A Celebration of Female Surfers, Artists and Musicians
Words by Mia Bolton, LadyDays.org

In a variety of important ways, our Ladies Night of Surfing at Shaper Studios on December 4 was exactly the night we had hoped for. I remember walking away with a slightly tipsy walk-skip while thinking we had done it. We had reached our goal. We had inspired. 

To inspire – seemingly a simple goal, right? But, much like surfing (or really anything you watch a professional do and then try to do yourself) it can seem so simple until it’s your turn to make it happen. In the same breath, it’s often the most challenging things that come with the greatest rewards.

When you’re learning how to surf for example, it sucks. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you it doesn’t. It’s hard. It hurts. You feel stupid on a daily basis. But you persevere because you know the reward of actually being able to ride a wave outweighs all the waves you screw up, all the days you paddle around aimlessly, all the times you fumble and fall and look like you’ve never been on a surfboard before in your life.

Then I did another happy dance, which I wasn’t as embarrassed about, but probably should have been.

I hoped that, if everything went well on December 4, women would leave Shaper Studios inspired and with a sense of community they hadn’t realized before. The idea of bringing that to fruition had me quite excited.

Ladies Night at Shaper Studios

So when I was asked to organize and moderate a panel of four ladies for the opening of the evening, I did a semi-embarrassing happy dance. In my ideal world, I knew who would be on the panel, and to my absolute surprise, all four of them said yes when I asked and agreed to join us on December 4.

Then I did another happy dance, which I wasn’t as embarrassed about, but probably should have been.

Ladies Night at Shaper StudiosWhen Friday finally rolled around, everyone had been sharing the flyer and talking the night up on social media for weeks. The panel was stacked, five female artists including Mele Saili, Kim Kirch, Amanda Scarski, Shelby Ling and Macy Sivadge had their beautiful work set up around the shop and the two female bands, Garden Echo and one special guest headliner, were amped to play. The team at Shaper Studios had even built a brand new bar inside the shop, which just felt like icing on the cake.

Despite horrific traffic, all our panelists arrived, grabbed a beer to break in the new bar and lingered amongst the crowd until it the time came to begin. Chris Clark, owner of Shaper Studios, introduced me and placed the ball in my court and the microphone in my hands.

Ladies Night at Shaper Studios

Disclaimer: Prior to this, I’d never hosted a panel before. I’ve spoken in front of crowds, usually with some sort of visual aid or cheesy slideshow. Without the backup of any visuals and all eyes on me, I feared I might falter. I might nosedive.

But what if I didn’t?

I introduced the panelists one by one as I’ve come to know each of them — Cori Schumacher, three time longboard world champion who I met at a different celebration of women’s surfing and who showed me where Pipes was for the first time. Erin “Worm” Ashley, whose stunning film played at the San Diego Surf Film Festival right before we were introduced for the first time and she had just shaved her head to raise money for the daughter of the editor of a magazine I write for. Petra Kavanaugh, co-founder of the San Diego Surf Film Festival who got up with me in the early morning to do TV segments at the crack of dawn, and Florencia Gomez Gerbi, founder of my favorite hat company (Greenpacha) and one of the kindest, most down to earth world traveling surfers I know yet we had actually never met before tonight – only spoken to on the phone.

Ladies Night at Shaper Studios

Each panelist made their way to the stage and took their seat on the stools next to me. Everyone, including myself, was smiling. And that’s when it finally clicked – whatever happened, this was going to be a shit ton of fun.

We talked for longer than any of us had anticipated. I had prepared notes just incase, but they sat folded up in my lap the whole time as the panel took on a life of its own.

We opened the conversation talking about something I had heard Worm mention in a video she made with SeaLevel TV which she referred to as “the spirit of aloha.” Each panelist explained what this means to them and as they spoke, the room fell extremely quiet.

Worm Dreams Big: A Tribute to the Benevolent Bad-asses of the Women’s Longboarding Community from SeaLevelTV on Vimeo.

For the next 45 minutes, each of the four ladies danced eloquently with some challenging and complex topics for women in surfing. We laughed and joked while talking about using surfing as a platform to make a statement about other important things we’re passionate about, causes we support and problems in the world. We talked about creating a community of women that surf because it’s an expression of who they are, not because they fit the archetype of what mainstream media says a “surfer girl” is. We talked about camaraderie. We talked about competition. We talked about travel. We talked about hats. We talked about the old band Worm used to be in. We talked about passion projects. We talked about taking a step back and falling back in love with the ocean and the reason any of us started surfing in the first place. We talked about having fun and not taking ourselves seriously.

We wrapped up by bringing it back to the spirit of aloha, and the notion that we are never alone in the water, even if we don’t know anyone. We are a community and we’re all here to have fun, because we love it. Not because of what’s expected of us, or what we think we have to do. We’re here because being in the ocean fulfills us, and sometimes everyone just needs a reminder.

Lady DaysThe panel ended with a few fantastic questions and some more kind words from Chris. The ladies and I made our way off the stage after hugging each other. I hadn’t noticed during the panel, but the shop had become packed with people – way more than were there when we began. The lights dimmed a bit, people shopped and chatted with the artists and drank and mingled and laughed and danced as the music played. Women approached me the rest of the night with stories of personal triumph and inspiration and excitement, and my heart swelled with each. One lovely lady told me that even though she loved surfing and loved the ocean, she felt like she couldn’t teach herself to surf because she was already in her mid-thirties and she felt too old. But after the panel, she let me know she was committing herself to getting back out there and finally learning to really surf- no matter what anyone thinks or how long it takes, because she wasn’t going to compare herself to anyone anymore.

How could I not love that?

I spent the rest of my time in awe of what we were creating and the energy around us. We were building something, something I’ve wanted to be part of for a long time: a strong and fun-loving community of women surfers who were talented, artistic and best of all – each radically different and unique but doing it together.

If you happened by Shaper Studios on Friday, December 4, hopefully you left with inspiration for what women in surfing can become, responsibility for the role each of us plays in helping it get there and a little walk-skip in your step, too.

If you missed this, you can still join us every other Wednesday from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. at Shaper Studios (4225 30th Street).

See you there, ladies.

Editor’s note: Ladies Nights at Shaper Surf are free to drop into for now. Shaper offers memberships for surfers and future surfer’s where they can learn to shape their own surfboard. We checked it out a long time ago, and it was super cool. Read about it here.

Ladies Night at Shaper Studios

  • Grizzly Life

    I’m all about this. I’d love to meet these inspiring women and get some knowledge bombs dropped on riding the nose. Beautiful video above and shots. #amazing