The life of a surfer seems like a solitary one, doesn't it?
When nonsurfers think about surfing -- how we see it in the movies or on our local coasts -- we tend to imagine the surfer as a lone, sexy archetype. The cowboys of the sea. Riding a tide without anyone to report back to or opponents to share a game with, there's little "teamwork" visibly seen in what surfers do on a daily basis.
Talk to anyone working on the forthcoming documentary Out in the Lineup, and they'll tell you differently. Surfers, as they know, thrive in communities, and these communities are more than just toned Adonises sharing high fives in the glistening sun. A crew of surfers is about camaraderie and challenging each other everyday. It's about migrating to where the swell hits better and going out for carne asada when the day is done.
For a gay surfer, though, that camaraderie is threatened.
David Wakefield came to abandon competitive surfing after he came out publicly on national television for Sydney Mardi Gras 2011. For David, camaraderie didn't seem like an option after his private life and his professional life were melded. State champion or not, there were -- and still are -- overt homophobic tendencies in the pro surfing circuit. And now, because of that, David was the Pacific's lone ranger. Or so it felt.
"He was ready for the next thing," says Thomas Castets, a producer for the film who marched with David at Mardi Gras. Thomas came to meet David shortly after he founded gaysurfers.net, an online social network for gay-identified board riders. His charming accent hints at his French origins, but with cool, Aussie overtones that poke through most when he says things like "What do ya mean?" and "Fahr out."
"Instead of saying, 'We should show that there are gay people in the surfing world,' [David] said, 'We should show there are surfers in the gay world,'" Thomas said, describing how David's televised coming out became the idea for the documentary.
Using gaysurfers.net as rolodex, David, Thomas and the crew set out to uncover and film the stories of gay surfers for Out in the Lineup (due this December). And where the meet-cute of these two forward-thinking guys seems like the setup for a great, gay romantic comedy, their motivation for connecting more gay surfers was neither romantic nor political.
Don Reddin of Yellow Dot Productions says that the original goal for the documentary has shifted. Big surfing brands -- the Billabongs and the Quiksilvers -- convey a hackneyed idea of what a surfer should be. Where media giants perpetuate a bro-ish standard for surfers, there is also a misrepresented gay culture. "You have this whole group of people that are caught between two stereotypes," says Don. The new challenge in the film is in reflecting the sport's true diversity. "You don't have to be either one of these."
These filmmakers have found that gay surfers, whether part of a group or off on their own, are decidedly AWOL. Don says that although ranges of acceptance vary geographically, the identity of a gay surfer is hidden more often than not.
The white-hot center of the project isn't about "identity" or even "inclusion." It's about unearthing a community that's slow to connect because of their withdrawnness. What the film realizes is that gay surfers are not so much rare beasts as they are an endangered species.
From Australia to Ecuador, San Diego to Brazil, the team has been filming new stories to ease the immanent isolation of gay surfers within their respective communities. Through this project, they're able to connect men and women on their common grounds, not just in surfing but in their relationship with the sea.
The ocean uncovers the humbler side of surfers, rather than the arrogance and ego of competitive surf seen in stereotypes. "It showed me a very pure way of surfing. Surfing has evolved," says Thomas.
Ryan Hines is another surfer who's been at it for 11 years and only recently came to find gaysurfers.net. Though Don and Thomas mentioned something to the same effect, Ryan puts it best: "For me, out on the water, that community brings us back to basics." Ryan describes that the sea is exactly the commonality that brings surfers together, and the commonality that brings together all the members of gaysurfers.net. "In the water, we are one."
This commonality shone through when they set out to film using gaysurfers.net as their source of connection. Worldwide, the filmmakers are able to travel with the ocean as their only common denominator. "Wherever we went, we stayed with the members. They hired cars for us, they booked hotel rooms, we went to Mexico surfing, this guy lent us his house," said Thomas. "It was really cool."
Other times, surfing is exactly the remote experience we see in movies. "When the wave comes and you're about to drop in, it's you and only you, no one else," Ryan says. Now that the film has taken off, that aloneness is exchanged for this innate universality. Left and right, gay men and women are raising their hands and saying, "I guess I'm not the only one."
A niche as small as "gay surfers" can still provide insight to a wider demographic. "Our story may be about surfers, but they're common to all gay men and women," he says. There are times when a person feels invisible, off the map, or forced into a category that's inconsistent with who they are. But by making this documentary, Don and the rest of the crew are transcribing the gaysurfers.net into film.
If surfing culture is inherently homophobic, then uniting a scattered group over a single entity can change the tide. "The story is universal, you know," says Thomas. "Anyone can be bullied out of their passion."
What the team behind Out in the Lineup realizes is that the gay community is not one massive conglomerate but a unique ecosystem divided into cultures and subcultures. Amongst the intertwining niches and enthusiast categories are a group of people who love their boards. And now fully visible, they're putting their place in history. Once uncharted, now thousands of tiny pins are being stuck into an ever-growing map.
The documentary Out in the Lineup is almost finished. To learn more, check out their Kickstarter page and new video!
This piece originally appeared in the second issue of Hello Mr., a magazine about men who date men. Published twice annually, each issue chronicles everyday life and the narratives that define it through a diverse collection of essays, interviews, illustrations, and photography. Issue 02 is available now at hellomrmag.com.