Women Who Run With the Tides: An interview with filmmaker Michelle Shearer
“Women Who Run With the Tides” is a short film that focuses on three elder female surfers in Australia. I came across the film by chance, finding it quite inspiring, moving and beautiful in both message and production.
Shortly after watching, I connected with the creator, Michelle Shearer, to get a bit more insight into the film.
Zappo: When did you start surfing and what were some of your early experiences riding waves?
Shearer: I started surfing back in the UK. I would head down to Cornwall as often as I could but I never really got anywhere. It was only when I came out to Australia that I was able to surf regularly and truly ‘get it’. Earlier experiences included trekking down little tracks in the rainforest to secret beaches and my husband egging me on to paddle out into some pretty gnarly but perfect waves.
Zappo: When I started surfing in 1986, it was a rarity to see females in the lineup. Now, at my home break, there are numerous female surfers. Sometimes in the summer season, the women outnumber the men. I certainly have noticed the unique energy women inject into the lineup, somewhat subduing the sometimes aggressive nature of male surfers. What do you think is intrinsic to women surfers and what special qualities do woman bring to surfing?
Shearer: I wouldn’t generalize, but what I found particularly in surfing with Marg, Sally and Carol was an overwhelming atmosphere of generosity in spirit, good humor, sharing, warmth and friendliness.
Zappo: What was the impetus which brought forth the creation of your short film “Women who run with the Tides”?
Shearer: I paddled out fairly soon after the birth of my first child and felt pretty wobbly after residing in the safety of the post-baby cocoon for a few weeks and then being out in the wilds of the ocean. I was lucky because that day I paddled out was the day I met Marg and Sally in the water. I was jittery leaving my newborn daughter on the beach (with my husband) and found it hard to curb my anxiety about being that far away from her (even though it was just from the beach to the lineup). Marg and Sally soothed me and called me into waves. They encouraged me and told me how normal it is to feel that way and that my little daughter would be just fine. The impression that left on me never left me. I guess when anyone is kind and caring it makes an impression particularly from strangers (as they were then). Living with a surf journalist for a husband means that we are immersed in surf media at home, and the experience I had had with Sally and Marg (and later Carol) was in stark and jarring contrast to how the surf media and large companies portray female surfers. I was disillusioned by the portrayal of women and felt that it had nothing to do with me even though I am female and surf. What Sally, Marg and Carol brought to the lineup-those qualities resonated a whole lot more to me-they seemed to transcend the base white sexist noise of the surf media, and I felt compelled to express that contrast in some way and put it out there; hence the film.
Zappo: The three surfers featured in the film are over 50 years old. So you have the element of gender, as well as that of age. What are you hoping to convey through the film in reference to gender and age in the surfing?
Shearer: I hope that I have conveyed that we must not forget the wisdom our elders bring to our lives, that they are right there. For me, as a woman, this was in older women. Their qualities were everything I found admirable, and I felt worthy of wider attention, particularly with the surf media and it’s wholly unhealthy obsession with youth and sex appeal.
Zappo: I was particularly stoked to see a late starter to surfing in the film. I recently began teaching my girlfriend to surf. She just turned 37, sometimes she asks if I think it’s too late for her to truly pick up surfing. The film was very affirming to the fact that it is almost never too late to get in the water, take on the challenge and feel the joy of surfing. What words of advice or wisdom would you have for people starting to surf later in life?
Shearer: Oh I don’t know that I have any wisdom on that front. You can do anything if you’re determined enough to do it. Get in, do it and enjoy everything that surfing brings.
Zappo: What role do you think gender and age play in the overall surfing landscape?
Shearer: I don’t think the two together play much of a role in terms of women. We see the surfing elders such as George Greenough, Chris Brock and Rabbit out there. They stand as leaders, activists and legendary shapers and are still very much looked up to for their experience and ingenuity. And yes, there is Layne Beachley, but overall I feel older women surfers are largely ignored.
Zappo: The film has been getting a good amount of attention, do you have any other plans to make a full-length feature of such a film?
Shearer: I have been surprised by just how much attention this film has received. It started out with a far wider scope and with little children at home, various other work and no budget, I had to reign it in pretty quickly, pretty hard. I think that scope remains and is gesturing wildly at me to do something with it, but for now until resources allow, that will be it.
Zappo: What does surfing mean to you? What does it contribute to your life?
Shearer: Surfing teaches me that I am entirely insignificant. It makes me feel very small and brings me the wonder and awe of raw nature. It means freedom and connection to greater things.
Zappo: How do you feel about women’s competitive surfing?
Shearer: I think it has a long way to go, but that there is great potential for one of these huge companies to lead the way and truly speak to women surfers outside of them being sexy and nothing else. I look forward to seeing female pro surfers celebrated for their elite athletic prowess and skill.
Zappo: Any final words or thoughts?
Shearer: Can anyone babysit so I can go surfing?
More on the film: https://www.facebook.com/womenwhorunwiththetides