Nudie surfing, empowerment & objectification

laura blears style queen sea kin

Laura Blears, all style 

I saw this photo on Instagram and fell in love with the uber relaxed style of the surfer. Finger english says everything about a surfer’s style and her hands whisper  ‘cool, calm and collected.’ Despite asking around, I couldn’t figure out who she was.

It took a great female elder, Cher Pendarvis, to bring forth her depths of knowledge of the lost herstory of surfing and reveal the surfer’s name, which is Laura Blears.

See what happens when we lose touch with our surfing elders? Knowledge and stories are lost. I dare to say that there are still very few women who surf this stylishly even today….because power and acrobatics have become the norms by which “good” surfing is evaluated, and because boards have gotten smaller and smaller, making  surfers work harder and harder to maintain speed …. and making it all too easy to abandon the beautiful ease of simply trimming.

Anyway, I posted this shot to TheSeaKin Instagram with this beautiful quote from the life-changing book Women Who Run with the Wolves Clarissa Pinkola Estes:

“A woman cannot make the culture more aware by saying ‘Change.’ But she can change her own attitude toward herself, thereby causing devaluing projections to glance off. She does this by taking back her body. By not forsaking the joy of her natural body, by not purchasing the popular illusion that happiness is only bestowed on those of a certain configuration or age, by not waiting or holding back to do anything, and by taking back her real life, and living it full bore, all stops out. This dynamic self-acceptance and self-esteem are what begins to change attitudes in the culture.”
Surfing has an amazing ability to get us back into our bodies; to wake us up as embodied creatures, strong and sensitive to our surroundings. As women, we so often lack outlets that allow us to feel physically strong and capable, and surfing has been that outlet for me. It can be the foundation for building the kind of self-acceptance and  self-esteem that Dr. Estes writes about.
My Insta post was subsequently reported as ‘innappropriate’ and taken down, which seems really silly, but also very interesting to see how warped we become from a culture that simultaneously oozes hyper-sexuality, but requires abstinence-only education programs in schools (in the US, anyway).
And then a totally un-sexual, beautiful image of a woman without a top on riding waves is banned. It’s  interesting. And absurd.
Anyway, the surfer Laura Blears had a bit of a knack for surfing nudie and eventually posed for a 1975 edition of Playboy Magazine. Laura was the first female surfer to win prize money at a surf contest, taking out the 1974 Smirnoff Pro, the first pro women’s surf event.
The image also made me wonder about the hyper-sexualized images of female surfers today. Many of our top female competitors have posed for men’s magazines, or, more commonly, for super sexy endemic surf mags and ads.
Laura was one of the first, and although her Playboy spread was undoubtedly sexy in a male gaze-y kind of way, the backside bottom turn shot feels totally different. She looks like a strong, free woman, doing her thing.
Her beauty is amplified by her ability to navigate strong conditions with apparent ease.
For some reason, it feels  different from the monotonous stream of be-thonged booty shots of some of our modern pro surfers. Maybe because it’s less creepily voyeuristic than the all-out (save the sphincter), bottom turn photos of today?
What does the bottom turn image of Laura Blears above say to aspiring young  surfers (male and female) that is different from many of the sexy images we see of female surfers today ?
Laura’s Playboy spread is online, and I was surprised to see a shot of her surfing in there—actually doing something that requires expertise, strength and agility. And on waves of consequence. She wasn’t JUST an object for consumption and satisfying sexual desires, she was also depicted as a human with skills that trumped most of the male readers’. At least there was that.
Was this one of the foundational moments for the beginning of curbing female surfers into the  sex selling machine of mainstream advertising?
Or is Laura’s topless surfing just a natural expression of freedom in the ocean?
Does the difference matter?
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