Q+A with Lauren Hill, Surfer, Feminist + Environmentalist

Lauren Hill is a surfer in the most literal sense, as someone who not only celebrates the surface tension of life but is also willing to dive beneath, to explore things and elements that are below the surface.

As a surfer, Lauren rides the waves with grace, meaning and passion. She really represents the gratitude and commitment it takes to balance making a living and making a life. When faced with the decision to either surf professionally or go to university, she went to school for environmental and social science – it ended up being the perfect way for her two passions to coalesce. Now, she is not only a professional surfer represented by Billabong, but has also been published academically on intersections of surfing, sustainability, and gender issues.

As the mind and spirit behind the incredible blog The Sea Kin, she balances celebration of surf culture with critique. She explores feminism, female surf culture, environmentalism, ecology and activism. One of her recent posts, “Hipster Sexism, Brother of Surfer Sexism,” is an incredibly insightful assessment of the way that irony is used to make sexism and the portrayal of women as sex objects not only acceptable, but trendy. Her heart and consciousness beat so strongly behind pieces like this and her environmental work, but with a humility and empathy and internal strength that make her message even more powerful.

We know that Lauren – with her connection to the earth, her attention to life’s natural rhythms, and her sensitivity to the undercurrents of society – will inspire you as much as she inspires us. 

The Basics

  • Age: 30
  • Location: Byron Bay, Australia
  • Education: Travel + Bachelor of Arts degrees in Environmental Science and Social Science
  • Field of Interest: Surfing, Ocean Conservation, Feminism, Ecofeminism
  • What’s Your Favorite Thing About Yourself? That I’ve stuck to my passion for surfing
  • What Inspired You Today? The beauty of our beehive, a great conversation, bodysurfing in a clean ocean
  • What Are You Currently Reading and/or Listening To? The podcast On Being, Tom Robbins’ autobiography Tibetan Peach Pie & a book called We Are All Stardust (interviews with prominent scientists)
  • Are You Working on Any Projects That You’re Really Excited About? Yes! Starting a women’s group of inspiring women to meet with regularly, plotting the next trip for my Chasing the Sun Series eco-adventures, taking over a whole issue of Surfing World Magazine (with my partner Dave) here in Australia.

www.mingnomchong.com

Questions + Answers

You’re a world-renowned surfer, an inspiring feminist, and a passionate environmentalist. Is there a unifying theme in these three interests, and if so, what is it?

I haven’t ever thought about the connections between those three passions at length, but I think the link between them has to do with tameness vs. wildness.

Surfing came first, I fell in love with wave riding immediately as a 14 year old. Then came the drive to protect the places that had given me so much joy, then the inspiration to see the feminine both respected and represented within surf culture and playing in the wilds, rejecting the tame version of womanhood that we’ve been sold.

la body womp photo by rastovich

Each passion led to another.

That’s the magical thing about throwing yourself into your interests and passions and just going for it: you never know which decision, which passion, which project will ignite the next fire to keep you blazing in your creativity and engaged with the world in your fullest potential.

The Sea Kin, your blog, is a fantastic body of work. In it, you celebrate female surfers, write about ocean conservation, and speak with grace and generosity. What inspires you most about the female surf community?

Thank you. I’ve been blogging for about 8 years now, and that’s taken several manifestations, the most recent being The Sea Kin, which is a place to celebrate community, ecology and activism, as well as highlighting oft-excluded voices from within the surfing community.

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What I’ve noticed about women around the world over the last 15 years that I’ve been surf traveling is that we tend to surf for different reasons than lots of men do, or at least we tend to articulate why we surf in different terms. Although that’s not necessarily celebrated in mainstream surf culture, I see women celebrating surfing and making culture for themselves all over the place.

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Throughout your work, you seem to simultaneously celebrate and challenge surfer culture. Could you speak a little bit about that, if you find it to be true?

Yes, I like to think that that’s true. I grew up in this culture that celebrates play and the ocean, that encompasses a watery way of life that offers up so many opportunities for connection to self, community and the wider world around us.

