Leslie Palotas

Oregon Coast, Oregon USA

Photo Credits: 

Years Surfing: 16

Fave Board: Equal tie between my 8’6” Pearson Arrow Formula One Model and my Craigslist score of an older 9’2” Pearson Arrow Longboard.

Instagram: @lesliepalotas  & @oceandyenamics

What do you love about surf culture as it pertains to women surfers? I have discovered that surfing is a ridiculously fun and contagious way to strengthen, empower, and improve the health of women. Like most other athletic activities, pastimes, and professions that have been historically male-dominated, surfing has some loud voices who underestimate, belittle, or otherwise object to women claiming their places in the lineup. I see these defensive behaviors as signals of threatened egos. As women find ways to build confidence and strength by pursuing surfing (or any other challenging activities we take on), we become increasingly threatening to men (and the non-men who support them) who are afraid to lose their superiority in those same activities. These threatened humans usually respond with “fight or flight” psychological responses that make them react without using the rational and empathetic functions of their brains. In other words, people who are pissed off, threatened, terrified, or otherwise emotionally triggered aren’t able to rationally think of universally beneficial solutions to their situation, nor are they able to imagine what it feels like to be the targets of their irrational behavior. As women increasingly take to the surf to improve our physical and mental health, we become stronger as those who react negatively to our presence show their own insecurities with irrational and selfish behavior.

Who are your surf heroes and why? Some of my surf heroes are the women who fought for equal opportunity to compete in Mavericks contests in Half Moon Bay, California. I applaud Bianca Valenti, Paige Alms, Andrea Moller, Keala Kennelly, Karen Tynan, Sabrina Brennan, Dayla Soul and the other women who illuminated and stood up to a glaring inequity in big wave surf culture. Their courses of action and momentum not only allowed women to participate in local big wave competitions but also catalyzed equal pay for women in many World Surf League events (though some of their QS events are apparently still in the process of catching up). This combination of big wave surfing women and local community members engaged with their local government process to make long overdue strides towards equality. Now their ripple effect has the potential to reach future generations of girls and women worldwide. To maximize this momentum for diversity’s sake, I hope their ripple effect continues into the commercial representation of female surfers. Female surfers should be sponsored and portrayed in surf media for their skills on the water and not how their body looks in a bikini. If women are going to be equally motivated to compete and be judged solely on their talent, not their appearance, they need to see surfers that they identify with. Color, age, size, shape, ability level, nationality, gender identity, sexual identity, and all other categories of identification should be represented in surf media because women of all “types” are already somewhere surfing or wanting to learn how to surf. Fortunately, social media is already networking those of us who are motivated to support the diversity and strength of the rising feminine movement in surf culture.

Many talented female surfers around the world already shatter outdated surf-girl stereotypes. For those who may argue that not all “types” of women surf well enough to deserve a sponsorship, I’ll say that skilled surfers don’t have to be world tour material to inspire future generations of girls who will identify with them. Those girls will buy surf gear and could even have the potential to become world tour competitors. I believe mainstream surf brands can make an inclusive and ethical choice to increase the diversity of athletes they support while also expanding their audience. Girls and women of all backgrounds, beliefs, and appearances deserve to see surfing as a potential athletic opportunity without stressing about how their face, hair, and body will appear in scantily-clad photo shoots. I know some surf brands want to sell bikinis, but they can give bikini modeling contracts to women who work hard to become professional models. Modeling is a challenging, time-consuming career on its own. Ultimately, this is my request to women’s surf brands: Please show a diverse range of sponsored women surfing confidently in your surf-specific gear. Surfers already know that not all swimsuits are designed to hold up in the surf, so please let women searching for regular swimsuits see your non-surfing suits on a diverse range of professional models. I believe if you don’t restrict your sponsored surfers by their ability to model bikinis, you also won’t have to limit your swimwear models by their ability to surf. I also believe the end result will be increased diversity in your sponsored surfers, models, and ultimately your customer base.

How has your surfing life in the water affected the rest of your life on land? I think one of the life-changing aspects of surfing is that it condenses multiple life-enhancing human needs into one inherently motivating, blissful activity. Strength, physical health, mental health, empowerment, community, humility, tenacity, environmental respect, stewardship, and a sense of purpose can all be natural byproducts of an addiction to surfing. Once I learned how to surf, other outdoor activities lost their luster. I eventually left my professional career as a sea kayaker and rebuilt my life around surfing. Once I moved to a place that fit my surfing style, I was welcomed into an empowering surf community. I made friends who inspired me to surf confidently, volunteer for causes I believe in, and even get involved in local government. I discovered the genuine joy and life motivation I gain from helping others unlock and pursue their own passions in life. A compatible lesson I learned from positive psychology is that none of us can choose everything that happens in our lives, but we can mentally and physically strengthen ourselves to best deal with whatever happens to us. Not every woman will find their source of strength in surfing, but I know that surfing women can help others discover and pursue their own life-enhancing activities. Because of this, women who surf may continue to change the world for the better by inspiring other women to find sources of health, belonging, and purpose in what they love to do. This is a powerful time to act on this because women are becoming less limited by preconceived notions of what they can and can’t do. Women are gaining strength, community, and self-respect for what their bodies and minds are capable of, not solely by how they appear to others. Women are increasingly defining their success by what they can do and achieve, making what others think about them less influential. Genuinely empowered women don’t improve themselves by belittling other women. Instead of getting caught up in toxic cycles of judging and cutting each other down, women empowered by surfing can choose to help others unlock their own personal sources of strength to persevere together against life’s external challenges.