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