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"It's all the same to the ocean" Feminism in Surfing

Interview with Paula

For all ocean lovers, that live in Gemany the term Klitmøller is well known. The small and cozy fishing village in the north of Denmark, isn't nicknamed "Cold Hawaii" just for fun. As the German coastline isn't known for an excess of surf-friendly beaches, lot of surfers find their way to this beautifully windy place, surrounded by swaying dunes.

 

 

The Cold Hawaii Board Shop, with it's delicious coffee and everything that a surfer could desire, has turned into one of the cities mingling points. This is where I meet Paula (Paula Ahlers). The open and balanced nature of the young athlete, who competes for the national Danish Surf Team, can be felt from the very first smile. We sit down on the wooden terrace in the soft sun rays, which typically give more light than warmth in the Danish summer. Before the conversation has even started, we are greeted by Mor (Mor Meluka), the owner of the board shop and surf camp. Here, with about 800 inhabitants, people simply know each other. 

Regarding my first question, since when she has been surfing, Paula shrugs and brushes it off modestly by saying that this is a good question. 

 „I don't really know.“

When she was little, she was not so keen on surfing. But because of her parents' love for surfing, the wave fever caught up with her at the age of about 7.

Since she was born on the German island Sylt and grew up in Klitmøller from the age of four, getting into surfing was just a matter of time.

Paula is not sure what she likes most about surfing, because there are so many things. That it takes place outside on the water, in the fresh air is definitely one of them and that she always feels completely in balance after a surf session.

 „Even if there is a lot of wind, you go surfing, it doesn't matter. You are really connected to nature and get to know so many people.“

 image by @roestprinzessin

image by @roestprinzessin

I talk to her about what it is like for her to be a woman, mind you one of the best female surfers in Denmark, in a male dominated sport.

When she answers I have to smile, because her down-to-earth nature comes to the surface once more.

 „Well, I don't want to say that I am any good, but I have noticed that if you have a few things to show as a woman when surfing, you will gain respect quite quickly.“

She admits that this is an advantage for her on the one hand, but on the other hand it is not be fair that women generally have to prove themselves more. It would be desirable that a difference in this form wouldn't be drawn in the first place. 

She tells me about situations in which male surfers obviously broke the unwritten rules of lineup and deliberately stole her wave. 

However, she has definitely noticed a positive development here and at the surrounding surf spots in recent years, as the number of female surfers is increasing from year to year, making it more "normal" in everybody's perception. 

Sexism seems to be a problem in the surfing community, not only between individual surfers, but a one that runs through the entire system. In 2019 the World Surf League recognized and addressed this when they decided to provide equal pay for men and women in all WSL-led events. Several waves that had been reduced to male surfers in competitions because they were "too dangerous" for their female colleagues were reopened for women

When it was announced at the beginning of this year that the Brazilian surfer Maya Gabeira broke the world record for the biggest wave ever surfed in womans surf on February 11th, 2020 in Nazaré, Portugal with 73.5 ft, it was officially proven that a general ban for women is by no means appropriate even in one of the most dangerous waves in the world.

The fact that she beat the annual record of her male colleagues, led by Kai Lenny, seemed like a 3.5ft bonus for surf feminism.

However, this movement has unfortunately not caused ripples in all areas of surfing. Paula remembers competitions where her male competitors were given something expensive, like a water sports watch, and the female winners only got a T-shirt. But Paula can't get angry about the absurdity of it, instead we laugh about it. 

I ask her what her tip would be to create more equality in water. After a short consideration she clearly says

 „Don't see differences“

She explains that the sea doesn't care what gender you are, what you look like, whether you are old or young, advanced or a beginner.

 „It's all the same to the ocean.“

We should concentrate much more on the joy of each other and the fun of the sport, letting the ocean set an example for us.

After a short break she adds

 „And just smile.“

Amused, I ask what exactly she means by that. 

Paula explains that many people are constantly occupied with their own problems and project them onto others. This can happen very quickly, whereby a little thing that was not meant badly at all has the potential to escalate. But that does not have to be the case.

 „So you should first try to solve everything with a smile“

The last thing I ask Paula is if she has a tip for surfers who are doubting themselves. 

What makes her even more accessible and likeable to me is that she candidly tells me that she is still a little disappointed with herself at the moment because a competition the previous weekend didn't go so well for her. 

The Danish Surf Tour (5.-6. sept.) in the neighboring village of Hvide Sande was the first after a long covid-19 break, which she admits made her really nervous. 

But one should not be put off after such a day; not by the waves and certainly not by things that were said to you on the water.

And she says, you have to remember that everybody else is focused on their own wave most of the time and they don't care what you are doing, how many times you have just fallen off the board. 

 „Unless you are at a competition with hundreds of spectators“

I cannot hold back from throwing in. 

 Paula laughs. 

 „True, but even then it actually should not matter.“

The pressure would not help, as this competition demonstrated to her. So you should do your best to have fun in every session and enjoy being outdoors.

While I take the camera out to take a picture of Paula finishing off, she remembers one more thing

 „Oh, and yoga truly helps!“

Which I can only agree to with a broad grin and nod.

While I leave the smell of coffee behind me and make my way down to the beach to capture some more snapshots of Klitmøller, Paula joins her friends in the surf shop. She'll waiting to be picked up to drive over to Hanstholm. For a little afternoon surf session of course. 

(This interview was held in German and translated to English by Vanessa Beck)

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