Style Influences: Leah Dawson

You can’t mention the word “style” in surfing without thinking of Leah Dawson.  The California born, Hawaii based surfer’s poetic fusion of classic style, paired with her wholly new and individual approach, makes for an intoxicatingly beautiful and technically progressive blend. 

I’m talking to Leah beach-side in Waikiki where she’s in town for a 4 years olds birthday, her “best friend’s birthday”, she laughs telling me. “I ended up staying with the family at the hotel and hanging. I surfed Waikiki this morning for first light, got a few waves. Had fun!”

Usually spending 4-5 months a year on The North Shore with her boyfriend (the shaper Alex Lopez), we talk the wild funk of the last year, which Leah admits was “definitely a change, especially for Hawaii, a completely tourism-based economy. It was really wild to experience this place with no tourism, it felt like you were going back 50 years, which was really cool to experience… for a moment. For me, workwise it’s shaking things up a bit. I’m having to make some adjustments and kind of move with the times, but it’s also kind of lighting my fire to get creative in different ways and start working on the projects that I’ve been dreaming of for my whole adult life. To be creative and a critical thinker and not give in to the challenges, but more take them as opportunities.”

We sit down to chat to Leah about the style queen’s influences…

Photo: Jeff Divine. Check out his book, featuring iconic surf images from the 1970s, here.

Rell Sunn

“Rell Sunn would have to top the list because from every photo, everything that I’ve read, every second of video I’ve ever seen, there was just this exuding connection with the ocean…She completely encompasses everything that I feel about surfing and the love and the majesty of it, but also the drive to utilize it as a force for change and a force for good and for equality. In actual surf style itself as well, Rell was technical with the best of them and knows riding, and riding all sorts of different boards, from long boards to short boards and single fins and whatnot. It didn’t really matter what she was doing, you could just always tell that she was having a good time. That has definitely influenced my style. To be as simple and as in the moment as possible, and not to get too caught up on maneuvers necessarily, but more just about feeling that sense of freedom that I surf for. Inside the water and out, I feel like Rell’s style and approach was poetic and should continue to be praised and looked up to as a guide for how we should approach our lives as surfers.”

There’s undoubtedly something distinctly dance-like about Leah’s approach. Photo: @instaclamfunk

My Sister & My Mum

“Both my sister and my mom have an innate influence on me. My sister’s a prima ballerina and my mom grew up dancing and baton twirling. Growing up, I always kind of resisted it, and I wasn’t necessarily that interested in it, but I would go to a lot of her recitals and always watch her dance. The older I’ve gotten and the more that I’ve tried to focus in on style, the more I’ve recognized the similarities of surf and dance, and how those two connect and also what’s a potential for us to discover. In surfing, I feel like we’re in a really great time of renaissance almost, and potentially discovering new ways that we can ride surfboards.”

Steph Gilmore

“Currently, Stephanie Gilmore would have to be it, as far as surf technicality goes. I think anyone in the world would want to try and surf like Steph. I don’t think she’s matched by any man or woman when it comes to blending beauty, grace, and power with technicality. She’s in a league of her own. That inspires my surfing because she cherishes the moments of gliding of freedom and flight, but also is able to bring that into the most ripping carve ever. That’s a part of my surfing that I am very much trying to focus on, executing those moments of freedom and flight into the most technical carves and turns that I can do. And so, as I looked to progress my surfing, watching Steph is probably the best thing that I can do for myself.”

Kassia Meador

“I would have to say Kassia Meador has been a lifelong influence for me since I was a grommet. I became friends with her when I was like 14 and she’s been a mentor and best friend of mine ever since. Just the way that she’s approached longboarding as this extremely graceful dance with simplicity without trying too hard…

I’ve always loved that she can stand up on a wave and you can pick her out of a crowd no matter what. I think everyone would love to be able to have their style identifiable from far away. And Kassia has always been that for me, like, there’s unquestionable grace and posture and technicality with the way that she moves that has definitely set her apart and also made her an icon in the sport of women’s surfing. But also, her style is influenced by her spirituality, the full-rounded, every aspect of what surfing can bring to our lives. I feel like she does her best to allow herself to feel and to fulfill and to allow to inspire and grow with whether it be from exploring surfboard design, to photography, to storytelling, to holding surf camps, anything and everything. It’s sharing and passing on this gift of uniting with the ocean that we’ve become kind of akin to over a lifetime of riding its waves.  Kassia and I are both in this position where we’re starting to run surf retreats together and sharing this gift of communicating with the ocean on a really cool intimate level with women. And just recognizing that like surfing is so much more than just riding waves. It’s medicine and it’s a lifestyle and it gives you friends and community and also a major reason to become an environmental advocate.”

My Boyfriend Alex Lopez

“Lastly, my boyfriend Alex Lopez. He’s an amazing surfer and shaper. He kind of came to surfing later in his life, he spent most of his younger years snowboarding and becoming an amazing I would say, surfer of the snow. Watching him translate it to the ocean has been amazing. Now he’s shaping my boards, so we’ve been on an amazing journey together, kind of creating what it is that we both want to feel and both want to explore in surfing. He’s very much from that simplistic enjoy the wave and not try and overdo it vibe. He’d rather just stand there and be in a beautiful posture than to try and like rip shred. He definitely is a major influence in my surfing from his actual surfing itself, but also from his shaping and his approach. Both of us love going as fast as possible and doing the longest high lines that we can.”

Cover photo: @instaclamfunk