Leah Dawson does things on single fins that every surfer should see; the little Achilles shuffle, the knocked-knee readjustments to hang 5, taking the drop in a low bent back crouch and bottom turning with a banana back arch. It’s surfing like this that makes her stand out as a storyteller.
But there is something fascinating about seeing the soul surfing species out of their natural habitat and surfing mechanical, identical canvases. Can the same spectacle be translated onto the face of an artificial wave?
With Kelly’s barrels gathering momentum as surfing’s newest truffle, we’ve looked back to an evening spent with Leah Dawson last December when her film, Legend Of The Iron Seahorse was premiered on the North Shore of Oahu in collaboration with the Inertia. It was a different look for the expressively classic surfer who calls herself “kind of a naturalist,” but this tale of one cowgirl’s search for a copper wave in the plains of Texas set a new tone for a sub genre of surf films. And it gave us a taste of what can be drawn on artificial breaks with creativity and an eclectic quiver.
“I showed up with two Ryan Lovelace boards and they probably went really different than any other board that had been in that pool yet,” said Dawson. “I love seeing narrative film and creativity be brought into a sport that is so special, but can at times be shown the same way.”
Dawson is no stranger to the gladiatorial side of surfing, with over 20 years competition experience including two double wins in the Women’s Pipe Longboard Event and the Deus 9ft and Single Event. But she veered from the competitive path to pursue an environmentally friendly lifestyle and produce short surf films, with a side-line in live broadcast camera operating. Wanting to share the ocean she considers “sacred,” rather than battle for scores, she now looks to reconnect with surfing’s wider communities. Something wave pool culture could quickly become.
“I think artificial waves will undoubtedly play a role in the future, I mean with Kelly’s wave and that technology continuing to grow we’re going to see it in the mainstream.
“It takes out the variable of the spontaneous ocean and I think that’s something any surfer who started surfing in the ocean adores the most, that is the most special part of surfing, every wave feels like a gift. So when you pay for waves, does it change?
“It becomes almost a different sport because you’re planning on it and you know what’s coming. Maybe it’ll take high performance surfing into a whole new world where they can be practicing tricks and going ‘ok maybe I can do this on this wave and that on that section,’ which you can’t ever do in the ocean and that’s why I love it so much.”
Wave gardens are constantly on the fringe of an argumentative boundary. Sustainable energy, over crowded line-ups and the eventual dilution of traditional surfing culture are just a few concerns chewed over. But Dawson is positive about surfing’s increasing accessibility.
“Surfing can go in so many different ways and I also think that the soul of surfing is having this beautiful resurgence which has been needed for a long time, I like hearing humble voices”
“Everybody was coming out with that same look of awe and excitement. If pools are doing one thing, they’re putting stoke into a lot of people’s lives who go to experience it and it brought a lot of stoke to us, we were having a blast.
“It’s more of a novelty thing for me, I don’t think I’d ever choose to surf that wave over an ocean wave but it’s awesome. I hope that they can be a more energy friendly thing in the future, if we can make them sustainable then it really is serving an awesome purpose because the stoke is priceless!”
In January last year, Kelly’s Wave Company announced the ranch was working with the Pacific Gas and Electric Company to become 100% powered by renewable solar energy. It was a pioneering reassurance to the environmentally conscious and an example to wave gardens of the future.
“Surfing can go in so many different ways and I also think that the soul of surfing is having this beautiful resurgence which has been needed for a long time, I like hearing humble voices. There’s partly a rise of this amazing competitive sport that we have, but also this connecting of a community of lifestyle fuelled surfers.
“I think in line-ups and in talk and in films there are different things that we’re starting to see in surf media, a progression. I see it when I surf that there’re a lot of people out there just because it makes them feel good, and that voice is starting to rise. Which makes me very excited. It’s medicine for a lot of people, it is for me and I think if we continue to shout that message it’ll empower not just the surfing community but the world community. Together we are better.”
All photos: @bryannabradleyphotography