Nature of Surf Women

Nature of Surf women, image of three women on surfboards

Breaking down stereotypes through shared experiences

The badass ocean women series continues. This time, with Ivana Bajic and Gabriela Téllez, two ocean-driven women who put together a multimedia experience highlighting the stories of a diverse number of women who have been shaped by the water. The two teamed up to combine print, audio, photography and more for an in-depth exploration and experience of the nature of surf women—the athleticism, camaraderie, and peace that flow together when riding a wave. Ivana and Gabi were kind enough to catch a couple of waves down in Nosara, Costa Rica with Whalebone, catching us up on their latest project and what’s to come.

nature of surf women, to hands can be seen in the background, reaching out of the water. Behind them is blue sky and light clouds.

What was the main source of inspiration for you and Gabriela to work collaboratively to put together the multimedia experience of Nature of Surf Women?

Ivana: I was sitting on my board watching pelicans flying over my friend’s head. It was one of those picture-perfect moments between two sets. Women around me were glimmering under the rays of the sun without makeup or fancy clothes. They were relaxed, comfortable in their bodies and the ocean. I felt our connection streaming through the water. I said to Anne, “One day, I will make a book about this ocean-minded female community united in Nosara, Costa Rica—one of the five blue zones (regions of the world where people live longer than average and tend to be the healthiest) in the world.

My background is in film and immersive production, and I used my expertise to create an art book that merges photography, sounds of nature, and real-life stories offering the experience of being part of the female surf community.

“When I met Ivana, she was interested in “storytelling” documentary photography which is my specialty. She did not wish to work with surf photographers because she wanted to approach women surfers from an unconventional perspective and break stereotypes of classical surf photography. ”

Gabriela Tellez, Photographer 

The second step was creating the atmosphere around visual stories. I was introduced to Martyn Stewart, a famous naturalist who recently published The Listening Planet—one of the most important collections of nature sounds that exist in the world. 

I called him and explained that I would like to use QR codes with sounds of nature that will put you in the same surroundings as the surfer—for example, sounds of the waves from the sunrise surf, or sounds of the birds singing and woods cracking during the walk through the jungle. 

Four women stand amongst plant and debris under long green palms. The women wear blue bikinis and are facing outward tot the shore.

It was Martyn’s idea that we take the best parts from the surfers’ interviews and combine them with sounds of nature creating an instant visual and emotional connection with each woman.

Our final experience is an audio journey with each surfer in the book. We have selected events and sensations that other women could use as motivation or guidance in their lives.

While we were shooting Natrishka in the tide pools, she started singing an African song about water. I remembered old movies where women bathed in the river and sang to the water. Of course, we had to include songs in the book! We have two more girls that are fantastic singers, and we managed to record girls singing their songs in the jungle studio.

We created one of a kind art book that combines traditional visual storytelling with the sounds of the ocean, songs, and audio interviews to offer a window into the lives of female surfers.

What do you consider to be the biggest challenge for women in surfing?

Ivana: Surf is an extreme sport; very challenging and demanding. Yet there is no simpler way to detach from the everyday pressure and connect with nature and yourself than by paddling into the ocean. But many women find it challenging to start surfing because they are shy of their bodies or scared that they will look stupid or they are too old and it will result in injury. It can also be a bit hard to get into the water when you see the lineup full of guys. 

Two women are on surf boards in the ocean. The woman in the foreground is paddling out. The woman in the background is hopping up to stand on her board.
A group of women wearing blue bikinis stand in a group hug in thigh-high water. Waves are crashing around them. In the background is an island.
Nature of Surf Women, two women paddling on surfboards next to one another

While I was working on the foreword of the book with Holly Beck, I learned a lot about new trends in surfing, such as holistic surfing and surf therapy. 

I went to one of her holistic sessions, and she was able to help women express their frustrations and then take them to surf and make them feel powerful riding the waves.

Communities such as Textured Waves, Groundswell Community Project, women who surf, and surfing moms greatly influence the rising numbers of women surfers. We all share the same goal: breaking the stereotype of the perfect girl on the perfect wave. I think there is a big wave coming and it’s going to crash the mainstream portrayal of women surfers.

Explain why having real women share their personal experiences was such an important aspect of the book?

