Roxy doesn’t care what we think but maybe it should

An avalanche of opinion greeted the now infamous advertisement featuring Stephanie Gilmore’s body parts as a promo for the Biarritz Roxy pro when it was released in June. Two weeks ago Roxy finally issued a bizarre statement which skirted around the controversy. I’m not sure what they’ve been doing for the past three months, but it’s clear the company doesn’t seem to understand what all the fuss was about.

I’m not about to launch into a rant about the objectification of female athletes because the time for that was in June when the commercial was first released. To do so now would be akin to wrapping my hair into side buns, donning a flowing white dress and grabbing a fake laser pistol before heading to Event Cinemas Bondi Junction for the premier of Star Wars. I’m about four decades too late.

Besides pop culture feminism, in Australia at least, has now moved on to dissecting Mia Freedman’s latest click bait extravaganza, a brief summation and critique can be found here if you’re so inclined.
The sad reality is the sexualisation of women in sport is nothing new, nor is it unique to surfing. Make no mistake the people at Roxy think they made a good ad, or rather the agency they paid to create it, told them they made a good ad and only a minority (of extremists) hated it. You could sense the eye-rolling and snarky comments, the moment the first objections were raised. It was an attitude reflected in the half-arsed non apology it took them a season to write.

But in dismissing the issue with such obvious disdain, Roxy may have missed a more relevant point.

Surfers are like junkies, we seek out a quick ocean fix wherever we can. If we’re not in the water we’re stealing precious moments at work or home to check out articles, photographs and videos of others performing incredible feats of board riding rodeo. Disappointing and predictable sexism aside, the truly unforgivable element of Roxy’s Biarritz pro promo was the lack of any surfing.

Let me put it another way, if I search for a preview of next week’s episode of Homeland (pretend it’s still Season 1, Season 3 just makes me sad), I want to see Carrie cry face, Saul earnestly brooding and Brody appearing both confused and homicidal. What I do not want to see is Clare Danes rolling around on a bed in her underwear and it’s absurd to think such a video would be made.

Likewise if I’m desperately seeking surfing online there had better be some actual wave riding when I click play. As appealing as a half-naked women rolling around on a bed might be to the average (male) punter – those aren’t the people who want to watch a preview of a woman’s surfing event.

The internet is full of half naked women. A quick google of ‘hot surfer chicks’ will offer up an infinite choice of longer, more explicit, vision minus the cheap attempt to flog a load of apple-wannabe smart phones in the process.

What it’s not full of are women effortlessly gliding across the water.  Replacing a sought after, albeit fairly niche, product with something that can’t hope to compete in an already saturated marketplace isn’t just sexist and misogynistic it’s stupid and short sighted as well.

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To pee or not to pee

To pee or not to pee.

The course of writing this blog has led me to consider the many ways in which surfing is unlike any other sport. One of the most obvious points of difference is that I don’t urinate all over myself while playing football or tennis. Even lawn bowls, typically the domain of the old and incontinent, allows for loo breaks.

As a new Australian of British descent, peeing in the ocean, neoprene optional, was not an activity I easily embraced. Much to the delight of early antipodean onlookers, upon feeling the call of nature I would retreat from the water and hoof it half a mile down the beach to employ the services of Bond Beach pavilions.

However, with the advent of summer,the public changing area quickly started to resemble the chimp enclosure at Taronga zoo after Karl Sandilands the second* had indulged in a faecal throwing fiesta.

Add to this the colour of the ocean, post an eastern suburb storm, and it seemed the only person whose urine I wasn’t floating around in, was my own.

Fast forward several years and, after some failed attempts, I am happily indulging the guilty pleasure of peeing in my prene. The only disappointment was that I had been led to believer surfers urinated in their wetsuit to keep warm and that the wee/wetsuit combo somehow equated to a Nasa-like, temperature regulating, super space suit.

Instead you get a brief burst of heat, which lasts for around three seconds, before everything goes cold and gross. Plus it’s not great for neoprene. But, contrary to popular belief, pee is not a highly sought after marinade for the steely-eyed, wide-jawed, pointy-teethed predators of the deep. Sharks will not make a beeline for you because you drank too much coffee this morning and couldn’t quite hold it in.    

The good news is we are not alone.

Admittedly the amateur surfer is joined by some fairly hardcore demographics in the umbrella group of ‘those who go to the toilet in weird/disgusting places’ but here they are:

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Tour de France cyclists

Think you can cycle for six hours without taking a loo break? Think again. If these muscle machines happily hook themselves up for a little back door blood doping at the hotel, do you really thing they’re going to stop to find a toilet? No these guys roll up their shorts and let it all hang out.  

castronaut

Astronauts

The flight to the International Space Station from Kazahkstan is about six hours, but nipping to the on board bathroom to relieve yourself, before grabbing a beer and a Byron bay cookie from the stewardess is not an option for the intrepid atmospheric adventurer. Although one would hope Virgin Galactic will fix this. In the mean time, those being paid by NASA or Roscomos have to settle for nappies or maximum absorbancy garments. But hey they don’t seem to mind, some even wear them back on earth.

 slot machines

Punters

If you fall under this category there is a strong chance you may have a gambling problem. Pokie playing punters, reluctant to leave their machine ahead of the ‘imminent’ payout are believed to have addressed the issue by wearing adult diapers. I haven’t headed to Star City to personally verify this particular form of slot machine enthusiasm and, as I don’t want incontinence ads popping up in my facebook feed for the next six months, I’ve shied off the research. But, according to anecdotal evidence and urban legend, giveaways include; the smell, discarded diapers in casino bathrooms, and the tell-tale white padding visible just above the waist line.

So is anyone really grossed out by peeing in the ocean?

