“Surfing Beyond the California Beach Babe Cliché” Screening, Exhibit and Talk

Mayra Aguilar walking out to the lineup in La Maestra. (All photos by Elizabeth Pepin Silva)

On Wednesday Sept. 19th, further destruction of misconceptions about women surfers around the globe will take place at the historic cottage on Calafia in San Clemente. “Surfing Beyond the California Beach Babe Cliché” will be equal parts film screening, photo exhibit, reception and conversation. Organizers expect the discussion to extend from myth-busting to Southern California and Baja, Mexico as a space of “transnational exchange,” and how the medium of photography/film has the potential to change culture for the better.

In stark opposition to the bikini-clad blonde-on-the-beach trope is the 30-minute documentary La Maestra. Shot entirely in Baja Sur, Mexico, the film features Mayra Aguilar, a schoolteacher who followed an impulse and became the first local woman in her remote village to surf. Aguilar’s love of the sea enveloped her young students, has inspired other women to take up the sport, and brought environmental stewardship into her classroom and onto the beach. 

A soundtrack of traditional and original music by Neal Casal and Adam MacDougall capture the luxurious pace of the place, whose waves have brought international surfers for decades, and the freedom-in-motion of Aguilar’s style in the water. La Maestra has screened at festivals in Europe, Hawaii, Mexico and California, winning an award in Anglet, France, at the International Surf Film Festival.


Mayra Aguilar and Sammy loving their beach.

Leading the post-screening talk will be longtime surfer, surf photographer and co-filmmaker of La Maestra Elizabeth Pepin Silva and Professor Krista Comer of Rice University. The two met in the late 1990s when Comer began research for her book Surfer Girls in the New World Order

“I first met [Comer] when she put an ad in a Santa Cruz surf shop looking for women surfers to talk to for a book she was writing,” says Silva. “My friend who owned the store told her she should call me because at the time I was one of only a few women surf photographers in the world, and the only one who was focusing primarily on women.”

The professor, who grew up in the Southern California surf Mecca, spent ten years gathering info for the book, which sports a Silva photo on the cover. Sparked by noticing surf culture was becoming “less bad boy, less territorial and more girl-friendly, more ecologically sensitive,” she sees surfing as a way of talking about globalization in an optimistic light. (We “surf” the web, she says, in every language and on all the continents.) In her travels she found Muslim women surfing in Bali and in Gaza, locals like Aguilar surfing up and down the Americas, Japan, and the U.K.

La Maestra Mayra Aguilar drops in.

In La Maestra, Aguilar speaks about the impact on her town, for better and worse, of the world’s male surfers who were attracted to the clean waves near her home. Professor Comer covers surf tourism in Sayulita, Mexico, where women teach women of means to surf while local women prosper in the service industry that springs up around tourism, eco or otherwise.  

Silva and Comer are fully equipped to guide a conversation on the looping intersections between the local and the global, and how women surfers everywhere are relishing the mobility of each ride on their local breaks.

“Surfing Beyond the California Beach Babe Cliché,” 225 Avenida Calafia, San Clemente; www.sanonofreparksfoundation.org. Wed., Sept. 19, 5:30 p.m. $15 pre-sale; $20 at the door.

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