Saturday night I had the great pleasure of attending the 8th anniversary of the San Diego Surf Ladies (SDSL) and Board Shorts Film Festival: Surf films by SoCal artists inspired by women. It was a night I sorely needed, though I didn’t know it until after I entered The Loft.
This winter has been frigid. I realize this is a relatively ridiculous statement coming from someone living where it only snows in the mountains, the weather tends to be moderate, and the ocean water rarely drops into the low 50s F, but this winter is far colder than I remember last year being. After a few storms and a good run of the flu, I’ve found myself spending far too much time indoors amongst leaves of books, pixels, jpegs, and other desiderata of physical inaction.
My skin is pale. My eyes tend toward dark rings and bloodshot fatigue. I haven’t been sleeping well, which generally happens when I lack exercise, and my mind has been stuck on overdrive (another expense paid for lack of water-time). I’ve kept up with politics, the global and domestic news, watched far too many Republican debates and State of the Obamas, and digested copious amounts of National Public Radio.
This isn’t to say that I haven’t been enjoying myself. Winter is often the time of year when I rest my flesh and push the limits of my mental space-a residual pattern from school perhaps. Other activities fill in the space left by surfing, never quite fitting the shape, but taking the edge off that devilish desire to ride. Projects multiply, ideas germinate and grow, and when these don’t move fast enough, I write. For better or for worse, this is how life tends to work in my world. Long nights of studying, brainstorming, writing, flow into long days of surfing, hanging outdoors, and being more social, but until this transition occurs, I tend to keep to myself.
Transitions follow the seasons. Spring crawls from the sea, as I imagine it, while the Fall creeps from over the mountains. The sun and the moon dance from East to West, shifting along a latitudinal line I watch from work. This time of year, the sun blinds me in the afternoon on one side of the restaurant and I find myself paying less attention to the guests, casting sidelong glances out the windows toward the ocean. The winds have switched as well. The flag above the lifeguard station across the street shifts at different times and the smell of the sea that blows through the holes in the patio glass has begun to shed its acrid, loamy scent and is becoming textured in crisp gossamer, with ever so slight hints of mint and citrus.
Saturday night, I entered The Loft still attired in Winter, unused to social gatherings and bewildered by stimuli. I couldn’t hear much of what anyone was saying and found myself distracted from cohesive thought, making conversation nearly impossible. I roamed briefly then sat and didn’t move, not from a lack of wanting to see the people present, those who had made this night possible and were being celebrated, but from an inability to process sensical input. It was like walking into a multilayered white noise. The event had sold out. There were so many people gathered that there was standing room only as the films began.
…as the films began…
The room darkened, the music kicked in, and the film screen flickered to life. My wits scurried back as I was swept into the humor, vision, and talent of films made by and/or inspired by women.
Some of the highlights for me, the films that for various reasons stood out: Chris Grant’s Freedom In Motion, with Shea Hodges, for its emphasis on expression and pushing your own limits, regardless of outcome. This short prompted me to think about how invested we can get in making maneuvers we know we can land as we get to be more experienced surfers, and how we will often choose a safe move rather than pushing ourselves into new territory. Grant and Hodges have created a wonderful metaphor that stretches far beyond surfing. I loved it.
Freedom In Motion by Chris Grant with Shea Hodges
“Surf Jam” for the simple, utter joy it communicates. During this short, I found myself once again contemplating an old friend: the question of non-competitive surfers/surfing and competitive surfers/surfing. I’m quite sure I was the only person in the dim room nearly in tears as I watched the joy on these surfers faces. Any residual arrogance of my younger, competitive surfer-self was stripped from me in the precise moment of watching the faces of the surfers light up. Perhaps it was the context of the film festival, of the people gathered to celebrate the San Diego Surf Ladies, women, and those who are inspired by women; perhaps having been so overwhelmed with stimuli in the beginning I was more vulnerable to emotion… for whatever reason, I loved this film for its ability to reach right into my core-heart and remind me of why I surf.
The other film that had this same affect, but with regard to my relationship with the ocean instead of with surfing per se, was Pierce Michael Kavanagh’s What the Sea Gives Me. The words and the beauty the images conveyed, along with the Florence and the Machine soundtrack, shot directly to my soul. In this film, the relationship is stripped bare, the words the woman speaks could have been my own. This is the way I’ve come to identify art and beauty: when it feels so familiar, so intimate that you find yourself wondering if your very soul had been gauged by the artist through unknown means in some strange, mutual dream. This is when you know you are experiencing art. “Who is this woman?” I wonder now. When I was watching, she was all of us mer-folk, she was me and I felt the call of the sea move within; felt the transitional shift and the pull of Spring toward Summer twist in my gut like the trembling expectation of love’s touch on my skin.
Awakened to this sensation, I watched Hayley Gordon’s stunning work of talent blowing up on screen. I tilted forward, my body moving in physical empathy with the female surfers riding longboards and shortboards. Nearly 15 minutes of this and I was ready to leap out in the water… now.
From beginning to end, art was a salient voice that was threaded throughout the films. This was so incredibly potent and powerful, so engaging, that I didn’t think to consider, until this very moment how ridiculous and flat the sexualizing of female surfers in other surf movies and marketing is in comparison to what was presented. The voice of femininity in these film shorts was anything but one-dimensional; it was beautiful, sensual, strong, playful, graceful, caring, talented, well-spoken, inspirational, incredibly mind-blowing, and it was all done without the lazy sexualization so prevalent in much of commodified Big Surfing.
I walked into The Loft in a paralyzing Winter. I walked out of the film festival a time traveler, situated well into Spring, nearly Summer. Inspiration is that which compels us forward, past our current situation, into unknown waters; it animates us and impels us to reach beyond our comfort zones toward risk, vulnerable and exposed though we may feel.
This night was an inspiration I didn’t know I needed, but can’t imagine having missed. Thank you to SDSL, Michelle Ocampo, Liz Bradshaw, those who supported the event, all the film makers, and surfers in the films for helping to shape such an extraordinary experience.