“Women now make up between 20 to 30 percent of surfers, and that number continues to grow,” writes professional surfer/writer Lauren Hill, in the foreword to her new book, “She Surf”. “As girls are given the opportunity and support to engage with the sport, and accessibility to boards and beaches increases, we will make up for lost decades in getting back to surfing’s legacy of inclusivity. As we work to catch up — not to men’s surfing — but to what our own minds, hearts, and bodies are capable of and long for in the water, we are witnessing the depth and diversity of a truly global women’s surf culture.”
“She Surf” is a celebratory look at women’s surf culture and history. It’s 250 pages of inspiring photography and storytelling, featuring chapters on a wide variety of subjects, including historical vignettes and profiles on the likes of 7x World Champ Steph Gilmore, “National Geographic” Adventurer of the Year Emi Koch, environmental activist Belinda Baggs, Brazilian logger Chloe Calmon, expert photographer Sarah Lee, all-around inspiration Bethany Hamilton, the founding mothers of pro surfing, female board builders and many, many more.
“This isn’t a book just for women and girls,” Hill tells us. “It’s also for men who have an interest in the lives, perspectives and experiences of women. Which is all men, I hope?”
Read below for an interview with Hill, and then Read below for an interview with Hill, and thenclick here to purchase her bookto purchase her book.
For starters, how did this book go from concept to reality? Talk a little about that process.
When European publisher Gestalten approached me about writing a book about women’s surfing in July of last year, I was excited, but skeptical. Women’s surf media has tended to focus more on passive “lifestyle” and aesthetics than actual, technical skill. I didn’t want to make that book.
But they gave me full control of all of the interior content direction, for which I drew heavily on my own travels and relationships with women I’d met and been inspired by along the way.
I knew that I wanted the book to be a celebration of the ancient and abundant history of women’s surfing that is rarely ever mentioned, but also about the nuances that define some of what it means to be a waterwoman today. The concept was all about showing the ways that women’s surfing is thriving as a creative and diverse global community.
Gestalten gave me the structure to make a book that simultaneously celebrates places, pioneers and some of the inspiring characters who are stretching the bounds of the culture right now – in terms of design, art, activism, performance and adventure.
While it’s impossible to create an entirely comprehensive book on women’s surfing, “She Surf” feels like the most informative and inclusive book ever created. How difficult was it to decide what to feature in this volume?
Thank you, that’s a huge compliment. This book was in no way intended to be comprehensive. There were some cuts made that were really difficult for me to swallow — some without my say at all, which is the way of publishing, apparently. There are so many amazing waterwomen, there’s no way we could fit them into one volume, or even ten.
I wanted the book to make women’s surfing really accessible for newbies to the idea, and also have plenty of detail and untold stories for those of us who have been craving to connect more deeply with the roots and legacy of our surfing culture.
Across cultures and continents, as a traveling surfer/writer, I found that many women interpret their relationship with the ocean as a call to action for engaging with social and environmental issues within their local community and ecology. So it was important to me that that be a major undercurrent of the book — the inherent activism and engagement. And so almost all of the women included in the book embody those principles in their own way.
Ultimately, I just wanted to create something beautiful that all kinds of waterwomen — and men, really — could look at, and see something of themselves in. To be reminded that surfing is theirs, too, and it always has been.
You mentioned only having about 4 months to write. That seems like an entirely overwhelming proposition. Between location features, subject interviews/transcriptions, etc., it’s such an all-consuming process. Did you write it at home in Byron? What was your life like during that period?
I did much of the prep research at home, but we were away for the bulk of the writing of the book. We actually spent about three weeks surfing, sailing and camping down the East Coast of Australia, largely off the grid, and just charging the laptop when we drove every few days, through the cigarette lighter outlet. I’d do most of the planning in my mind during the day, while surfing, breastfeeding, cooking and lugging water to our campsite, and then write in really short bursts to conserve power. It was a really great, and sometimes frustrating, challenge to always have enough power to write when the ideas came.
And then we were in Florida visiting my family for a month or so. Since distraction from ocean conditions wasn’t really much of an issue there, I found it pretty easy to focus. Then we stopped in California on the way back to Australia for a spell to work and visit friends.
Oh yeah, and I have a two-year-old. Anyone who has a toddler, or knows a toddler, also knows that they are so wonderfully commanding of most minutes of the day. I learned how to be really efficient with time management and write during nap times, and late into the night. And get up in the middle of the night to write ideas down without waking everyone up. It was exciting because every word mattered so much to me.
I can say with 100 percent certainty that this book would never have been written without the full and unwavering support of my partner Dave [Rastovich], who is the most beautiful, committed and loving father and partner — and a full-on champion of women’s surfing. He’s the best.
How was the concept received by your subjects? Were all the women eager to be included?
The story of women’s surfing has often been told through a comparative lens to men’s surfing. I find that perspective to be the least interesting angle. Women’s surf culture actually has defining characteristics that are quite different than men’s — many women come to wave riding with different goals and intentions than many men do.
When I pitched the book, I always made clear that I wanted to celebrate women’s surfing and culture on its own terms. Most of the women I interviewed were keen to be part of that narrative shift.
What was your favorite part about writing this book?
I was really grateful to get to further connect with people like Dani Burt, who has one of the most outstanding stories. Dani is a physical therapist and an above-knee amputee. I’d recently been caring for my own mom as she also lost her right leg above the knee, so I have been personally in awe of what it actually takes to recover from something so unthinkable. Not to mention then having the tenacity to learn to surf after losing your leg. In my mind, I equate her ocean accomplishments right up there with Paige Alms’ XXL tube at Pe’ahi in terms of the psychological, physical and emotional boundaries she’s had to shift.
One of my favorite moments came just recently, when Dani posted about the book: ‘I remember flipping through surf magazines as a kid, always looking for someone that looked like me. Woman, gay, brown… anything. Always nothing. Times are finally changing. All it takes is one photo to show someone what is possible and to feel seen. Representation matters and is crucial.’
To think that a person might feel a deeper sense of belonging or inspiration because of this book? That makes it feel like a success.
At 250 pages it’s a robust book. How does it feel — after all of that hard work — holding a physical copy of it in your hands?
It’s been a huge validation for me personally, to hold this book, because I’ve wanted to write it for many years now. When I’d pitched similar ideas to endemic surf entities, they basically always said something to the effect of: ‘there just aren’t enough female surfers.’ Those conversations usually ended up sounding a lot like ‘no one really cares about the insignificant niche of women’s surfing.’
And I guess I’m a pretty analog person, in general. I love the feel and smell and tangibility of holding the weight of a book; of reading it with the sun on my back and no glare from a screen.
Any plans for another one?
Definitely. I have two concepts coalescing at the moment and I’m looking for the right publisher to work with.
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