Women surfers making waves
From Bali to Cape Town, photographer Saskia Koerner captures the female story
PHOTOGRAPHING women surfers in their “true natural form” has taken a Cape Townborn photographer to some of the most famous stretches of beach in the world.
Now back home, Saskia Koerner is to show her work from the end of the month at an exhibition in the city.
Koerner told Weekend Argus that during her time in California, the closest surf break to where she lived was the famous Queen of the Coast, Rincon. What astonished her was the number of women in the lineup. Growing up in Cape Town, she had not experienced this.
“I was mesmerised and realised the story of women’s surfing was less told and was inspired to document them. I really wanted to do portraits on the beach rather than surfing shots to show the diversity of women that surf just for the pure love of it.
“My first portrait was of a woman in her midseventies, who would surf in the dark before dawn to avoid the crowds. I was shooting everything on an ancient large format 8x10 camera and was very nervous that the camera could fall over and my first shot would be all out of focus,” she said.
“I grew up reading surf magazines and watching surf movies and the story of women’s surfing was mentioned, but on a very small scale and all too often I hear a guy saying: ‘Oh look at her, she surf ’s so swell, she surf ’s like a guy.’ For us women, the biggest compliment we want to hear is we surf like a woman.”
Even though Light Waves will only feature the South African leg of her project, Koerner has travelled all over the world, photographing women to spread awareness of their marginalisation.
After California, she worked in New York at documentary photographer Mary Ellen Marks’ studio for four months. As much as she loved it, she was craving other adventures so she went back to Bali, Indonesia. It was there that she continued with her portraits of women surfers.
“I started documenting my friends and meeting new women. I had my first show at Deus gallery and this is where the project got its name Light Waves. After the Bali show I received so many private messages from other surfer women and women who don’t surf, expressing their appreciation and gratitude for the show as they felt women were shown in their true natural raw form, without make up, not photoshopped and not sexualised,” she said.
After Bali, Koerner went to Australia to document women surfers there. The images were shown at the Byron Bay Surf Festival in early 2017. New Zealand was her next stop. Finally she returned to South Africa.
“I am thrilled to have been back in South Africa this year to capture the growing amount of single fin women here. So far, I have photographed over 30 women here.”
Koerner is especially influenced by the women in their sixties and seventies who brave all odds and go surfing as much as they can. For this show, the legendary Bernie Shelly is one of her favourites.
She, as a grandmother of six and having had two hip replacements at age 70, is an inspiration to all with her graceful style.
So far Koerner has captured over 140 surf women and intends to travel around the world in between her work to complete the story and publish a coffee table book.
The exhibition opens on Thursday at the Red Bull Studios on Bree Street in the CBD.
Photographer Saskia Koerner has captured over 140 surf women in their element.