In the vibrant coastal town of Pacifica, a groundbreaking event recently unfolded in the surfing community. Benny's Club and Queer Surf, two prominent organizations advocating for inclusivity and diversity in the sport, joined forces to host an extraordinary showcase of talent and community at Linda Mar Beach. This one-of-a-kind exhibition brought together over 40 trans/non-binary/queer surfers, turning the tide on traditional norms and celebrating the unique spirit of the LGBTQ+ surfing community.
Nic and Kyla of Queersurf and Joanie and Momo of Benny’s Club collaborated to put on this event. Ky is a former pro surfer whose history with the industry led to the motivation to create Queer Surf and this event specifically.
Instead of rigid competition structures and individual scores, the event embraced a collective judging system, inviting participants to vote on accolades for their fellow surfers. The result? A truly remarkable day that transcended beyond the waves, fostering an atmosphere of joy, acceptance, and camaraderie.
Surrounded by the stunning natural beauty of Linda Mar, this non-traditional surf gathering became a watershed moment in the history of queer surfing. It was a day where talented individuals from all over the country showcased their skills, shared their stories, and redefined what it means to ride the waves as members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Join us as we dive into the immersive experiences and insightful perspectives shared by participants, organizers, and attendees, unveiling the transformative power of Switch: The Queer Surfing Exhibition. ~Jules
Tell us about yourself and your involvement with Switch.
Kyla: Kyla Langen, former pro surfer, founder of the Queer Surf movement! I’ve been visioning Switch for a decade as an antidote to surf industry competition, scarcity and heteronormativity.
Robby: Hi, my name is Robby. I’m 28 years old and from Puerto Rico (WEPA!), but living in LA. I’ve been surfing since I was a kid on the shores of San Juan. I competed in Switch, the first ever queer surf exhibition!
Joanie: Joanie Cappetta (they/she), I’m a poet and essayist based in Brooklyn, and also co-founder of Benny’s Club. My involvement with Switch was as an organizer alongside Ky, Nic, and Momo.
Jules: Hi there! My name is Jules. I live in Brooklyn currently, but I am from California originally. My friend Cyrus reached out to me and invited me to come to the event!
Being the 1st queer surf exhibition, this event was really special. What did it bring up for you?
K: Switch captured the momentum of seven years of our queer surf community work. This is an emerging community for the surf industry but a thriving and growing network of surf mentorships, friendships and chosen family. Someone on the beach that day said, “How has this never existed?” To dream something into existence and the next generation did not settle for anything less.
R: I’ve been called f@g in the water and sometimes being around a lot of toxic masculinity in the water makes you feel small. You show less of yourself in an attempt to blend in. I’m a fun and vibrant person and I should be comfortable to express that through surfing too. Switch brings all the best parts of my queerness and surfing together.
J: I spent my teens steeped in surfing and truly, I never thought there would be any kind of collective recognition of queer people and queer surfing as something to be celebrated and valued. My inner adolescent, aspiring competitive surfer self was basically just freaking out the whole time that there were pro and former pro surfers participating as out queer people and that I got to share heats with them as an out trans person.
J: I think it was a really special day. It was really cool to see a community of queer surfers because that was why I left California in the first place. You know, I didn't really feel like I fit in super well; I didn't really see anyone like me in the communities I was in. So seeing this group of surfers made me hopeful for the future if I ever decide to move back to California.
While attending Switch, what was your favorite part/memory?
K: The joyful, celebratory vibe of the event was my highlight. The uproar of cheers from the audience during a party wave or tandem ride. The vicarious joy and compersion we all felt watching other queer people shred. Switch was a celebration of a lineage of queer surfers- former pro surfers who couldn't be out during their surf careers, folks who started surfing once they were comfortable in their bodies- post gender transition, queers who hadn’t had access or mentorship until they found queer surf community.
R: The community. As someone who’s been surfing most of my life, I didn’t meet another queer surfer until a few years ago. At Switch, there were a lot of us, and it felt amazing to see other queer surfers come together and be gay as hell.
J: I think watching the professionals and former pros share space with newer surfers, like Kim Mayer noseriding out the back and Santi taking one on the inside, both of them with expressions of pure stoke.
J: I think my favorite part was, for sure, the drag intermissions!
Switch is a queer community event - how did it feel being celebrated with this platform?
K: It was so healing to be seen and celebrated as our whole selves during this event. To not have to hide or minimize any pieces of our identity to earn the respect of the audience or participants. Pro surfers who compete at other comps said during the event- weird, I have never not wanted to leave a competition as soon as I was done with my heat. The drag, art, queer irreverence, playfulness and support was tangible. The energy of the space, the commentators alone put on a show- Spectators learned about surfing and queer surfers got a brilliant and hilarious critique of mainstream surf culture.
R: Unreal. Often in the water or in the media, we don’t see other queer surfers. Switch gave us a place to be ourselves and a place to be seen.
J: It was so good to have people of all kinds of queer identities sharing space and uplifting each other.
J: I think it was really awesome seeing all the brands that wanted to partner and support the event, it was awesome knowing that they wanted to go beyond just throwing a rainbow on some clothes and actually support the community!
If you could describe this event with three words, what would you use?
K: Audacious, future, culture
R: Queer as Fuck
J: Wet, cute, style.
J: Fun, Inspiring, Lighthearted
What about three words to describe some of the emotions you felt at Switch?
K: Euphoric, hopeful, motivated
R: Comfortable, Blissful, Proud
J: Really so tired.
How has your relationship with surfing evolved with the rise of organizations like Queer Surf and Benny’s Club (the hosts of Switch), who help make the water a more welcoming place to celebrate queerness?