*disclaimer: some names have been changed

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North v South

If there’s one thing that’s harder than learning to surf, it’s learning to surf with a gale force wind blinding you with a white salty froth, while surrounded by a hundred or so other people all desperate to claw onto a single, mediocre wave. Throw in a cacophony of suicidal swimmers all desperate for their 15 minutes of fame on the local reality rescue show and you have post-winter Bondi.

This could be you:

bondi rescue

After clambering onto the windswept remnants of a left and hurtling, sightless, towards the beach, quicker than Sebastian Vettel disobeying team orders, (Disclaimer: May not have actually been going that fast) I quickly lost the desire to end up as one of those people who spend their Saturday being patched up by the lifeguards in front of television cameras. Instead I made my way to the smaller but quieter north end of the beach with my large blue log.

It’s a soft board, the source of much derision from the majority of the surfing population. But if you’re on the eastern suburbs’ least exclusive beach foamies grant you access to the restricted north end where their hard topped boards are banned once the crowds arrive.

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It’s an odd rule and seemingly not publicized anywhere, which means confused tourists on their new acquisitions struggle to understand why they’re being yelled at by the life guards once the clocks change. It seems to apply at Tamarama as well and even changing the fins on a softie will get you thrown back in at the deep end.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to surf the south more, but I have no hustle and trying to dodge beginners on their out of control epoxies or competing with the advanced 23 year olds, who leap, gazelle-like, onto the glassy surface, is not an option. Maybe I should form an inept surfer crew to block waves and take over one of the banks. We could be like Patrick Swayze in Point Break. Except instead of going to parties and ripping it up in pursuit of the perfect wave, we stand up using our knees and don’t need to rob banks because we have good jobs and live in quite nice houses.

The reality is I’m often flying solo in Bondi (I live there and am lazy) so instead I spend a moderately successful hour out manoevering complete novices and small children (#winning) but getting constantly shoved around by the wind. The most memorable moment comes as I stand at the top of the wave point the board down and don’t  go anywhere. The wind props me up on top of the water, like Jesus, but without the 5000 fish. I wonder, briefly if that’s how he did it, before I fall of the back in slow motion. The wave blissfully careens off without me. What, I am convinced, must be a mini-tornado is just a fleeting stutter for the blunt force of the ocean.

Still at least I get to be suspended mid air on my own, and don’t have five other people all tying to squeeze into one, tiny, take-off point.

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(disclaimer: um or not)

Surfing is a strange sport, out of the water I’ll obsessively proselytize its merits to any one who will listen. But in it, I want solitude, away from other people and their constant babble.

It’s for this reason I’m glad the working holiday visa tourists,  flounder, legs spread on newly purchased, short boards, they have no chance of riding at the other end of the beach. I’m glad the majority ignore the advice to get something bigger and easier, because they don’t want to look like….well they don’t want to look like a woman in her mid thirties, learning to surf, rather smugly, on her own.

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The blue log

“So, do you actually go in the water, or do you just prance around on the beach trying to look cool?”

That my friend Heather has even asked this question is a depressing reminder of just how old we both are. If I were ten kilos lighter and 15 years younger, maybe, just maybe, trying to squeeze into a black, neoprene, urine-stained wetsuit with the grace of an elephant, trying to eat spaghetti through a straw, might look cool.

It doesn’t. I just look old, and a bit like an aging relative could have sent me the wetsuit for some unspecified celebratory occasion and now I’m obliged to clamber into it every time we skype  – quickly dousing my hair in drain water and rolling around in the backyard dirt seconds before the camera window pops up.

Admittedly I understand the confusion over my motivations. I do live in Bondi.  I do, sporadically, wear sweatpants, repurposed as pyjamas, for the coffee dash to the hipster café with tiny furniture and overpriced mini pastries. I also constantly threaten to buy a skateboard. Hell I even made aquabumps (I’m the one furthest away from the water, the one that actually looks like they’re trying to escape but have been chained to an oversized blue log).

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That I am a teenage boy trapped in a 36-year-old woman’s body is not in question, but cool – no.

Earlier efforts to master the ancient art of wave-riding had started with the purchase of a surfboard, using money I no longer needed to spend on a recent ex’s  birthday present. It stalled at knee high water, foam and the sudden advent of winter. I have no photos of me on a board in the water but I did find a fairly accurate representation of what I look like, courtesy of our new Prime Minister.

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Surfing, I quickly discovered, was about confidence as much as it was about practice, and periodically attempting to paddle into a wave with less speed than a starfish on a Segway was about as successful as three machine gun toting soldiers battling a gang of angry emus.

So with every bulge on display and a large, foam, boat-like board tucked under my arm I finally made the ultimate commitment to the water.

I decided to get some lessons.

I may be older, slower and fatter than I used to be, but I have a lot more money so if I can painlessly pay somebody else for a –advice and b – a good shove onto the face of the wave then I’ll do it. And so at the start of 2013 I signed up for a recurring six week course.

Nine months, 2 boards, a pod of dolphins and one very small shark later and I am hooked. There is little to compare to the sheer joy of gliding along the glassy surface of a peeling left. It is a sport, which on the surface appears to offer little reward, with hours in the water resulting in a just a couple of minutes of wave riding. My mother, observing the brooding mass of black shadows patiently bobbing out the back of Whale beach, likened it to a cult. Perhaps she is right; it’s a sport that inspires a certain zealotry. Why else would anyone choose to consistently get up before dawn, in single digit temperatures and willingly submerge themselves in the freezing conditions.

For me it has become a great passion and the reason I want to share my experiences is quite simple; I want to write about what I love.  Given my girlfriend has told me anything involving her is well and truly off the table, I’m left with the water.

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