A sliding glider, stylish and flowing, a body constantly rippling and graceful, right in the pocket. You don’t fathom how gravity lets the board stay in place with so much movement, darting to the nose, to the tail and back again.
This is Leah Dawson; countless-time single-fin and longboard champ, film enthusiast, frothing environmentalist, earnestly humble.
Growing up in the Floridian sun, with water-ski fanatics for parents, the ocean was thrust into her life at, as she says, ‘the wee age of three’. Today, she is inspired by the vast and intricate history of surfing, nature, and camaraderie in the water.
Not only can she shred, but she has a killer voice, to boot. And she has one of the most jealousy-ensuing Instagrams I’ve ever seen, showing us surf shoots, to film making, to hanging out with the Lopez clan, to traveling everywhere awesome under the sun.
Luckily, Miss Dawson was able to lend us a few moments to give us an insight into what she’s up to, what she’s into, and, what she strives for.
Weapon of choice?
I have an old early 1970s board shaped by the late Dave Ronk that is an absolute gem. It’s a 6’6 down rail singlefin that I named Peanut Butter. It’s special to me because I dreamed about the board first, then found it under my ‘then to be new home’, made a short film about the board, and then found that its shaper was a legendary man who was killed on duty as a police officer in ’87.
From the short film, Mr Ronk’s family has been in touch with me expressing their gratitude. He’s an angel and I now understand why from the moment I picked up the board, it was calming me with incredible energy.
The hardest manoeuvre you’ve got down?
Oh wow, manoeuvres in surfing are a funny thing. Hanging 10 takes a lot of repetitive practice that I am still continuing the fun path of learning. I love riding through barrels, which will be a lifetime pursuit. Overall though, I feel simplicity in surfing is my favourite, flowing with the wave, finding the speed spot, and letting the wave do the work, while standing there elegantly in complete control and unison with the wave.
Favourite break and why?
I love surfing Sunset Beach because it is so challenging and scary, yet when I overcome my fear I often have the ride of a lifetime. I love that it humbles me, that I have to feel 150% in order to want to surf it when it’s firing. There’s a barrel, and massive walls to draw big lines.
Strangest thing that has happened to you in the sea?
Maybe not strange, but supernatural indeed… I’ve been reading about Rell Sunn, my top idol in surfing. On a memorial site there were many pictures of her. There was a picture of a turtle, a Honu in Hawaiian, with a caption of “Aunty Rell” next to it.
In Hawaiian culture our spirits pass on to different animals to become spirit guides for those on earth. Now, every time I think of Rell when I am surfing in Hawaii, a turtle breaches within 10 feet of me right after. I always chuckle, and at times share a few tears with the sea.
How do you think guys’ attitudes to professional surfing differ from women’s (if at all)? And non-competitively?
Competitively, I think women and men share relatively the same attitude- they are usually there to win. Yet in some fun alternative contests that I’ve done, it can be more about coming together as people who all love the sea. Non-competitively, women’s surfing is becoming more and more community driven.
I love surfing with my female friends because we are always giggling and laughing
Most often, lineups and crowds can be quiet and intense, with very little interaction between surfers, except for the unspoken positioning battles always taking place. Yet I love surfing with my female friends because we are always giggling and laughing, sharing waves, and cheering for each other. I think men can tell a difference too, there’s a lighter energy when there’s a few women in the water. Not to mention, more and more women are ripping these days, and guys can’t get mad when the girls are surfing as well as them 😉
If you could be any pizza topping, what would it be and why?
Spinach – be healthy.
Have you ever been involved in any undesirable situations in the water?
Yes – a few times I’ve been out in the line up when angry people are out surfing. I usually go in immediately, or paddle somewhere else. Surfing is my happy place, and I love to be in a happy lineup.
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
I want to fly!!!
Which waves are at the top of your bucket list?
Everywhere that has a great barrel 🙂
And plans for the future?
Make surf films, have a beautiful family, grow organic food, be happy, make a difference as much as I can. And get very very barrelled 😉
Speaking to Leah makes you think twice about that surf you had last week, where just one person might have got in the way of a wave, or someone gave you a dirty look. In such a hectic world, make sure the sea IS your ‘happy place’; don’t confuse frustration and relaxation here. Take a leaf out of The Book of Leah next time.
Words from Alice Brown owner of the super-cool brand Barnacle Socks
Lead image: Carl Johan Kimell @thehappypoisongang