Ivana: Many of us are dealing with a lack of self-confidence, body shame, family, or health problems. It’s important to hear how other women dealt with their fears of deep water or sharks, fought cancer, or learned to surf in their 50s so they could spend quality time with their children.

In the book, you will meet women from 12 to 67 years old. Visually, we have worked on body details like wrinkles, scars, and body language exploring cycles of life and symbioses between women and nature. In parallel, we are revealing their aspirations, troubles, and how they work on self-love and self-care.

A an older woman stands on her surfboard in shallow waters
A young girl leans forward while standing on her surf board in a small swell.
Two women are in the ocean. The woman in the background is looking off and the woman in the foreground faces the camera.
Nature of Surf Women, two women on beach holding surfboards
Nature of Surf Women, woman in bathing suit in field
Nature of Surf Women, women surfing on edge of board

I strongly believe that the whole experience of seeing raw beauty and listening to unfiltered life stories will inspire many women to get out of their comfort zone and go surfing. It’s such a wonderful feeling knowing that you have support from other women like you all over the world.

Gabi: I don’t think the correct term is “real women” but rather women who go beyond the perfectionist stereotype that society imposes. Specifically in the vision of the woman who practices surfing, always with perfect skin, an athletic body, very young, long legs and a stylized figure. Listening to them made me understand that surfing goes beyond being a sport to a true fusion with the elements of nature present on the coast and being a way of life, which is why it is such a popular sport with a well-known visual culture.

How do you want people to walk away feeling after experiencing Nature of Surf Women?

Ivana:  This book inspires women to connect with their bodies and nature while freeing themselves of stereotypes such as age, beauty and limitations of their engagement in sports and recreation.

Gabi: My purpose is to satisfy the curiosity of the people who were interested in the Nature of Surf Women project, who, by knowing all these stories that are so different from each other, manage to create a mental image of the female ability to co-exist in a group and harmony with nature through the surf.

Nature of Surf Women, two girls surfing side by side
Nature of Surf Women, woman coming up from waters surface
Nature of Surf Women, two women sitting with surfboards
Nature of Surf Women, two women walking towards water holding surfboards on beach
Nature of Surf Women, woman paddling on surf board
Nature of Surf Women, woman holding surfboard walking through jungle
Nature of Surf Women, hand carved wooden surfboards

How has surfing and the ocean changed and/or shaped your life? 

Ivana: I discovered surfing in my mid-30s and it became my passion. The ocean is an endless source of joy and I am always ready to drop everything and go surfing. The ocean, surfing, and my community in Nosara helped me change my mindset. I became a vegetarian and I stopped buying unnecessary stuff. I spend more time with my family in nature and I have 30 new girlfriends.

The most powerful thing you learned while creating Nature of Surf Women? 

Ivana: Being part of the female surfer community is the biggest treasure you can have in your life. Shooting in the jungle with very unpredictable weather, a small team, many different locations, and having my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter with me was very challenging. But, as the days passed, girls started relaxing and becoming comfortable around the camera and our trust and friendship began to grow. In a few weeks, our house bloomed—it was always full and loud—we were cooking, planning, sharing stories. When women share a passion and support each other everything is easier and more fun. I am so grateful that they let me into their lives. They are my motivation to make the best book ever and share it with the world.

Nature of Surf Women, woman holding surfboard walking on beach with refllection
Nature of Surf Women, woman sitting on surfboard in water
Nature of Surf Women, two women surfing

Gabi: It sounds cliché, but it was “going beyond the limits.” Observing and sharing with this group of women, I learned that we often limit ourselves and let our fears grow within us. Confronting the ocean, the temperament of water, and the strength and speed of a wave allow us to relativize any problem and acquire the mental power to face the big and the little problems in everyday life. You need to have a support network and the discipline to push yourself past what seems like an impenetrable wall. All these women have achieved it, and I admire them for it.

Top three favorite surf spots in the world? 

Ivana: Nosara is my second home and my favorite place to surf. In California, my favorite place is Palos Verdes Cove, and in Mexico, the beaches of San Jose del Cabo.

Nature of Surf Women, woman carving wave while surfing
Nature of Surf Women, woman standing on beach with palm tree shadows

Nature of Surf Women will launch on Kickstarter on June 8, 2022. A Kickstarter event will take place June 24, 2022 at 5pm partnership with Deux Ex Machina, Venice, California. Tacos, drinks and a sneak peak into the design of Nature of Surf Women.