AWOL

Hello Mr. Magazine - - AWOL - by Fran­cisco Ti­rado

The life of a surfer seems like a soli­tary one, doesn’t it?

When non-surfers think about surf­ing – how we see it in the movies or on our lo­cal coasts – we tend to imag­ine the surfer as a lone, sexy archetype. The cow­boys of the sea. Rid­ing a tide with­out any­one to re­port back to or op­po­nents to share a game with, there’s lit­tle “team­work” vis­i­bly seen in what surfers do on a daily ba­sis.

Talk to any­one work­ing on the forth­com­ing doc­u­men­tary Out in the Line-up, and they’ll tell you dif­fer­ently. Surfers, as they know, thrive in com­mu­ni­ties, and th­ese com­mu­ni­ties are more than just fine-toned Adonises shar­ing high fives in the glis­ten­ing sun. A crew of surfers is about ca­ma­raderie and about chal­leng­ing each other ev­ery day. It’s about mi­grat­ing to where the swell hits bet­ter and go­ing out for carne asada when the day is done.

For a gay surfer, though, that ca­ma­raderie is threat­ened.

David Wake­field came to aban­don com­pet­i­tive surf­ing af­ter he made his com­ing out pub­lic on na­tional tele­vi­sion for Syd­ney Mardi Gras 2011. For David, ca­ma­raderie didn’t seem like an op­tion af­ter his pri­vate life and his pro­fes­sional life were melded. State cham­pion or not, there were – and still are – overt ho­mo­pho­bic ten­den­cies in the pro surf­ing cir­cuit. And now be­cause of that, David was the Pa­cific’s Lone Ranger. Or so it felt.

“He was ready for the next thing,” says Thomas Castets, a pro­ducer for the film who marched with David at Mardi Gras. Thomas came to meet David shortly af­ter he founded Gay­surfers.net, an online so­cial net­work for gay-iden­ti­fy­ing board-rid­ers. His ac­cent has the back­bone of his charm­ing French de­scent but with cool, Aussie over­tones, which poke through most when he says things like “What do ya mean” and “Fahr out.”

Thomas de­scribes how David’s tele­vised com­ing-out be­came the idea for the doc­u­men­tary: “In­stead of say­ing, ‘We should show that there are gay peo­ple in the surf­ing world,’ [David] said ‘We should show there are surfers in the gay world.’”

Us­ing Gay­surfers.net as their rolodex, David, Thomas, and the crew set out to un­cover and film the sto­ries of gay surfers for Out in the Lineup (due this De­cem­ber). And where the con­ver­gence of th­ese two for­ward-think­ing guys seems like the set up to a great, gay ro­man­tic com­edy, their mo­ti­va­tion for con­nect­ing more gay surfers was nei­ther ro­man­tic, nor po­lit­i­cal.

Pro­ducer Don Red­din says that the orig­i­nal goal for the doc­u­men­tary has shifted. Big surf­ing brands con­vey a hack­neyed idea of what a surfer should be – the Bil­l­abongs and Quick­sil­vers. Where me­dia gi­ants per­pet­u­ate a bro-ish stan­dard for surfers, there is also a mis­rep­re­sented gay cul­ture. “You have this whole group of peo­ple that are caught be­tween two stereo­types,” says Don. The new chal­lenge in the film is in re­flect­ing the sport’s true diver­sity. “You don’t have to be ei­ther one of th­ese.”

Whether you’re part of a group or off on your own, th­ese film­mak­ers have found that gay surfers are de­cid­edly AWOL. Don says that al­though ac­cep­tance varies ge­o­graph­i­cally, the iden­tity of a gay surfer is hid­den more of­ten than not.

The white-hot center of the project isn’t about “iden­tity” or even “in­clu­sion.” It’s about un­earthing a com­mu­nity that’s slow to con­nect be­cause of their in­her­ent with­drawn­ness.

From Aus­tralia to Ecuador, San Diego to Brazil, the team has been film­ing new sto­ries to ease the iso­la­tion of gay surfers within their re­spec­tive com­mu­ni­ties. Through this project, they’re able to con­nect men and women on their com­mon grounds, not just in surf­ing but in their re­la­tion­ship with the sea.

The ocean un­cov­ers a hum­bler side of surfers, rather than the stereo­typ­i­cal ar­ro­gance and ego of com­pet­i­tive surf. “It showed me a very pure way of surf­ing. Surf­ing has evolved,” says Thomas.

Ryan Hines is another surfer who’s been at it for 11 years and only re­cently came to find Gay­surfers.net. Though Don and Thomas men­tioned some­thing to the same ef­fect, Ryan puts it best: “For me, out on the wa­ter, that com­mu­nity brings us back to ba­sics.” Ryan de­scribes that the sea is ex­actly the com­mon­al­ity that brings surfers to­gether, and the com­mon­al­ity that brings to­gether all the mem­bers of Gay­surfers.net. “In the wa­ter, we are one.”

This shined through when they set out to film us­ing Gay­surfers.net as their source of con­nec­tion. World­wide, the film­mak­ers are able to travel with the ocean as their com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor. “Where ever we went, we stayed with the mem­bers. They hired cars for us, they booked ho­tel rooms. We went to Mex­ico surf­ing, this guy lent us his house,” the list goes on for Thomas.

Other times, surf­ing is ex­actly the re­mote ex­pe­ri­ence we see in movies. “When the wave comes and you’re about to drop in, it’s you and only you. No one else,” Ryan says. Now that the film has taken off, that alone­ness is ex­changed for this in­nate uni­ver­sal­ity. Left and right, gay men and women are rais­ing their hands and say­ing, “I guess I’m not the only one.”

A niche as small as “gay surfers” can still pro­vide insight to a wider de­mo­graphic. “Our story may be about surfers, but they’re com­mon to all gay men and women,” he says. There are times when a per­son feels in­vis­i­ble, off the map, or forced into a cat­e­gory that’s in­con­sis­tent with who they are. But by mak­ing this doc­u­men­tary, Don and the rest of the crew are tran­scrib­ing the Gay­surfers.net into film.

If surf­ing cul­ture is in­her­ently ho­mo­pho­bic, then unit­ing a scat­tered group over a sin­gle en­tity can change the tide. “The story is uni­ver­sal, you know,” says Thomas. “Any­one can be bul­lied out of their pas­sion.”

What the team be­hind Out in the Line-up wants to con­vey is that the gay com­mu­nity is not one big con­glom­er­ate, but a unique ecosys­tem di­vided into cul­tures and sub­cul­tures. Amongst the in­ter­twin­ing niches, and en­thu­si­ast cat­e­gories are groups of peo­ple who love their boards. And now fully vis­i­ble, they’re putting their place in his­tory. Once un­charted, now thou­sands of tiny pins are be­ing stuck into an ever-grow­ing map.

photo by Natasha Chad­wick

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