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SURFERS HAVE al­ways fol­lowed their own rules; their cul­ture has a hippy vibe built on a re­laxed life­style that re­jects con­ven­tion. Why, then, is the surf­ing pro­fes­sion more ho­mo­pho­bic than the AFL, golf or even rugby? “It’s re­ally be­hind the times com­pared with other sports,” says Aus­tralian Ian Thom­son, whose doc­u­men­tary on gay surfers, Out in the Lineup, is part of the FEAST film fes­ti­val pro­gram. “That comes as a sur­prise to many people be­cause they think of surf­ing as this hippy coun­ter­cul­ture, free-lov­ing, free-think­ing, free-liv­ing cul­ture and sport.”

There are gay surfers who were happy to be in­ter­viewed in Thom­son’s film, but the only pro­fes­sional surfers who fea­ture have al­ready re­tired.

“There are no gay male pro­fes­sional surfers,” he says. “I in­ter­view (WA surfer) Matt Bran­son who was a pro­fes­sional surfer in the ’90s and he had to leave the pro tour to come out. That se­cret could have de­stroyed him, his ca­reer and the two com­pa­nies that were spon­sor­ing him.”

The growth of a co­he­sive gay surf­ing move­ment be­gan re­cently when a French surfer who moved to Aus­tralia, Thomas Castets, set up a web­site GaySurfers.net.

It turned out he wasn’t the only gay surfer in the world and those who con­tacted him had a sim­i­lar story; they feared be­ing outed and os­tracised. Many felt stranded be­tween gay cul­ture and surf cul­ture.

Thom­son says the anti-gay ethos is clear from the ban­ter in the surf any­where and is strong­est around re­gional com­mu­ni­ties.

“The peck­ing or­der in surf­ing is such that to put oth­ers down you de­scribe them as be­ing ‘a poofter’ or ‘a fag’, some­times quite ag­gres­sively,” says Thom­son. “It’s in­ter­est­ing be­cause (for­mer Aus­tralian cham­pion) Bar­ton Lynch de­scribes it as not even be­ing aware they were putting people down.”

Thom­son says the pre­vail­ing mood is “don’t ask; don’t tell”. The sto­ries from the 1980s and ’90s of gay surfers be­ing bashed have gone, but in their place is de­nial rather than ac­cep­tance.

Un­like sports such as foot­ball or ten­nis, surfers don’t earn much from their ath­letic per­for­mance; the money is in the spon­sor­ship deals they at­tract, which means fit­ting into some sort of mar­ketable ideal of what a surfer should be. And for men or women, that doesn’t in­clude be­ing gay.

Thom­son, who lived in Europe for al­most 20 years, says he ap­proached the pro­fes­sional surf­ing body, the ASP, about in­tro­duc­ing an anti-ho­mo­pho­bic clause into its pro­fes­sional codes, much as the Aus­tralian Foot­ball codes are look­ing at do­ing. It wasn’t even on their agenda.

“Surf­ing is be­hind the times,” says Thom­son. “Much as they like to think of them­selves as at the fore­front of coun­ter­cul­ture, they’re ac­tu­ally very main­stream.”

For­mer Ade­laide surfer Milly Hyde, pic­tured above, who now lives in Wol­lon­gong, ap­pears in the doc­u­men­tary talk­ing about grow­ing up in the Barossa where her fa­ther was a doc­tor.

“I was too scared to come out be­cause I was from such a con­ser­va­tive fam­ily,” Hyde says. “I didn’t know any­one who was gay. My dad used to talk about poofter bash­ing...”

Hyde says there was anonymity in the wa­ter, where ev­ery­one looked the same, but the cul­ture badly needed to change. “The film has a re­ally nice in­ti­macy and asks some im­por­tant ques­tions of the surf in­dus­try,” she says. “It’s in­ter­est­ing, there’s been other sports where people have come out, like rugby, and it’s yet to hap­pen with surf­ing. I think this film is go­ing to push it around a bit.”

Thom­son says he made the doc­u­men­tary partly to raise aware­ness but also to sup­port young gay surfers who might feel like Ben Roper, a flight at­ten­dant and mem­ber of the Bra Boys surf­ing com­mu­nity who took his own life last year.

“Ben Roper’s mother said, if it can stop one young gay surfer feel­ing that there was no other op­tion than to choose that path then we’re suc­cess­ful with this film,” he says. “But we’re also try­ing to start some aware­ness and di­a­logue with the surf­ing com­mu­nity.” Out in the Lineup screens to­mor­row at 7pm at the Mer­cury Cin­ema, fol­lowed by a Q&A ses­sion with Ian Thom­son. The Feast Film Fes­ti­val pro­gram runs un­til July 6. feast.org.au

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