Margaret! Tell us all about The OTHER Project.
Yes! The OTHER Project. Thank you. It’s also the other side of surfing, the other side of skating…
Historically the term “other” is a philosophical idea around people who are sort of outside of the mainstream or what’s accepted in popular culture – traditionally in a male / female paradigm.
I’m trying to push it forward, along with other theorists and philosophers, to have the conversation about everyone who is outside the mainstream. So we’re talking about LGBTQI folks or transgender folks or folks of color or women or dudes, or anyone. So that’s how that happened.
So, yeah, that’s why I love these t-shirts so much. Because if you see someone wearing this you’re like, “Yeah, you’re my people.”
How did The OTHER Project begin?
It started with a request from the California Institute of Integral studies – which is a progressive university here in San Francisco. They did a whole year of women’s lecture series.
One day, they approached me and said, “Would you pitch us some ideas?” I gave them five different ideas, including one that suggested a panel of four women in the surf industry. Ashley Lloyd, who’s a shaper, Julie Cox, who’s a longboarder and used to ride for Roxy, Bianca Valenti, who’s the first female big wave world champion, and Tiffany Campbell, who’s a phenomenal film maker.
And I almost died when they called me and said we want to do the panel. So I did that and it was great. It was a two hour event with wall to wall people. Everyone was really surprised by how many people came out and how diverse the crowd was.
After that event, I got loads of really energized feedback – everything from, “We really loved your event,” to “We really loved your event, and you should have pushed the conversation harder and pressed them to talk more about topics like homophobia in the lineup.”
Did you feel like you should have pushed certain topics harder?
I guess I want to push it harder because here I am, wanting to keep having these conversations and keep doing this. I also want to respect people’s privacy and their spaces. I would say in that specific setting it was fine and I went far enough, but now I want to go farther.
So what is surfing like in San Francisco – besides seeing Bianca in the water?
Seeing Bianca is the best and I never see her in the water because I cannot surf those waves. But I do see her on the beach on huge days at Ocean Beach, and that makes me happy.
A lot of people think surfing is warm weather, beach towns and bikinis. Many people don’t picture surfing the way it is here. What’s that like?
Yeah, I guess that’s true. I’ve only ever surfed here so I don’t know the difference. Wetsuits. It’s cold.
Wetsuits are a thing, people.
Wetsuits are definitely a thing. And ocean life. But that’s the best part of surfing – getting the shit scared out of you by… sea creatures. Like seals, which happened to me recently.
Tell us a little about how you got into surfing.
I was living in Melbourne, Australia and part of my study abroad thing was to take these trips to the Outback or the bush where they filmed … I can’t think of the name… what is that film? Oh yeah – Mad Max.
The other trip was the great ocean road. We went to the surf museum there and then we all went surfing on foamies for my first time in this little cove. I’m from Ohio, and I just remember I was really, more so than everyone else, asking the instructors about everything. “Well how do you do this and how do you do that?” I just really wanted to get it.
After we got out of the water we went to this strip mall to get lunch and I remember there was this thrift store which they call “op shops” – opportunity shops.
Wait. I love that.
Yeah! So there was a wetsuit there and somehow I get the thing on my body. It had to have been a 6 mil. It was very ridiculous and it was 12 australian dollars and I bought it.
I dragged that wetsuit around with me for a very long time and then didn’t really surf at all again until I moved to California and got in the water here in 2009. And I’ve been trying ever since.
And you’re a teacher in San Francisco in your “down time.”
Yes, I’m a teacher.
So teaching and academia are very important to me for a lot of reasons. And probably the most interesting or important thing is around my teaching for a surf study abroad program called Sea State.
They recently hired me to teach journalism in Spain and Portugal. It’s for all undergrad college students in the United States.
So teaching journalism and surfing, together, abroad?
Yes. You can come if you’ve never surfed and you don’t know how, and you can also come if you’re ridiculously good and you’ve been surfing since you were two-years old.
Right now I’m working on my curriculum for that course. It’s really challenging because I care so unbelievably much about the content that I’m teaching – which is tricky. For instance, I’m using a lot of magazine articles that are about surfing because I want my students to read and determine what they like so they can write things they care about. It’s hard to choose, since the class is only a few weeks.
Ultimately, I want to encourage kids to be ambassadors of change in the world and also to be free thinkers. My secret hope is that kids from the midwest, like me, will be able to go on these trips and maybe get their passport for the first time and maybe get in the ocean for the first time and maybe learn to surf and maybe feel inspired.
Change the world!
I think in my case, and in the case of other likeminded and exceptional groups, the agenda is to promote and celebrate diversity. So I would like to support the next generation of surf journalists to consider writing articles that are maybe a little different from what we see in mainstream media today and to also understand and believe the value in pursuing and writing about what you care about. Because it’s super hard.
Is it hard because it’s hard to write about things that you know won’t necessarily be accepted, or hard because you don’t have the platform to reach a large audience when you’re independent, and not being published by someone else?
I think it’s both. For me right now I’m experiencing the latter.
Any advice that you would give or that has been given to you that really resonates?
Two things, actually.
It wasn’t advice that was given to me, but I’m really passionate about diversity in surfing and not just women surfing. I do care a lot about women surfing and I’m really very in love with and greatly admire groups like Brown Girl Surf who create access for women and girls of color, and Lady Days who tell stories about women, because that’s so important. And Dayla Soul who made It Ain’t Pretty, a film about women who charge Ocean Beach. Dayla has been an ongoing champion of the OTHER and really taken me under her wing.
But The OTHER Project is focusing on everyone. Its about complete inclusion of anyone who may feel or be excluded. In general, that’s the movement, and I’m stoked to be a part of that.
I had this amazing experience where I was at a panel at UC Santa Cruz. Julie Cox was on this panel about surf media, an issue that I get fired up about. So I raised my hand and asked the panel, “What do you think about women in surf media? what do you think about the sexism involved in it all?” All four guys turned to look at Julie as if to say, “We’ll let you take that one.” And Julie just owned it. She said, “Yeah women in surf media — it’s terrible.” She ended her comment with, “But what about everyone else? Surfers of color? Surfers who are LGBTQI?” For me, that was a huge moment.
So your question was about advice given to me. It wasn’t advice. It was an experience that changed me. As for my advice to others – to the ones coming up? Get ready for the revolution. Cus it’s here.