Renowned big wave surfer and filmmaker Dayla Soul said it was an honour to be included in BBFF16 when we spoke to her. But it is our privilege to be screening her documentary It Ain’t Pretty, based on her own and other women’s experience of sharing the big waves around San Francisco with the men in this macho sport.
Featuring Bianca Valenti, Savannah Shaughnessy and Paige Alms, among many others, It Ain’t Pretty takes a look at surfing from a woman’s point of view – specifically women who are life-time surfers and renowned big wave challengers:
BBFF: How did It Ain’t Pretty begin: was there a flashpoint moment?
DS: I am originally from Kauai, Hawaii, and have surfed my whole life. So the idea of filming surfing wasn’t new. I have always loved watching surf movies as well.
Now that I live in Northern California I realised there weren’t any films of women challenging the icy cold water here. We have Mavericks and Ocean Beach, renowned big wave spots and there just weren’t any films representing them – except for One Winters Story by Elizabeth Pepin Silva, based on the first women to surf Mavericks, Sarah Gerhardt.
So I thought I would go out and try and capture some of the other hard-charging ladies, put it to music and eventually show it at some local theatre for fun. Like Surf Night. Then about two months into it I met Bianca Valenti and we both knew we had a much richer story here.
We decided to start a Kickstarter campaign and raise $36,000. We succeeded and I was able to go and buy top of the line filming equipment. I spent two seasons filming the girls.
BBFF: Can you describe the filmmaking process? What was the biggest challenge?
DS: Being new to documentary filmmaking, I wasn’t sure on what to keep and what not to or even that I should have been filming off a storyboard. It never occurred to me to write it all out. I just had it all in my head with a few key questions and went out and followed every lead down every turn, from surfing early the morning footage from one spot to the other to interviews in the afternoons and nightly events.
It was pretty jam-packed for two years so I ended up with way more footage than I knew what to do with. Let’s just say we definitely have enough for a second film. The challenge was to piece the story together after the fact.
My editor Jody Banks and I spent the last year writing and editing it all out with hours of footage. A kinda backwards process and very arduous. Then again it wouldn’t be what it is if we hadn’t done it that way. There’s a certain free flow to the film that takes you on my journey.
Plus there is no narration other than what the girls talk about so I found that to be interesting as well. Maybe at times the viewer gets bounced around the topics but we were hoping the music and vibrant footage would make up for that.
BBFF: Can you briefly outline your pathway into filmmaking? Where did it begin? Where would you like to see it go?
DS: I love surf movies but am tired of all the soft easy ladies’ films with girls running down the beach in slow motion in bikinis. I wanted to watch some hardcore action like we see in men’s films. I am hoping to make the second film but know I will never be able to do it the same way I did the last.
BBFF: What drives you as a filmmaker?
DS: People’s stories and how you can capture a moment that entices people to be moved and inspired.
BBFF: How important is the sea to you – and surfing?
DS: Surfing is in my blood. My lil brother and I grew up very poor and on welfare. We lived in bathrooms and in cars growing up. So surfing was always that place for us to feel like we were like everyone else.
In the water, you don’t know how much money someone has or if they are homeless. Though it was on Kauai and warm weather, being poor was something that we had a hard time with. The ocean saved us from getting into a bunch of trouble. Even now I go to the ocean to let the stress and anxiety go.
The Ocean is everything and all things to me.
BBFF: Could you outline what sexism looks like in surfing – especially in regard to being in the water, but also in comps, the media, wherever else.
DS: Sexism is sexism and it’s non-exclusive to surfing. We really see it on all walks of life, including business, entertainment and really all sports. Sexism is a little like racism. Whatever your privilege, male, white, wealthy female, it is pervasive in language and choices.
Sometimes it’s hidden from our privilege and unconscious in our language while other times it’s very purposeful. Webster definition is: prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.
For me it shows up in surfing magazines in the advertisements, with women’s asses being displayed throughout while the males are portrayed as warriors and women are the eye candy showing off the latest bikini.
In comps, there’s the double standard, with more emphasis put on the ladies who are sponsored being a certain weight and body type over their ability.
Women should also be held accountable for perpetuating this culture. I read an article where Coco Ho was saying that women shouldn’t get the same comp money as the men because they weren’t as good as the men. That seems so ridiculous considering she is in the top 1% of the best female surfers in the world. So if we want things to change we can’t be made scapegoats and must take responsibility for where our own privileged makes less of someone else.
BBFF: Who are the worst perpetrators: male surfers?
DS: I almost think its worse when women try and defend the culture of sexism. Men are just doing what the culture tells them to do and what they have been taught early on. Make no mistake, this culture of sexism doesn’t help men in the least. As well as there being a real cost to how 50% of girls don’t feel comfortable in with their bodies, boys are told not to cry. It’s a real shame how society falls for these ridiculous paradigms while it goes against our nature. Sexism is learned, just like racism.
BBFF: What do you hope to achieve with this film – to effect social/attitudinal change?
DS: What I hope my film will do is spark a deeper conversation around equality, whether it’s in advertisements, business or big wave surfing. I want to inspire the youth – particularly women to not let anything stop them from accomplishing their dreams. Even if what they want to become is a weightlifter in the Olympics.
BBFF: Can you tell us about any future projects you’re involved with, be they filmmaking or surfing?
Right now here in Half Moon Bay, there is a movement of women wanting to be included in the Mavericks of Titan comp. I am involved with that. Attached is a recent article as well as our FB page on this.