Going with the Flow
Pro surfer Leah Dawson rides single fin shortboards, which she says helps her feel the flow of the wave, “letting the wave dictate my movements.” The waves also seem to dictate her movements even off the board, setting the course for Changing Tides Foundation, the non-profit she helps lead with Becky Mendoza, the woman behind the vision, and their girl-crew. Mendoza, also the founder of Action Sports Law Group, a firm that helps top pro surfers and action sports athletes with US Visas and contracts, is also one of Leah’s best friends. Predictably, waves brought them together, now they’re riding the tide to give back through efforts including disaster relief, clean water action, and empowering women in developing countries.
Leah and Becky chatted to tell us how it all came together, what they’ve been doing and where they’re going next. Which apparently will be hashed out over fish tacos in Encinitas.
An Instant Connection
Becky: Leah Dawson, I remember the first time I saw you, you walked into the Reef house on the North Shore of Oahu in the winter of 2009 with Serena Brooke, Benji Weatherly and Abe Lerner. You guys were definitely having a good time and looked like people I wanted to be friends with. The next morning, I remember seeing that girl from last night operating a camera at the Reef Hawaiian Pro, and thought, “Wow, a camerawoman at a surf contest—that’s rad!”
Leah: That’s crazy. That was my first time working as a camera operator for the Triple Crown of Surfing and I’ve been doing it every year since then. We finally met the following year in Encinitas, I walked in and there you were! There was an instant connection because we’re both from Florida but also a really cool connection formed quickly. You’ve always been a connector. It feels like most people I am close to now, when I think back on how we met, it tracks back to you.
Becky: When we first met, you were a competitive longboarder, and it’s been awesome watching you come into your own in your surfing and also the message that you want to deliver to the surf industry and around the globe, and your activism and your strengths and your beliefs. I remember the first time we surfed together at Pipes in Cardiff. The waves were tiny and I had only been surfing a couple of years after moving to California. I was certain I’d make a fool of myself surfing with a pro, but I ended up surfing really well and having a blast and feeling super connected to the ocean. That was the day you became my favorite person to surf with.
That was the day you became my favorite person to surf with.
Leah: We had no idea what we were getting into when we created Changing Tides. Yes, we anticipated working hard and facing challenges and so many unknowns, but I don’t think any of us would have expected it would grow so fast.
Becky: The concept for CTF came to me in a vision, where I saw each person involved in very specific roles. Looking back now, I think what I saw was where our organization would be in five years. It was an opportunity for us to come together to make the world better, as well as empower others like us to do the same and add purpose to travel.
We do a lot as an organization. We’re not just focused on one thing, so sometimes it’s a challenge to communicate to people what exactly it is we do, because we have our hands in lots of pots. We just want to do all of the things that we are passionate about to make the world better.
Leah: So many people are looking for ways to help besides just donating money. People want tangible experience and service. We want people to be able to do that without having to pay a bunch of money, because that limits people. I feel like our daily challenge is to continue to learn and broaden our scope so that we can continue to supply options and new locations for people to participate. Ever since I was a little girl, I felt like I could be a light. Surfing in my 20s really accentuated spirituality in my life, and I want to make the world better. I want to bring light to people and help instill love. Once the opportunity to create this foundation came, which addressed these very things, through our friendship and our love for the ocean, it revealed itself to me that this is part of my life’s work. There is so much good to be done in this world.
Becky: I remember when we were in doing our clean water project in collaboration with Mexi-Log Fest in Mexico last May, you said, “We have created a beacon that is calling like-minded individuals to us.” If that is what CTF is right now then it has gone beyond its intended purpose. It’s a natural product of what we’re creating and seeing how motivated people are about CTF and meeting more and more people who are aligned with our message has been incredible.
Leah: My biggest responsibility is telling these stories so that those unable to actually be present physically can be brought there through story. That allows people to feel the magic and power of those moments of service and it might inspire them to be a part of something good in the world.
Becky: You’re telling our stories, not just to raise awareness to the issues, but to empower people and do something to participate, whether it’s through CTF or anything else. You just created this powerful story about our Women’s Outreach Mentorship Program in Panama called “Sisterhood by the Sea.”
Leah: I’ve continued to fall more in love with the WOMP girls and the program’s message the more time I spend with the edit. A lot of times when you’re editing content, watching it over and over, by the time you’re done, you don’t really want to watch the film anymore. The film is 22 minutes long and every time I watch it, I’m proud of it and I want to make it better. It was a product of getting out of my own way and allowing the source to edit through me, being on such a time-crunch for the initial edit, I didn’t really have time to second guess and make many corrections, I just had to tell the story.
Becky: You have done such an incredible job with this edit, and we couldn’t be more proud of it. It’s pretty inspiring to watch you do what you do, I wish you lived in Encinitas so I could watch you do it more often.
Leah: Yeah, I now live part of the year in Bend, Oregon, the winters are spent on the North Shore of Oahu, and I love when I get to squeeze some time in with you in Encinitas. I’m back on Oahu now filming the Triple Crown and surfing as much as I can. I’m loving being home. I love cooking at home in my own kitchen, we call it the Hen House Café! But if I have to eat out, lately I’ve been opting for a spot in Waialua called Paradise Fresh Food. I love cooking at your house in Encinitas and when we eat out, Good Onya is my top choice.
Becky: Ahhh…Good Onya is up there but my absolute favorite spot to eat in Encinitas is Fish 101. Nothing beats it! Lots of Changing Tides Foundation meetings happen there, it’s good brain food for great ideas.