Sea change: Breaking the barrier of the surfer boys’ club

Surf’s Up: breaking the barrier of the boy’s club | Soho House

Wave rider, stylist and author, Lara Einzig, waxes lyrical about her trailblazing book ‘Women Making Waves’

Sunday 3 July 2022 By Lisa Farr Johnstone

From the deck of Little Beach House Malibu, Lara Einzig, author of the recently published book, Women Making Waves, gazes north towards the pier and the world-renowned Surfrider break from which we had just paddled. It’s a crowded spot, and getting busier, as most of those in proximity to Los Angeles are, but despite this – or perhaps because of it – the ‘locals only/death to kooks’ vibes that have kept many from the water for decades seem to have mellowed. In the author’s opinion, there is still a long way to go; she is keen to see more people in the water because ‘the more surfers, the more stewards of the ocean’. 

Unsurprisingly, given her background as a creative director and stylist, post-surf Einzig is enviably elegant, all salty hair and Celine sunglasses. Tall and athletic-looking, she grew up in the 1980s near Brisbane; summers were spent in the water out front of her grandparents’ beach house on the Sunshine Coast. Surf culture had exploded, and Einzig recalls that brands like Billabong and Mambo were de rigueur beachwear for young men at the time. ‘They just weren’t for women.’ Surfing – and surf culture – was almost exclusively male. ‘It just did not occur to me to learn.’ Echoing Marian Wright Edelman, she points out, ‘you can’t be what you can’t see.’ 

Surf’s Up: breaking the barrier of the boy’s club | Soho House

Seven years ago, grief led Einzig to the water, and propelled her onto her first wave at Point Dume. She had barely landed in LA, escaping ‘the dank playgrounds and long grey winters’ of London with her husband and three young sons, when she received a call from her family in Australia. Her younger sister, Julia, had died unexpectedly. After the funeral, Einzig returned to her new city, bereft. ‘I didn’t know anyone [in LA], I had no community to grieve with.’ She went to the ocean to breathe and ‘I knew I just needed to be in the water. I was able to connect with Jules, I felt closer to her there.’ She refers to surfing as a practice, a moving meditation. ‘When you are surfing, there is nothing else. Your thoughts, your anxiety, everything disappears. You give up the illusion of control. Surrender yourself. It was cathartic. And addictive.’ 

She dived deep into surf culture. ‘I bought every book, watched every documentary. I would dream about surfing, it was so raw.’ The contemporary LA surf scene offered ‘vintage Broncos and premium design, and there were more women in the waves’, but despite the evolved aesthetic and diverse line-ups, she wasn’t seeing her surf sisters reflected in print or on screen. ‘It was all just men ripping up big waves... nothing I could relate to.’ Mainstream marketing campaigns persisted with the passive bikini babe tropes. ‘It certainly wasn’t my experience out there. And then I thought, this has got to change.’ 

An idea began to take shape; she would travel ‘with one female surf photographer, capturing the lives of women in and out of the water’. While surfing was the hook, these would be ‘women living a life of purpose, driven by social impact’, all over the world. The fact she had no experience of writing or publishing was an obstacle to be overcome, but she found herself in the pocket of a creative wave. ‘Once you get an idea that is right, it gets into your bones... you can’t not do it.’ 

Surf’s Up: breaking the barrier of the boy’s club | Soho House
Surf’s Up: breaking the barrier of the boy’s club | Soho House

Within weeks, an offer landed from a Penguin subsidiary, though it was 10 days into a COVID-19 lockdown that would radically alter life for the next two years. ‘It was surreal for many reasons, but I still can’t believe they gave me a book deal and full creative control.’ (They also agreed to her request that the entire publishing team be made up of women – surf experience preferable but not a deal-breaker.) 

It would take months to find the women whose lack of representation on a broader stage was the very impetus for the book, but once she had a shortlist, ‘not a single woman said no’. In the increasingly bleak climate of misogyny and casual racism encouraged by the last presidency, the project took on greater significance, and the racial reckonings of that summer served to heighten the sense of urgency. Though diversity was ‘central to the original vision for the book’, the need to create space for stories that intersected both gender and race from a uniquely African-American perspective became obvious and urgent. As a non-American, ‘I had never considered the struggle [of African-American women], their barriers to water entry. I was grateful to learn and pass it on to a wider audience.’ 

Einzig profiled 29 women – Cali longboarding legends and Aussie shortboard pros, a Black trauma surgeon who joined a surf non-profit to get young women of colour into waves at the Rockaways, two generations of Hawaaiian surf aristocracy, and an English octogenarian who still surfs daily from a cottage on the Devon coast. With borders closed, most interviews had to be conducted virtually, but Einzig was struck by the candor of the women – from the Senegalese surf activist to an Iranian political exile – as they shared their personal stories. 

Surf’s Up: breaking the barrier of the boy’s club | Soho House

‘I didn’t have to probe too much, they seemed to understand instinctively how important [they] could be… offering hope and a way to move forward.’ She had to pivot creatively for ‘the visual elements of the book, which were key’. Finding female photographers in each country proved ‘horrendous logistically’, but with hindsight, ‘there was no truer representation of women supporting women. It opened up a whole new world of possibility and creativity’, and led to a final book ‘beyond anything I imagined’.
With this timely publication, Einzig hopes to inspire and empower women of all ages. But like those who glide across its pages, Women Making Waves has a purpose beyond representation. Most of the world’s population now exists entirely in urban centres, disconnected from the rhythms and textures of the natural world. That physical and emotional disconnect poses a profound risk for our collective future – for when nature becomes an abstract concept, who will love it enough to fight for it? This is the deep connection that binds Einzig and the other remarkable women of the water – and why they joyfully welcome the chance to ride a party wave.
Click here to order a copy of the book.

Interested in becoming a member?