I went to see the film ‘Last Hope’ which was part of the Perth festival. It was showing at the beautiful art deco Astor Cinema in Mount Lawley. Actually, I thought I was going to see Holly Throsby. My mate had invited me to see Holly and I hadn’t realised we were seeing a film with a live soundtrack, with Holly as one of the musicians. We arrived, went to our seats, and I began checking out the audience. It was your general Perth festival crowd; middle class, middle-age, well-dressed, semi-arty looking crew – you know, the generic Perth picnic crew. But there was something frighteningly familiar about this crew, which I couldn’t quite put my finger on. That is, until I realised that the musicians were providing a soundtrack to a surf film. Bah Bow.
Let me tell you a story…
When I was a young ‘un, my dad taught my brother and I to surf. We’d go down to Freshie beach and he’d take us out to ‘Kiddie’s Corner’. He’d stand in waist deep water push us onto little waves, yell at us to “paddle, paddle” and then “up, up”. We’d paddle onto the wave and try to scramble upright without our knees scraping the board; one swift motion from belly to feet. My brother and I shared a six foot, single fin, fibro board from Bennett’s surfboards. The fin was huge and translucent green; the colour of a piece of glass thrashed in sand and salt and sun for too long. The board was white and waxed with Kangaroo wax – the smell reminded me of the boot of my dad’s car, where a block of sex wax had melted a few years earlier.
When I was in year six I bought a little thruster; it was a Simon Anderson Energy; sky-blue at the nose, fading into white at the tail. There’s a photo of me outside my dad’s work, holding the board under my arm. I have on, a flouro, multi-coloured singlet and a strange and spiky haircut.
I surfed through that summer on my new board. It was nerve wracking paddling out into the surf and sitting amongst a mob of fellas, but I think they probably thought I was a bloke anyway. I remember once hassling some young prick that kept dropping in on me. He was significantly older and bigger than me so I mocked him with taunts of ‘bucky’ (hey, I was 12). He chased me up the beach, scraped my head along a brick wall as I was running into the girls dunnies took my board and buried it in the dunes.
Then I started high school. I had pictures of Tommy Carroll gleaming out from the cover of my books, and doodles of barrelling waves scrawled over everything. I started high school and started being tortured. These days, you’d probably be topshit if you were a young woman that surfed, but a short-haired, freckly tomboy in the early 80’s? Not so much (I went to an IWD speech last week with Chief Justice Antoinette Kennedy, she mentioned that in her early 20s during an interview she told the reporter that she was treated really well, no sexism to see here. She then said, that you don’t really notice sexism, until you become a threat).
Fuck I got harassed. I was actually a far better surfer than most of the blokes who took an exquisite and sadistic pleasure in torturing me. They tortured me in the water and at school. They used to call me bushpig. I had absolutely no idea what a bushpig was but was horrified one day, to see an image in a surf mag of Miss Piggy. She had been sprayed onto some dudes board; coyly peering over her shoulder, flaunting mounds of flesh, big nose and hooves in some kind of surreal parody of objectification. I was fucking devastated.
Women were mostly missing in surf vids and mags; missing in the sense of women being surfers. There were plenty of women as spank-bank fodder in advertisements; breasts and arses loomed out from the pages of magazines, and vids conveyed the obligatory up and down body shots of women’s tits as they lay or played on the beach. There were occasionally segments or articles on women surfers, but by far, through surf culture, I learned that women were there to be seen, not surf.
There’s a myth about surfers, and it’s a myth that shits me. The story goes that they’re a cruisey mob. That they have some kind of infinity with nature, they’re larrikins, easygoing, good natured yobs. I’m sure they are, if you’re one of their mates, or adhere to their cultural norms, but mostly they’re not. Often they’re buttheads. Over-privileged, smug, and sometimes nasty, buttheads. I’m not saying that all surfers are bullying bastards, it’s just that their cultural norms are rigid (men are expected to adhere to a particular mode of masculinity and I’m sure it’s brutishly painful) and if you don’t fit, you’re excluded either explicitly or implicitly; you’re either dropped in on, hassled verbally, or deliberately ignored. It means, often, that women are either excluded or have to maintain particular standards to be accepted. I have no doubt, that had I been a demure and submissive young woman, if I had flirted and laughed and giggled at the shit I was dealt, If I had of acquiesced to their bullying, I would have had a much easier time of it. Instead, I was a mouthy, feisty tomboy that couldn’t help making snarky inflammatory retorts to the bullshit I copped. This isn’t an argument against women who do acquiesce, or who are giggly flirts. I don’t give a shit what you do or how you cope, either to get by or because that’s how you are, I later acquiesced… but that’s another story. This is an argument against all women being expected to adhere to particular modes of behaviour, and an argument for all those who don’t fit our rigid cultural norms.
Aaanyway, basically when I was growing up, women were invisibilised from surfing – there were occasional exceptions, but mostly when women were represented in mags or vids they were men’s playthings. I read a really interesting article written by Margaret Henderson who mapped different shifts in the surf media’s construction of surfing and masculinity; which, she argues, hardened its ‘patriarchal ideology’ (its arseholery and basdardry) while also pretending to be open to women’s surfing, she says;
“Women do gain limited recognition as surfers, with a number of champion surfers interviewed and a couple of articles on women and surfing being published, yet these are short and infrequent pieces that often stress the feminine appearance of the surfer. More important is the first appearance of a strategy that Tracks uses to deal with the ongoing complaints of sexism and neglect of women surfers, a technique I term ‘discipline and punish’. This refers to the method where Tracks publishes a generally supportive article on women’s surfing accompanied by a sexist graphic, or in the same article or the following issue, publishes an absolutely misogynist article or particularly sexist photograph(s).” *
So, Last Hope. Last Hope was a series of short films that had a surfing/water/weather theme. It celebrated the soul surfer lifestyle; the kind of older counter-culture construction of the early 70s. The film started and I just sat with my teeth clenched waiting. Waiting to see if there would be women in it, thinking ‘come on, it’s 2010 – it can’t still be happening’. The soundtrack and graininess of film evoked a kind of melancholic nostalgia.
Images of smiling blonde children staring and smiling into cameras, shots of blokes surfing, whimsical shots of young, long-haired women riding old-school pushies through dusty sunlight, experimental shots of small waves running crossways over sandbanks crashing into one another. There were no women surfing. Actually, there may have been a shot of one woman silhouetted by the sun, riding a wave but I couldn’t be sure – it was such a quick shot. There were women who contributed to the films and there were women musos but no women surfing and I just thought “FUCK”, you know? I just can’t comprehend how women still just get invisibilised from everything. Another weird and fucked thing; I swear to you that there was a shot of either a golliwog or a person in blackface or some kind of weird mask, it was such a quick shot that I couldn’t be sure, but I had been noticing that there were only white dudes in the movie and as soon as I saw that shot, I froze and then just kind of shrugged in fucking resignation ‘of course there was a shot of a golliwog – what else would you expect?’ I walked out thinking arseholes, arseholes, arseholes.
* A shifting line up: men, women, and Tracks surfing magazine.