Dismantling the Patriarchy Over Brunch

Surf + Brunch Nosara on November 30th will feature offshore winds, the quintessential Tica breakfast spread, and discussion with two-time Costa Rican surf champion Andrea Diaz and surfeminist scholar Tara Ruttenberg. Get tickets here.

 Andrea Diaz by Heiner Castillo

Andrea Diaz by Heiner Castillo

Just weeks after floods consumed the town adjacent to Katherine Terrell’s home base in Playa Guiones, another weather disaster rocked her former neighborhood in Malibu with terrifying, climate-fueled fires. These two places are affected by opposite problems — parched land and high winds in California, and the juxtaposition between non-absorbent concrete developments and rain-soaked jungle in Nosara. But these disasters were not a wake-up call for Katherine, whose activist brand Jeux De Vagues is behind the Surf + Brunch series. She’d known already that climate change is not just imminent; it’s upon us.

In a world where ‘the establishment’ continues to deny and deflect the issues most directly threatening humanity, communities must take hold of their power: individually and collectively, inwardly and outwardly, electorally and, where the system fails us, as renegades. Citizens of Orange County took power by breaking the Republican stronghold to flip every single district blue this November, a shift influenced by grassroots events like Surf + March where surfers took to the streets to fight for their future. Some thirty women took power in Malibu at the inaugural Surf + Brunch by commandeering a lineup that was once exclusively open to men, and still largely operates under rules from that era. On November 30th, women will assemble in Nosara for the next chapter of Surf + Brunch to take power by confronting difficult matters head-on and charting a path forward.

The event will take place where the jungle meets warm and constant swells, idyllic conditions for a surf session sure to galvanize inspiration. To channel this energy into deliberation and action, two speakers will lead a panel discussion centered on surfeminism, decolonizing surfing, barriers to true equity for female athletes, and Me Too in surf culture. “I could not be more stoked to open a discussion on these issues, to ‘bring them to the table,’” writes Andrea Diaz, two-time Costa Rican surf champion and featured panelist. “At certain times in my life I have had to deal with, or really meditate about these topics.”

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“I’m a surfeminist by nature, not because I want to put men down, but because I want the same respect as boys in the lineup and out of the water. I want the respect I deserve for the effort and the discipline I put into my sport. I want to be able to have financial support from sponsors that value my determination and my grit, not because I look good in a bikini. I want to push the sport and bust down doors for the future generations of Women. As a Native Costa Rican, I have seen how my people lack opportunity to compete against foreign business, and how we have been bought out of land. All of these are real struggles girls and women that look to forge a lifestyle or a career in surfing, and in my small country, need to face daily. But sometimes we are so afraid to speak that we just look away, or even assume it as ours, and we encourage these not-so-positive patterns. We just come to terms with the malfunction of our society.”

Andrea will be joined by Tara Ruttenberg, multitalented freesurfer, teacher, and PhD candidate in development studies at Costa Rica’s University for Peace. Tara’s writing has of late ruffled patriarchal feathers across the surf industry as she boldly calls out entrenched power structures. Those who benefit from these structures are often reluctant to face the discomfort that comes with acknowledgement, instead reacting with deflections and denial, but Tara’s resolve is powerful as she takes on the heavy work of explaining and re-explaining patterns of injustice. Her writing is distinguished by a courageous vulnerability and poetic flair, and to those prepared to hear her message, it resounds.

“Before we even get our nerve up to paddle out into that wild big blue, women and girls who want to surf face a world of gender-related challenges on land that make it twice as hard for us to even get out there,” Tara writes, following up Andrea’s discussion on surfeminism. “For example: sexual objectification and sexualized representations in surf media that ostracize and alienate non-conforming bodies from participation in surfing; institutionalized racism and (neo)colonialism that prevent beach access based on socio-economic status and ethnicity; and gendered social norms that send girls the message that they are too weak to participate, or that they don't belong in the ocean. Of course, these issues carry over into the water, as well. Even the accepted etiquette 'rules' of surfing and the ways they are practiced and policed in the lineup are gendered to favor men, with aggressive, individualistic and dominating behaviors allowing male-bodied people both a physical and socialized 'masculine' advantage in the ways surfing is practiced in modern surf culture.”

With extensive background in academia and beyond on the impacts of tourism for better or worse, Tara is well-prepared to take the surf colonialism bull by the horns. “Surf colonialism [is] the heavy footprint of surfing settlers and surfing tourists all over the world, whose powerful social and environmental impact is weathered in ways that transform local landscapes and cultures while often worsening social inequality, devastating nature, and contributing to resource depletion in every country with a surf-able coastline.” She speaks to the entitlement that accompanies the normalization of these colonial relations, as outsiders blinded by privilege and capitalist wealth take from communities without giving back in any meaningful way.

So how do we decolonize? Tara recommends starting with the literature (her own co-authored chapter in the Critical Surf Studies Reader as well as Dina Gilio-Whitaker’s work on settler colonialism in surfing), and then looking inwards. “A moment of awareness [is needed] toward shifting our own behaviors in socially and ecologically responsible ways,” she writes. Surfers feel at home wherever there are waves to be enjoyed, but it’s imperative that we remember our own positionality as guests, that we do the work of understanding the communities and historical contexts we step into, listen to their needs, and act in response. Without this background of reflection and openness, foreign aid and ‘voluntourism’ become self-serving activities that have little positive impact – or even a negative one.

These are just a few of the concrete steps that can be taken to a future in which the power of surfing is reimagined as a force for good rather than inadvertent destruction. Sustainability and equity go hand in hand, so these processes can be set in motion with actions on an individual level as Tara describes. “By believing in and supporting one another in challenging the rules created by a male-dominated Western surf culture, by refusing to 'wait our turn' or 'know our place' in the lineup without questioning the foundations and function of those concepts, by demanding what we deserve in terms of gender justice and equality both in and out of the water, and by embodying diversity in women's surfing by simply being who we are and spending as much time surfing as is humanly possible.”

Andrea chimed in with more optimism. “I can’t wait for Surf + Brunch – to have a group of powerful women come together and start what I believe will be the beginning of a new community of strong women from beaches near and far, united by the same passion and love for the waves, that are aware of the responsibility that lies on our shoulders to leave a legacy, a better world for those girls following our footsteps.  It’s time we become the change we want to see, that we open safe spaces for discussion and analysis so that we can learn and grow together. It’s time we empower each other and make shit happen!”

 Andrea Diaz by Enric Coromina

Andrea Diaz by Enric Coromina

Molly LockwoodComment