Women surfers mak­ing waves

From Bali to Cape Town, pho­tog­ra­pher Saskia Ko­erner cap­tures the fe­male story

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - NEWS - ABHINANDA DATTA

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.

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