environmental and social impact.
What’s in your quiver?
5’6 NPJ twinfin
5’8 Patagonia FCD 2+1 egg
7’0 MKD egg
8’4 Patagonia FCD longboard mini gun
9’2 Revelation surfboards (Japan) singlefin diamond tail
9’5 Revelation surfboards (Japan) squash tail heavy singlefin log
Describe your all-time favourite board.
9’2 diamond-tail log, 8x8x8 Volan glassing. It’s a Dane Peterson Design, and for me the perfect all-round longboard. It nose rides like a dream, trims fast and turns well enough to place me where I want to be on the wave face.
These days it seems that, in the water, anything goes – bodysurfing, SUP-ing, paddle boarding, kayaking… What floats your boat when you’re not on a conventional board?
Twinfins and eggs are a good way to surf waves that aren’t perfect for a longboard. I like to take a different, more radical approach to surfing – bodysurfing is a wonderful way to connect with the ocean and its movements, and long-distance paddle-boarding is great for fitness, transport and as a way to see more to the ocean than just waves.
Where’s your favourite break?
Macaronis in the Mentawais. It’s the most perfect left in the world – better than anything you could dream up for a shortboard.
I’ve surfed and searched the globe for the best under-head-high logging wave – Malibu for the perfect shape; empty peelers in Sri Lanka rate high; secret reefs in West Sumatra; but I would still choose Noosa for a combination of them all. Its natural beauty makes every surf a magical experience.
You had a cracking, very 1950s cover shot on ‘The Surfer’s Journal’ – the first woman to grace the cover. Seeing that on the shelves must’ve felt pretty special…
I was surfing at first point Noosa late in the afternoon. It was one of those days that the tide was a little too high and the swell a fraction too small so there was hardly anyone out. But the sand was great and occasionally, if you waited long enough, you would score one all the way to the beach. Dane was on the rocks playing around with a new camera when I got that wave – it was one of those waves where everything comes together: the section formed up ahead and I got so excited when I saw it coming. I was hanging 5 when I started to go through it, then I felt the lift through the nose of my board, hung 10 and felt like I was flying for a few seconds.
Dane did such a great job of capturing the way I was feeling, and it was great to be able to share it with so many other people.
You recently appeared in the film ‘Dear & Yonder’. The girls involved are a very inspirational bunch, and it must be great to be a part of something like that…
When Tiffany and Andria asked me to be a part of the film I felt very honoured to be included in the group. I look at those girls as the best in the world at what they do. I actually haven’t seen the film yet and can’t wait to get my hands on a copy – I’m really looking forward to seeing the bit featuring Liz Clarke sailing around the world.
As well as some sweet gliding footage the film shows you recycling fabrics to make boardies. What gave you that idea?
I have always had so much trouble finding boardshorts that fit right, function in the water and still look cute. My mom taught me how to sew a few years ago and I was playing around one day with old fabric she had at the house and I made a few pairs.
I started out using recycled fabric because I was worried that I was going to destroy good new fabric – it was kinda like a test run. As it turned out, the old fabric was perfect, and the fact that I was re-using waste gave me more of an incentive to stick to that program. You can find some really cool vintage fabric in second-hand stores, and it’s reassuring to know that what you’re wearing isn’t harming the environment.
Do you think that your affinity with the ocean played a big part in your environmental awareness?
I would have to say yes. I am in the ocean almost every day, and there’s nothing more beautiful than opening your eyes in a clear blue sea and looking toward the underwater horizon. To even entertain the thought of not being able to do that makes me feel sick. Knowing that each of us, everyone on the planet no matter how far away we live from the sea, can have an effect on the quality of the ocean makes me want to do my part in maintaining its quality. After learning more and especially working with Patagonia I have realised that everything we do somehow effects the ocean, everything in nature is connected, and anything we can do no matter how simple, big or small it may be will have a positive or negative effect on the sea and our earth. I choose to live simply, be aware are care about my surroundings in hopes that everyone else will do the same.
You’ve surfed all over the world – how do you think that attitudes to girls in the water vary globally…
Hugely! Surfing is a male-dominated sport, and there were only two girls who surfed where I grew up. I didn’t cop shit for being a girl, and I was never given special privileges – I had to prove myself just like every other kid on the beach. I have always thought that we’re all equal in the sea; male, female, old, young… Your ability determines what waves you catch. The ocean doesn’t see any difference between sexes so neither should we when we’re in that arena.
That’s how I still find things in Oz, but when I go to California I see a different attitude – guys letting pretty girls drop in on them and sometimes girls taking advantage of that. In other parts of the world the opposite can be true – I have been treated badly because I’m a girl, and I think that’s down to specific cultural attitudes. Sometimes guys can be assholes; when I was in Sri Lanka we encountered a lot of Israeli groups – they had the full-on alfa-male ego and couldn’t handle me taking off inside of them, and would occasionally drop in on me if I was on a good one.
I’ll stick up for myself, give respect where respect is due and follow the unwritten rules and courtesies of the sea despite sex.
You’re renowned for your expressive, graceful surfing style. How do you express yourself out of the water?
To be honest at times I can get totally manic about surfing. I can spend up to 10 hours a day in the water; I used to think that was because I was running away from problems in my life. When something goes really bad, like when I’m sad or mad or nervous or have anxiety, I run to the sea.
One of my best friends explained that sometimes the human mind takes over and projects all these unnatural, crazy thoughts about the past or the future; they’re thoughts that you can’t control. Other animals are able to just simply ‘be’ and live in the present moment. Running to the sea is the way that I return to the natural state of the mind, being in the moment and not thinking of anything but what is there in front of me right then and there.
I enjoy other things – swimming, bush walking, sewing, cooking and photography – but I think surfing is so special to me because it’s a way that I can simply be me without any other influences.
[photos by Adam Kobayashi]