A few months back, we ran the trailer for Out in the Lineup, a documentary featuring the experiences of gay surfers around the world. Well, the movie is finally slated for release in December, and last week I exchanged e-mails with Thomas Castets, producer of the film, and the founder of gaysurfers.net, to find out a bit about what the project has involved. Here’s what he had to say.
What should the viewers expect to see?
Out in the Lineup is a documentary that exposes the taboo subject of homosexuality in surfing. It is a road movie that tells the stories of gay surfers from around the globe, exploring why surf culture has strayed from the sport's roots of freedom, openness, and connection to nature. Stories of fear, isolation, and self-doubt emerge as well as ones of self-empowerment and transformation, pointing to a future that is filled with both challenge and hope.
From the trailer, it seems that pro surfing is the focus. If that is the case, why? Is there less of a taboo against gay surfers in amateur lineups?
No, the taboo is just as strong in amateur lineups, but most of our initial contact was with pro surfers. We've found that pros are often particularly confronted by the issue because of the conflict that comes from presenting an image that is a long way removed from your sense of identity. The pros flagged the issue, which exists across the entire surfing community--pros, amateurs, and commentators alike. The diversity of experiences on this issue became clear pretty quickly and we knew we had a good doco in the making. We looked at the issue of homosexuality in surfing within all sectors of the surfing community. We started collecting the perspectives of everyday surfers. Then we found a couple of professional surfers who are gay (most are retired from pro surfing, but one is currently on Tour). We also looked for the perspective of the industry, academics, and psychologists. Gay and straight.
How were the interview subjects and featured surfers chosen?
We started looking for protagonists back in May 2012. We already knew of a few gay surfers who had amazing stories, but we knew getting them to speak on camera might be challenge. Within the 5000+ community of gay surfers active on gaysurfers.net, we found that Sydney and California were the two areas with the biggest concentration of members. So we put the word out about the film in both communities asking people to participate. About 30 gay surfers responded and we selected the most powerful stories (a hard process), including three-time women’s world longboard champion Cori Schumacher, who we met for the first time. The response was overwhelming and really inspiring. As most gay surfers spoke of fear of rejection by the wider surfing community, we realized we needed some insights from other viewpoints, including straight surfers (professional and amateur), the surf industry, as well as media commentators, psychologists, and academics.
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Did you encounter gay surfers who were unwilling to be in the film for fear of being outed?
We did meet many gay surfers who did not want to tell their stories because they believed that they would be rejected by their friends, their family, and the surf community if anyone found out that they were gay. We also met a couple of professional surfers who were scared they would lose their sponsors. We also experienced a lot of resistance from a few straight people. Some were scared that people would think they were gay if they appeared in our film. Some also refused to talk because they didn't want to appear to be breaking the confidence of surfer friends who they knew were gay.
The biggest challenge was the initial reaction of many to the film. Some would ask, "Why are you making a film about homosexuality in surfing? No one cares if you are gay or straight." But I think this points to the fact that most people haven't thought about it because it is such a taboo. Most haven't thought about how hard it would be to be gay in many surf communities. The fact is that gays and lesbians are three times more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than other straight people, in large part because of such feelings of isolation. In some tragic cases, people have even taken their own lives because of non-acceptance. Sadly, such topics came up a lot in the interviews we conducted.
Did you have trouble landing sponsors or financial backers who were unwilling to be associated with a controversial topic?
We have not yet managed to secure any sponsorships deals from the surf industry. Many of them are still concerned about alienating their existing customer base by supporting a gay-related project. The lack of public support from the surf industry has been frustrating for us because we see this film as a huge opportunity for a surf brand to talk to a new generation of surfers. This film presents the opportunity for a sports brand to lead the way, not only promoting acceptance and diversity but also tapping into a target market that has been traditionally neglected and alienated. Companies operating in similar markets have jumped at the opportunity. You only need to look at Nike, who this year hosted the Nike LGBT Sports Summit in Portland.
TRAILER: Out in the Lineup
Do you feel that things are getting better or worse, in terms of inclusion and acceptance, for gay surfers?
I don't know, I think it evolves differently in different parts of the world. Of course it has improved in large cities like Sydney, San Diego, and LA, but imagine being the only gay kid in a small surf town--there is still a lot of homophobia.
How do you think it would be received today if a top World Tour pro came out as gay?
Given the popularity of the topic (many athletes coming out in other sports) it would probably get a lot of media attention. It might be a painful moment for the pro, to be the first one to do it, but it might also be hugely rewarding. As Robbie Rogers said when he was the first U.S. soccer player to come out as gay, “Life is simple when your secret is gone. Gone is the pain that lurks in the stomach at work, the pain from avoiding questions, and at last the pain from hiding such a deep secret.” The reactions would be mixed for sure. Some fans would think he/she is even more of a hero, some others would think he/she should have done it earlier, and unfortunately some other fans would be disappointed. But ultimately it would be very positive for the entire surfing world to finally break this taboo and tremendously inspiring for other surfers to be who they are, whatever it is. Let's get the issue out there so we can move forward as a community.