QU NIE WAHINE
Ashley Norris is following her dreams and has written a children’s book to inspire her daughters.
I am part of a family of surfers. Dad, sisters, husband, brother-in-law… we are bonded by the love of saltwater and the thrills you get from the ocean. So it was just understood that one day when we had kids, they would surf too. My husband and I always talked about when our kids would get their first surfboard as an honorary rite of passage (like learning to ride a bike without stabilisers). So, when we had our daughters, surfing has been what they know and see us enjoying. We have countless pictures of naked babies and toddlers on surfboards and skateboards… we just can’t help ourselves.
So when my oldest daughter turned five, all she wanted for Christmas was a pink surfboard. My husband and I exchanged proud glances and obliged willingly. And then the day came to test it out. She looked at the ocean and at me and said: “Umm. Maybe when I’m six.” She is an anxious and cautious child, so this wasn’t too surprising, but a little heartbreaking. I knew she was wrestling with an internal conflict between something that scared her and something she wanted to do. After
some reassurance that we were not going far and it would be fun, she decided to give it a try, had a blast, and that was when I had my mummyepiphany.
I had realised something really important. She knew we loved surfing and she enjoyed being a part of that with us. But there wasn’t a lot of media or books that portrayed girls like her in surf culture: Little girls who are nervous and have to find their inner bravery, but who do not want to miss out on the fun. I knew the story that needed to be written. I decided that very day that if I can’t find toys and books that reflect the life we live, I’d make my own. So I did. Queenie Wahine: Little Surfer Girl, was officially in the works.
One small problem; I am no artist. Not in the least. And now I needed an illustrator. I called my sister, Jessica, who was in New Zealand (surfing and travelling) and she was immediately on board for our project. We both immediately started talking about our own perceptions of women in surf culture and how it had an effect on the way we got interested in the sport as kids. Little girls everywhere needed to be able to see themselves represented in the activities and passions that their families want to share with them.
So we started working, collaborating and emailing constantly. I’ll never forget the day I realised that my pursuit of this mission was having its influence on my daughters. It was the Thanksgiving holiday and we were riding in the car to visit family. We had finished the third DVD and everyone was restless and bored. My oldest daughter said: “Mummy, will you read Queenie Wahine?” My daughter had been watching, listening and talking about Queenie Wahine like it had always been a book on her shelf. I don’t even know how to articulate how that made me feel as a mum. So I pulled out my phone and read her the document that I had been working on. We talked for the rest of the ride about Queenie. We talked about writers and illustrators. We talked about how she could do anything she wanted to when she grew up – even the scary things that made her nervous.
After that day I had a new perspective on the book we were writing. Not only did I feel as if I had a responsibility to give my children a role model that they need, I also realised that writing a children’s book is my dream. I know that my daughter is watching me make up my mind to do something new and scary and outside my own comfort zone. What better way to teach her that she can do or be anything she wants? Whether it’s hitting the waves or writing a book. And especially when it’s something scary and unknown.
“THERE WASN’T A LOT OF MEDIA OR BOOKS THAT PORTRAYED GIRLS LIKE HER IN SURF CULTURE: LITTLE GIRLS WHO ARE NERVOUS AND HAVE TO FIND THEIR INNER BRAVERY, BUT WHO DO NOT WANT TO
MISS OUT ON THE FUN.”
Ashley with her youngest daughter, Amelia.