My life has pretty much revolved around surfing since I started. Every major decision I’ve made – where to go to university, where to travel, jobs, love – surfing has played a part in.

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And as much as surfing is worth celebrating, the culture around it has been sowed and grown by a very particular group of mostly Western white dudes, and all of the vices that we know may accompany that subset. Like, for example, sexism, racism, colonialism, etc.

That leaves lots of room for fleshing out new ideas of what it means to surf and be a surfer. There are lots of amazing women and men doing just that all over the world. It’s an exciting time to have the opportunity to ask questions of our culture and have them be heard.

photo courtsey Billabong-Maassen -Lauren on location photoshoot for Billabong in Hawaii-

Fill in the blanks: I think the most gorgeous place to surf is in a clean, warm ocean, because I just love the magic of its ever-changing wateriness.

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In the spirit of holistic living and Tom Robbins, we’ve interpreted surfing as a serendipitous, beautiful collision of elements: the fire of the sun as well as the passion and determination on the part of the surfer, the earthliness of the human body, and the unpredictability and power of the ocean. Is there an element you depend on most, in surfing, and more broadly, in life?

IMG_1411That’s a really beautiful way to think of surfing. I like to think of it as a dance of energies: you have these pulses of wave energy traveling from hundreds or thousands of miles away, and then you, in your little watery body, greet this energetic pulse just as it nears shore. You match its speed and tempo with paddling and then stand to dance along the water rushing over the energy wave until it dissipates.

You’re left with nothing but a memory; nothing tangible, nothing productive. It’s pure play. And it keeps you coming back for more!

Water probably plays the most obvious role in my life, so much so that I feel physically dry if I’m away from the ocean for too long.

Surfing seems like such a precarious balancing act, a dance and a battle. It’s simultaneously so graceful and so physically demanding. How do you reckon with these contradictions, and how does that idea of balance play into it, conceptually, emotionally and physically?

Probably the greatest gift of riding waves is the no-mindedness that happens when you’re really in it. When you’re riding a wave and you’re fully present, there’s no need to reckon with anything; you’re just fully aware and committed to that one moment as it unfolds before you.

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This kind of focus is exactly what many practices like meditation aim for: presence. Of course, it doesn’t last very long, but that stark presence and deep embodiment of our senses and intuitive adaptations to the wave before us is something that really allows one to feel so alive.

Ocean conservation is an issue that impacts all of us, but it can seem really distant. Do you have any advice for how to keep this issue in our hearts as we go through daily life?

LAUREN-HILL__6-620x7011. Move your money out of big banks that finance environmentally destructive projects

Pull your money out of the big banks that fund projects like oil and gas exploration, which degrade the Great Barrier Reef and contribute massively to climate change. After all, they are leveraging OUR money to invest.

Support your community credit unions that keep funds close to home, stimulating local economies while promoting environmental protection.

2. Buy less / Use less

Recycling is great, but it doesn’t really address the fact that we’re still producing and using way more plastic than we need. Too much of it ends up clogging our oceans. I like to think about ways to streamline purchases and the ways that we’ve been sold lies about what we need.

Take liquid soap, for example. Instead of buying 4 or 5 different plastic bottles of soap for various tasks (hand washing, dish washing, body washing, floor washing, etc.), just bulk buy one high quality, plant based soap in a big jar. You can use it for everything and it’ll probably be cheaper since you aren’t paying for packaging.

3. Support Farmer’s Markets  / Grow Your Own

Localizing our food purchases supports local economies and means higher quality food with less environmental impact via packaging and shipping.

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4. Support local NGOs and groups that you believe in

Donate, volunteer, make them a meal, or ask them how you can contribute your gifts to their work.

Who inspires you?

Right now I’m incredibly inspired by Helena Norberg-Hodge, a pioneer of the Localisation movement. She’s 70 and is one of the most active, engaged, and radical women that I know.

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+ What was your favorite part of Lauren’s interview? The most moving? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!
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