K: Even as Queer Surf, our relationship has evolved with surfing. Surfing lineups have traditionally been a space where I, and many queer people, feel the need to minimize ourselves for safety. The visibility, support and camaraderie of organizations like Queer Surf and Benny’s give us permission to exist more authentically in the water. Surfing with other queer people inspires my relationship to wave riding and makes for a more free, uninhibited, playful ocean experience.
R: I’ve always been obsessed with surfing since I was a kid. Since the rise of these queer organizations, what’s changed is wanting more queer surf trips. Where we can show off our talent and queerness. That as queer people, we can surf and surf well!
J: Queer Surf gave me permission to keep surfing. I started coming to terms with my transness and started to be open about it with friends in 2016. I was living at home and surfing a lot and was hyper-aware of the conservatism at the core of surf culture. The required baby-queer Google searches like, “Am I the only one like this?” were mostly giving me things like gaysurfers.net and Out in the Line Up, which were good starts but not exactly for me. Seeing that Queer Surf existed was the thing that made me feel like my people were out there surfing, and when we founded Benny’s Club, it was very much in the vein of continuing in New York what Queer Surf does in California.
J: Yeah, like I said, I left California majority because of the lack of queer representation I felt within the communities I lived in. I personally, while I know it is different for everyone, never experienced any kind of exclusionary actions from others living in Isla Vista, given it was a college town. But, at the same time, I never got to experience other queer people with me in the surf community. So it was really awesome seeing everyone together and meeting all the other participants!
Anything else you’d like to share with the withitgirl community?
K: Thank you for elevating this event and supporting queer, trans, and nonbinary surfers!
R: Thank you for sharing these queer stories. Reminding people that we exist, that we are fun, and we love to surf!
Some questions for the hosts of Switch, Queer Surf and Benny’s Club
Can you tell us a little about how Switch came to be?
Queer Surf: Kyla dreamt of Switch for a decade. We shared the idea with Joanie and Momo because we love Benny’s. We collaborated for a meet up last year in LA and knew Switch would be next level surfing and queer surf culture. Benny’s surfing, politics and aesthetics are a bicoastal match for us. We are lucky to call them dear buddies.
Benny’s Club: I think Kyla has been thinking about a queer surfing contest/exhibition for a long time, but we started talking about it in late 2022, discussing the limits of queer representation, the way that the media likes to focus on the part of our work that is about introducing people to surfing, and how we needed something that was by us and for us to show that yes, queer people have always been here in surfing and that many of us are very good.
What emotions came up for you seeing the culmination of your work come together in such a successful event?
Queer Surf: Accomplishment, pride and joy that we made a big thing happen together. Gender expansiveness, queer art and culture on the beach is so healing! We are so moved that the euphoria of queer surf resonates for folks. We also recognize that the event was disproportionately white, due to the additional systemic barriers that QTBIPOC faces in accessing surfing. We are motivated and committed to continuing to build racial diversity in the water, and support and elevate the talents of current QTBIPOC surfers.
Benny’s Club: Content, I think, is one feeling that came through, relief maybe?
Can you elaborate on the choice to make Switch a surf exhibition rather than a competition?
Queer Surf: At Queer Surf, we push back against the notion that surfing is an individualistic, competitive sport and think of it as more collectivist and cooperative. We wanted to create a surfing event that didn’t pin people against each other and value one type of surfing higher than another. We know that bad feeling of losing in a surf contest and didn’t want this event to create winners and losers, and instead celebrate all the ways queer people exist in the water and ride waves.
We wanted a celebratory event that showcased the immense talents and style coming out of the queer and trans surf community.
Bennie’s Club: We’re against hierarchy, we’re against scarcity, but we wanted to show that queer surfers surf extremely well. An exhibition became a word and idea that let us show off and showcase without saying, amongst ourselves, we value one person’s surfing more than the other.
How do you envision this growing in the future?
Queer Surf: We envision the talent progressing to new levels as we grow and loop in more surfers. We anticipate a grom division in the future also. We’d like to loop in more art elements, like skateboarding, and expand and grow the queer network. We are gearing up for this coming fall in the Rockaways, NYC :)
Bennie’s Club: I’m, personally, anti-growth—I want to make the next one better, it doesn’t need to be bigger or expanded, and I’m hoping to make our engagement with the public and surf industry reflect the value that we take and do only what we need. This first one was really a proof of concept, figuring out if it was possible and what it takes to make it happen. With the next one, we’re looking towards the East Coast, hoping to do more outreach to QTBIPOC shredders from around the world, maybe making some tweaks to the format so that it’s a little more focused on elevating the surfing that’s going on in the heats, and being a little more selective about who and how we accept help/donations from.
Note from Withitgirl: We want to thank Queer Surf, Benny’s Club, Switch participants and sponsors for coming together to make this celebration of queer surfing a reality. We’re looking forward to the upcoming event this fall in the Rockaways!
Jules is a writer, photographer, content creator, and DJ from California. Currently residing in Brooklyn, he is passionate about surfing, hiking, and the local music scene in New York.
Grace was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago before making her way out to the sunny beaches of California to work in fashion and film. After completing her B.A. in Feminist Studies from UCSB, she has become a world traveler with no current home base. She’s passionate about exploring and connecting with new people and places around the world. If she’s not in the water or with a camera in hand, you can find her outside skating, hiking, practicing yoga, or creating art.
@ sameshirtdiffday (kyla)
@ robbyarroyosmith (robby)
@ notfunjoanie (joanie)
@ p3rf3ctentr0py (jules)
@ theyfriennd (Siobhán)
@ su_tara_ (Sutara)
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