How the New York Women’s Surf Film Festival Gives Voice to Female Surfers and Filmmakers Worldwide

From Sea Lone. Shot: O'Keefe

Clouds cleared and the sun set with a half-moon on the rise. Voices of many murmured as the Rockaway Beach Surf Club filled up in anticipation of this late-July night’s event—the 5th Annual New York Women’s Surf Film Festival.

Sounds of Outkast playing from a kitchen radio met with those of sizzling fish and plantains, leaving a lingering smell so indicative of Rockaway summers. Audience members settled to wooden benches, tacos, and drinks in hand, sharing laughs and stories of the season while awaiting the festival’s opening remarks. On came the projector with the last fade of pink-purple sky, and so began 1-hour of female-centric surf film feature shorts and mid-length films from around the globe.

From Pear Shaped. Shot: Lauren Hill

Davina Grincevicius, New York Women’s Film Festival and Lava Girl Surf Founder, stood below the screen and introduced a few of the artists who were able to make it to the Festival. There was Sarah Lee, an underwater photographer from Hawai’i, and Georgia Matts, a filmmaker from Australia who stood alongside her featured surfers Skye Burgess, also from Australia, and her partner, Sarah Baum from South Africa. They were coolly reserved, yet confident. All smiling half-nervous, half-overjoyed smiles.

The Festival was started by Grincevicius as a project of Lava Girl Surf a half-decade ago. It was built on a foundation of support for women and their contributions to surfing as well as environmentally conscious efforts to protect the waves we ride. This was easily apparent, as many of the several hundred attendees over the two-day event last month were women.

“The festival has allowed us to make new friends and connections within the surf community from around the world, specifically women filmmakers and surfers,” Grincevicius said. “It’s empowering and rewarding to support the local charities and businesses that make such a strong impact on our daily lives as surfers. It’s our goal to have the festival provide a platform for our partners to reach our community”

From the Rockaway premiere. Shot: NYWSFF

There was an almost tangible air of support as surfers of all ages and community members sat, faces glowing from the projector screen, soaking in scenes of surf and the lives of women who embody it. All of the films showcased a women’s perspective on surfing or the impacts of their passion for surfing and the ocean.

Lee’s SeaBEING, the photography on exhibit at the event, was displayed first. Born and raised on the Big Island of Hawai’i, Lee has spent much of her life in and around the water. From water polo to competitive swimming to surfing, she has developed an intimate passion for the water as a place where everything ebbs and flows in the most magnificent way, she said.

She has been taking photographs for a decade now and said it’s the lack of control she feels when she is photographing underwater that fuels her passion for the art. While composing shots in the water is difficult, there is a sense of being at the will of her surroundings which allows her to feel most creative.

A post shared by sarah lee (@hisarahlee) on

“My Hawai’i roots gave me a light-hearted and carefree attitude which informs my visual style and ability to keep things casual while magnifying the best in what surrounds me,” Lee said.

Lee had been acquainted with Grincevicius before this year’s event but said she wasn’t ready to show her work until now. She applauded Grincevicius for her devotion to the festival and looks forward to the future of the event and its expanding support for women being empowered to get in the ocean.

Other productions included Blue Road, a feature by filmmaker Alena Ehrenbold which dives into the role that passion plays in one’s life through surfing. Luca Merli’s Sea Lone, in collaboration with Onde Nostre and Seea, featured Seea babes Lola Mignot, Karina Rozunko, Sierra Lerback, and photographer Luki O’Keefe on a trip to Sri Lanka where they ride unridden waves and explore widely unexplored crystal blue waters reminiscent of a time long passed.

From Luca Merli’s Sea Lone. Shot: Dylan Gordon

Cold Lines, by Claudia Lederer, takes the viewer to scenic scapes from Iceland where Lee-Ann Curren, daughter of surf legend Tom Curren, and local Icelandic surfer Heidar Logi, are seen in flow with icy waves many would otherwise pass on.

Matts’ Smile and Wave, the debut feature of this year’s film festival, followed the story of surfers Burgess and Baum and how their individual passion for the sport met with their coupled devotion for each other. The three traveled up and down the coast of New South Wales while filming, experiencing trials and tribulations along the way, but persevering with the materials they had and growing as friends, surfers, and individuals learning what it takes to make a film for the first time. Smile and Wave was a far from cliche love story. Not about two lovers, but about two supremely talented female surfers and their love for the lifestyle this sport fosters.

Grincevicius had inspired Matts to put together the film after coming into contact with her work on Vimeo. Without her reaching out, Matts said she is not sure the film would have ever been made or gotten this far.

From Smile and Wave. Shot: Georgia Matts

“It’s something we’re really proud of,” Matts said after the premiere. “It’s changed our lives.”

And that seems to sum up many of the goals of the film festival. It is an event focussed on bringing women together in a sport that has long been male dominated, empowering them to find creative and personal inspiration and success. There are countless reasons to celebrate women all over the globe, and doing so via surf has proven a powerful avenue here on the East Coast.

“Every year the films I select are reflective of the current challenges and passions of women surfers,” Grincevicius said. “This year we heard more women sharing deeply personal journeys and reflecting on their place in the world we live in today.”

The festival will also be screening in Montauk this year for the first time, to share in the women in surf celebration. The event will take place Saturday, August 12, 7 pm – 11 pm at The Montauk Beach House.

From Cold Lines. Shot: Claudia Lederer

Just as at the Surf Club, there will be a raffle for prizes ranging from a surfboard to locally-sourced self-care items and from wet suits to beach totes.

“As surfers, we spend a lot of time in the water and we need to do all we can to protect the oceans, beaches, and ecosystem,” she said.“Through films, we are able to encourage a change and inspire our audience to participate in a change.”

The half moon rose high in the sky, glowing a deep orange as this year’s film festival came to an end. Those lucky winning members of the audience wrapped up their prizes, and the not so lucky hit the bar for a final beer. There’s always next year, after all.