[This conversation was recorded at the 2019 Vans Duct Tape Invitational as part of our series exploring contemporary longboarding’s most interesting characters. See more from the event here.]
Nineteen-year-old Ivy Thomas first caught our eye a few years back with her free-flowing style and technical ability, honed on the long reeling rights of the Superbank.
Like so many in the upper echelon of her chosen discipline, Ivy’s elegance in the sea is matched by her eloquence on land, with a willingness to observe and analyse the wider movements that orbit the world of women’s longboarding.
We caught up with her over a cold beer on Friday evening to talk about growing up surrounded by shortboaders in Coolangatta, why right now is such an exciting time for female surfing, social media, surfing with politicians and more.
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So it’s your first time in Portugal and in Europe right? How are you finding it?
Yea, the first time in Europe ever, which is a crazy amount of travelling- like the most I’ve ever done. But it is so nice here. I’ve got a few mates who live over here, so I’ve always heard good things, but actually being here is so special. Compared to Australia, you can tell it’s a much older culture, that’s the main difference I’ve noticed. But I love it, I wish I could stay longer than six bloody days. But it means I’ll just have to come back.
So you’re from Coolangatta, what is it about the place and its history that you feel has most shaped your surfing?
I think me growing up in Coolangatta and being a longboarder doesn’t really make sense. But, it was really good for the first couple of years that I was surfing, because it would be two foot and perfect and there would be no one out, because it’s all just shortboards wanting tubes, so that was awesome.
Obviously, Coolangatta is mostly known for Steph Gilmore, Joel Parkinson and Mick Fanning and the shortboard revolution with Rabbit and MP and all those guys. When I’m looking for local inspiration, it’s definitely more from that era, just because of how they rode the waves, but I know it doesn’t really make sense that I ride a longboard.
I guess a lot of your fellow competitors come from places with a real long lineage of longboarders and for them the answer is really obvious…
Yea, they have inspiration everywhere! When I’m at home, it’s really rare to see someone riding a longboard really well if I don’t already know who they are. It’s like ‘oh my god, who is that?!’
But we’ve got a good little crew there and we all just have fun and support each other and don’t take any short boarder shit, like people hassling us or talking shit about us. But I love it, I wouldn’t change it.
What in surfing excites you the most right now?
I think events like this where female surfing is really highlighted- where the males and the females are equal. Here, we both have the same prize money and I like how they staggered the heats today so it wasn’t just the guys when it was low tide and the girls when it was high- that was really awesome.
I also like seeing nowadays how there’s been a big rise in powerful women’s surfing too, that’s something social media has had a huge impact on. People like Jaleesa Vincent come to mind- she’s like the first professional free surfer that I know of who’s not doing the model stuff as well, she’s really rad. I feel like this event is the next step in having females just known for their surfing instead of their beauty or whatever taking over, or big contracts you know. Because a lot of us here aren’t sponsored by anyone major, so it’s great.
I noticed you do lots of little projects with different brands rather than having one major sponsor.
Well I actually just got picked up by RVCA, just a few weeks ago, which I’m really stoked about. It’s always been the brand I’d most like to ride for, because they prioritise surfing and art over modelling, unlike the bigger brands. The girls that are on the big brands are also really attractive and if you can surf well and are really attractive that’s great, but I feel like sometimes there are girls who are a bit left behind because they don’t put themselves out there so much.
But yea, I’ve done a few little jobs here and there for other brands- because it’s super fun and it broadens your contacts and you get to travel all over the world and work with different people in different countries. I’m excited to see where this next chapter goes with having one brand though.
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How much of an influence do you feel social media has on female surfing?
Nowadays if you don’t have social media you can rip, but nobody really knows who you are. So it definitely has a huge impact on surfing, because all of the girls here rip, but if it wasn’t for instagram we probably wouldn’t be known. Especially me in Coolangatta, I wouldn’t be here at all, because there, none of the photographers on the beach want to take photos of longboarders, you know, they’re looking for the shortboarders doing airs and stuff, so It definitely has a huge impact.
Tell me about the process of getting invited to a Duct Tape?
Getting invited to the first female one when the US open was on is the biggest thing that’s happened to me yet. I got messaged by Nolan [Vans team manager], so I was like obviously Joel has said something and knows who I am, I was like ‘oh my god, that’s so crazy,’ I never thought I’d be invited to an event like this. It’s always been my most idolised event. All the best surfers in the world are here in one spot so to be part of it is pretty surreal.
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Do you think that traditional longboarding is the area of surfing where women are most celebrated?
Oh yea, 100%, because when you think about shortboarding a lot of it is about powerful surfing or big airs, and if a girl does a really good turn it’s called a man turn, which is kind of a bit offensive, but also make sense, because men, in general, are always going to be stronger- there’s a few exceptions- I’m not trying to be sexist or whatever, it’s kind of just true.
But then longboarding is more graceful and I like to think it’s more functional, you turn to slow down, nose ride to stay in the pocket, cross step to speed up, and I feel like women are a lot more graceful like that, and it’s very photogenic as well, which works with the whole social media thing. My favourite surfers are Hallie [Rhor] and Makala [Smith], and they’re really pushing it and going switch and doing crazy things and trying to be up there with the boys. I definitely think for women longboarding is one of the better sports there is actually, for equal representation at least.
Finally, is getting dropped in on by the ex- Aussie Prime Minister still your biggest claim to fame or have you managed to eclipse that?
[laughs] Oh no! It’s a claim to fame but after a couple of months it’s like ‘awhh I want it to stop.’ Ah man, I get that brought up at the most random times, that was like four years ago now! At the time it was so funny and I was just milking it like ‘yea this is sick!’ I was 16, and I was like ‘I’m going to be on the news and everyone’s going to know me!’ and then after a year or something, everyone was still like ‘oh you’re the girl that…’ and I was like ‘I don’t want to be known for this!’ Stupid ex-prime minister dropping in on me. I don’t really have anything bigger that’s happened than that, so that could be a claim to fame.
Maybe you’ll have to manufacture something bigger… Like you could drop in on Barack Obama when he’s body surfing…
Yea! I’ve got to make it my trademark, surfing with politicians.
I think it would make a great web series. Although I don’t know how many more former head’s of state surf…
I feel like that would be. Yea.. I can only think of Tony Abbott. Maybe I need to go to all different countries and just try to get out there with them.
The ex-prime minister of the UK used to get shots of him walking down the beach with a bodyboard so you could add him to the hit list.
Yea, because before it was me getting dropped in on, so I’ve got to get my revenge now!
Nice one, thanks for speaking to us Ivy, enjoy the rest of your time in Portugal.
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Cover photo: @lugarts