It Ain't Pretty: The Sexism, Challenges and Triumphs Women Face in Big Wave Surfing

Jason Lock

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Updated 1346d ago

Sexism in surfing is undeniable.

We all know there's this skewed undercurrent that washes over the industry. For example, when you think of women and surfing, what springs to mind? What sun-backed, bronzed image have you just conjured? Yet, that's the reality facing professional female surfers. You have to abide by a certain image to rake in sponsorship. And herein lies the problem.

But filmmaker Dayla Soul has just dropped new docu It Ain't Pretty, a peeled back look into the world of women big wave surfers, the troubles they've faced and a glimpse into where the future of the sport lies - all while showing the fight against sexism that women have to go through, in and out of the water.

Your protagonists for the duration are an ecelectic group of rippers, including Mavericks charger, Bianca Valenti, who, alongside Keala Kennelly, Paige Alms and Andrea Moller set up pressure group, the Committee for Equity in Women's Surfing – which is dedicated to making sure women are represented fairly.

Drawing on the feats of the women's big wave contingent is only part of Dayla's inspiration and there's certainly more to it than showcasing accomplishments. It's a multi-faceted documentary that isn't afraid to tackle some of the harder hitting issues.

As Dayla tells msw: ''The idea behind It Ain't Pretty was sparked out of the need to see more female surfing films that portrayed us in an everyday light, that showed the lifestyle of committed women who love to surf. Showing the training, social interactions and what the lineup holds for women.

''To create a film that took another look at the other side of surfing. To add music that was harder than your typical girl surf film. One that helped to spark a deeper conversation around what we see in the media and to inspire today's young surfers to think for themselves.''

If Mavs is drumming, there's no chance Bianca's gonna turn down that dance.

If Mavs is drumming, there's no chance Bianca's gonna turn down that dance.

© 2020 - It Ain't Pretty

Yet Dayla and Bianca know that identifying the sexism problem within surfing is only part of the battle, getting people to open up about it is a whole other minefield. Sexism is there, prevalent, but there's an overt feeling of playing it down, almost as a non-issue.

''What surprised me was that there was hesitation with some women in speaking out about the inequality'', says Dayla. ''In the beginning I just wanted to meet more women who surfed and find out more about my local ocean beach community. Then it transformed into bringing awareness to who we were as surfers and having a conversation about what women would like to see in the surf industry and beyond.''

Though hailing from Dana Point, Bianca Valenti moved to San Francisco about eight-years-ago, after getting to know the area when visiting her father. The hunger to charge big waves only brewed after a near death experience at Ocean Beach in 2006. ''I saw huge perfect waves, they nearly killed me, I wanted to be able to surf those waves.  So at that point, I started putting in the time and energy into learning and training to do so.'' 'I saw huge perfect waves, they nearly killed me, I wanted to be able to surf those waves.When Mavs really begins to set Half Moon Bay ablaze, it's only a 40-or-so minute drive south from Bianca's base camp – and reason why Valenti rarely misses a Mavs session.

And it's fitting then that Bianca was to meet Dayla at the parking lot of the beach that nearly killed her in San Fran.  ''[Dayla] told me she was making a film,'' says Bianca. ''I thought about what a cool opportunity it was and said ''let's do this, let's make it awesome.''

It Ain't Pretty is out today and Bianca's reasons for wanting to make the movie are clear cut: ''It's an inspiring and radical film documenting the women's big wave surf movement.  The aim is to share and celebrate the stories of surfers who haven't been represented in surf culture.

''Inspire social justice, equality, freedom, diversity and all the amazing qualities that create progression in sport and life.  Create new role models break the gender barrier instill the inspiration and motivation that any girls and boys women and men black white fat skinny etc can do anything and anything is possible.''

I ask Bianca about her own experiences with sexism and to provide an example for context: ''I was surfing at Fort Point one morning and a guy said, "this is a man's playground, I don't want to see you unless I'm going on a date with you because you're kinda cute.''

Why does this mentality still exist? ''I don't know. I could easily drive myself crazy trying to psychoanalyse prejudiced people, [laughs] but that would do me no good unless I wanted to piss myself off. Absolutely ruffle as many rooster feathers as possibleMy focus has always remained within chipping away at my dream and goals which are; opportunity and equality for everyone, in and out of the water.''

The state of big wave surfing for women ''lacks sponsorship, media exposure, opportunity, and equality,'' as Bianca puts it. It Ain't Pretty does cast the spotlight over the bonds between women and big wave surfing, working towards a common goal of better inclusivity within the industry and community.

''The film shares the story of a diverse group of women who share commonalities in that they all are courageous, hard working, dedicated, passionate, driven, strong, and believe they can do anything,'' Bianca explains about the tone of the docu. ''Surfing inspired many of these positive attributes and that is what equality is. It's women and men believing and being able to do anything.  It shows the story visually.''

Delving deeper into the challenges of the movie, Dayla elaborates: ''There was a feeling of women protecting this model of women just not being ready to surf on that stage or be paid as much as the men. I guess I thought there would be a consensus of agreement to the opposite.

''As a matter of fact, some of the most highly skilled pro women spoke out on how the sport was evolving but women just were not on the same level as the men. I understand the physical aspect in men to women's bodies, however, I didn't understand why women kept getting compared to men. Why they didn't just embrace that they had their own stage. Surfing is surfing. It's not made for men. Surfing is surfing. It's not made for menThat is why this film is ever more relevant and crosses over to be a metaphor for all professions that women feel like second class citizens in and not to keep a patriarchal system in place. Kinda like "Oh maybe one day we will make enough'', or ''let's not ruffle any feathers and just be happy with what we have". I think the only way to really further evolve the sport of big wave surfing for women is to push the boundaries on equality and absolutely ruffle as many rooster feathers as possible.''

And It Ain't Pretty has opened to a positive reception. ''We have played [the film] all over the world in festivals from Brazil, Portugal, France, Sydney, Canada, New York, Outer Banks to Hawaii and through out California. I believe it's been received quite well which make me feel like the timing of it in this political climate is important. We have received four audience choice awards and write ups in dozens of magazines. So I know the topic matter is very relevant,'' says Dayla.

As for some parting words of wisdom for the up and coming, Bianca reflects: ''Focus on your love for surfing and being the best you can be. Focus on yourself follow your heart and everything will fall into place.''

Like the idea? It Ain't Pretty launches on iTunes today. Download HERE