Surfing in Northern California is, on almost every single day of the year, a far harsher, less welcoming experience than it is in Southern California. Or anywhere, for that matter, with warm air, warm water, and without soul-sucking currents and rip tides and endless paddling. The beaches themselves aren’t particularly welcoming either: rocky, cold, windswept, lacking amenities or parking lots. Local surfers are less accustomed to dealing with newcomers, and more protective of their little slices of ridability.
It ain’t pretty, in other words.
Which is why the new documentary It Ain’t Pretty—a look into women’s surfing in northern California—from San Francisco filmmaker Dayla Soul, is titled so well. The title’s also a little bit of a kick in the ass to the notion that all surfer girls are just smiling, bouncy beach babes.
The film centers on a group of women who surf all over the Bay Area, from bombing Ocean Beach to bombing Mavericks, to the mellower, but still harsh (and often bombing) beginner breaks sprinkled from Marin County to Half Moon Bay. There are also appearances by big-wave stars Paige Alms, Keala Kennelly, and Emily Erickson, among others, in addition to Bianca Valenti, outspoken activist for women’s big-wave surfing, and one of San Francisco’s best-known surfers. Lots of good footage of women surfing Mavericks and good-sized Ocean Beach, too. Along the way, you get little snippets of the history of women’s surfing in San Francisco and Mavericks, and interviews with longtime members of the surf community.
The women profiled in It Ain’t Pretty share their experiences in cracking male-dominated lineups, and learning how to live like a surfer in an ocean environment that often seems hostile to the very idea. Frankly, it’s just refreshing to see a surf doc that focuses on the joys and struggles of workaday surfers, as opposed to pros, regardless of whether they’re men or women. But seeing the lineup, especially the testosterone-filled, difficult-to-crack lineups of northern California, through the eyes of women is illuminating, to say the least.
The film just finished an international screening tour, where it collected a handful of awards, and is now available on itunes. Absolutely worth a watch, especially if you have daughters who surf or are thinking of taking the plunge.