[Mixtape] Surfing Goddess, Leah Dawson

Photo: Rick Estevez (@thefluidaperature)

A lot has been said about Leah Dawson and it usually involves superlatives or language that feels like a throwback to the 60’s. That’s because she truly is grace incarnate in the water and she is the embodiment of a soul surfer, as loaded a term as that may be.

She’s racked up plenty of accolades—winning the Deus 9ft and Single event in Bali (twice), and the Women’s Pipeline Longboard Event (twice, again). It would be hard to find someone who is a better longboarder than Leah yet she quit the women’s longboarding tour for a couple reasons. One, she didn’t want to complete with other women in the ocean, which she considers to be sacred, and two, she loves riding single fin short boards, too. If you’re lucky enough to watch her on one, you’ll see they seem to love her right back. That’s as close as I can come to summarizing a woman who is a little bit magic.

Based on the North Shore of Oahu, Leah is often on the move, pursuing ways to live an environmentally-friendly lifestyle while making films, shaping boards and generally being an influential voice in women’s surf culture. We’re particularly stoked to be heading to Tofino, British Columbia with her this fall on the upcoming AllSwell x Earth Missions trip. (You can come, too.)

Part of the ongoing series of interviews created in conjunction with AllSwell we asked her a bunch of questions about her musical memories. Some of her answers didn’t surprise (camper vans and Paul Simon) but much like her surfing, Leah is never predicable. Some gems here involve crowd surfing to Vanilla Ice and being on tour with Spearhead. Read on and listen in to the correlating playlist created by DJ Glen Walsh.

What’s the most recent live show you’ve caught?

Jackson Browne in Bend, Oregon. What a pure voice. My boyfriend [snowboarder and surfboard shaper Alex Lopez (link to @alexsaburolopez)] and I were in a sea of folks from other generations and it was lovely. We both resonate a bit more with the 60’s and 70’s, perhaps.

Bless your old souls. Top live music moment? Most unlikely but amazing live music moment?

Top: I was a tour photographer for Michael Franti and Spearhead for a little stint. I had an overflow of live music shows and experiences, running around with a camera in my hand. That was a blast, but tour life is not for me.

Most unlikely: The only time I’ve crowd surfed was at a Vanilla Ice concert as a teenager – during “Ice Ice Baby,” of course.

The Ice Man! Old school question: What were you listening to in junior high? And be honest.

Backstreet Boys and NSYNC. I was from Orlando where they both started (plausible excuse?). And MJ, so much MJ. I was finally introduced to the music of Bob Marley at 12. That was very formative.

NSYNC is basically OG Timberlake. Right? Moving on…we love a good road trip. What musical memories do you have from road trips past?

Listening to Paul Simon while driving down the Oregon and Cali coast. My boyfriend and I have a camper. We like to keep the playlist old school and classic.

First album you ever bought with your own money?

The first Hanson album. I guess we could add that to the middle school craze. I definitely saved the piggy bank for that one!

Do you have certain music that puts you in the mood to create?

I love music from different cultures, especially African. Music with real instruments, music that reveals a deep knowledge of theory, and music that simply feels good when you listen to it. These are my creative go-to’s.

Let’s get real. What’s a date deal-breaker in terms of music? AKA: If they own the T-shirt from the tour, you’re out.

Screaming music is about the only music I shy away from. Good thing my boyfriend already went through (and finished) that stage. All that remains from it is a cool drum skin signed by all of Metallica.

That is pretty cool. Is he selling it? Quick: vinyl, cassette or digital?

Vinyl, whenever possible. All day long. For me, there’s nothing more appealing than music played this way.

How do you discover new music? Who widens your musical world?

Friends first, they usually have great taste. Spotify has really made music discovery a new experience, yet I still feel like I’ve not yet found my favorite music I want to listen to. The endless quest…

Best lyricist? Barry Manilow to Solange, nobody is off limits except Springsteen and Dylan. Too predictable.

I love Stevie Nicks, Fleetwood Mac, Jackson Browne, Bob Marley. Keep it classic and from the heart.

Two adjectives that could describe you, too. Favorite music venue?

Red Rocks [in Colorado]. The energy is so powerful there. I’ve been dreaming about going to The Gorge [in Washington], so I’m waiting for the right band at the right time to go enjoy that natural amphitheater. Anytime nature is an outstanding factor in a music venue, that’s when my spirit feels most engaged.

Do you listen to music while you create or do you consider that a distraction?

I love to listen to music while writing and creating. Instrumental music really helps put me in the zone, and doesn’t distract me as much as lyrical music. When I’m editing [a film], I end up listening to the same song 1,000 times, but those songs also become the emotion behind the stories.

Who are your musical muses? Who inspires you / influences your work?

Bob Marley, always. Bob Marley’s dedication to his purpose and ability to influence music with creativity and enlightenment, I seek to do this with my life’s work.

Follow along Leah’s adventures at @leahloves and check out the environmental organization she helped found.