Seea ambassador Lauren L. Hill reflects on her nearly two-decade friendship with Leah Dawson in honor of their conversation for Episode 5 of the Waterpeople Podcast.
Words by Lauren L. Hill
Leah Dawson has inspired me for nearly 20 years. Her surfing, her open heart, and bright mind, her willingness to give almost anything a go.
We grew up surfing in longboard contests together along the sleepy Floridian coastline. We blossomed amongst that early 2000s “Blue Crush” women's surfing boom when it felt like things were really going to change for the surf industry; that girls and women might actually be welcomed into surf culture in meaningful ways. But the wave broke and left us all kind of wondering what happened. Where did the support go?
We both went our separate ways, both to study at university, and we both emerged into completely different incarnations of surfing careers. For years, it was as if the surf industry didn't know what do do with Leah. She didn't fit the mold of the two binary options for industry-supported female surfers: lifestyle longboarder or WCT shortboarder. She was always a bit of both. Always kind of in-between. She was always skilled in everything she rode.
A few snapshots of Lauren, Leah, and friends throughout the years.
After years of studying, surfing, and studying surfing, Leah emerged with new boards under her arms: single fin mid-lengths. The process of evolving her surfing, expanding her spiritual self and finding a community of like-minded women on the North Shore gave way to a woman who knew her path.
Now, Leah is pioneering the gap in women’s surfing between longboarding and shortboarding. Blurring the lines. Leah takes an artful and considered approach to riding anything – and her voice has found its place right in the heart of modern surfing.
Leah recently helped to establish The Changing Tides Foundation to empower women and girls through travel and surfing. Changing Tides creates spaces for sisterhoods at home and abroad and runs a diverse set of campaigns, from community composting initiatives, to taking much needed menstrual supplies to girls and women in need.
For Episode 5 of The Waterpeople Podcast we sat down with Leah at a little rental shack just off of Sunset Beach in the quiet lull before a big swell brought the wave roaring to life. My partner Dave and I wanted to create a platform to reflect on the humbling, the beautiful, the scary, thrilling, mind-blowing experiences that have shaped us, and to listen to the experiences of our favorite water people. And then to chat about how we can use those experiences to do better and be better on land. Together.
We wanted an inclusive place to share stories from diverse voices within surfing culture—and from all kinds of water people—from around the world.
We begin each episode with a simple question: “Tell us about a time or experience after which you were never the same…” We sit with some of the most adept water people on the planet to explore common themes of aquatic lives lived well: ecology, adventure, community, activism, science, egalitarianism, inclusivity, meaningful play. And surfing, of course.
I was excited to find out where Leah would take this question, and she definitely surprised me. Over the course of about an hour, we talk about Leah's distinctly feminine interpretation to riding waves, the mentorship that shaped her then, and the love that is shaping her now.
One of the great awakenings for me was to see that that's how dominant patriarchal culture was—that we had internalized those beliefs and turned against ourselves and our sisterhood and that is the great undercutting of any power.
In so many ways, Leah is nurturing the space for the next generations of women to continue bustin’ down the doors of patriarchal norms.