Just Go Fucking Surfing

When Juul Hesselberth and her film "Just Go Fucking Surfing" surfaced on our radars, our excitement was instantly piqued. Her film, about women who operate outside the mold of surfing explores themes of representation, image, and our expectations around athleticism. 

Read on for our deeply insightful interview with Juul. 

LB: Juul, can you tell us in your own words what your film is about? 

JH: My ethnographic film follows four female (pro) surfers from Australia who pursue a surfing career, but never really suited the marketed 'sexy surfer girl' image. The film moves through the online representations to the lived reality of these female athletes. In doing so, it becomes clear that this 'image' hasn't only affected their careers, but also their self-esteem.

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LB: Why the title? 

JH: I chose the title 'Just Go Fucking Surfing', because in the end, that's what all the women in the film wanted to do. Unfortunately there are still so many things making it very difficult to just get out there and go surfing. For me the title is about the friction between the dream and the reality. I chose to put 'fucking' in between - not only because it was a regularly used term - but also because it captures the frustration that is there.

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LB: And what about the film? Where did the idea come from? 

JH: Being a Dutch female surfer myself I have experienced feeling frustrated in crowded waters very often. Enrolling for my masters in Visual Ethnography - for which I had to make a documentary and write a thesis - I chose this frustration as a starting point. From here I quickly started focusing on gender power dynamics in the water, to try and understand the processes that underly feelings of frustration for fellow female surfers. Thus the initial plan for the film was to film and shoot interviews about gender power dynamics in the ocean, which was very close to my written research. However I quickly noticed that getting this topic on camera was a very difficult task. So many processes in the water are being expressed in smaller, subtler ways, such as body gestures, eye contact and of course through verbal communication. All very difficult to capture on film. Moreover, being in Coolangatta I realized many women preferred talking about a different topic, one that had a bigger impact on their life. Although gender power dynamics in the ocean was something many women had something to say about, women who invested most of their lives in a surfing career were more emotionally invested in talking about endorsement money. After being there for a month I started focusing only on women who pursued a surfing career. By connecting through surfing and talking together, I was able to pick out the girls with an outspoken opinion, a strong story to tell and amazing surfing skills. For my written research I kept on focusing on my initial plan.

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(Juul surfing)

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LB: Wow. That is so fascinating. What would you say then is the single most important discovery you made in the creation of your film? 
JH:  I really wish I could have included a girl who was under contract with a big brand and has been doing everything to suit this image. I would have loved to be able to show how this has impacted her life - just to get a fuller scope of the problem. I heard about girls not sharing they were gay because they were afraid to lose their contract. To have an honest portrait of a girl like this would have been extremely difficult, since it could mean they'd lose their contracts. Even for my research, I found it hard to find girls who were willing to talk, even whilst staying anonymous.
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LB: Did you have any reservations about making a movie that touches on sensitive topics like sexuality and identity? 
JH: I think because I still feel like an outsider of the surf industry - living and surfing in Holland - I never really worried about making a movie like this. It would never really impact any of the relations I have with people surrounding me. Which I would expect if I'd been living in Coolangatta for example. I have been a bit nervous at times on how people would respond to the girls in my film. They have received so much backlash in their daily surfing lives already, I really wanted to protect them from undergoing this again because of the film. I needed this film to have a positive impact on the girls and those who watch it. The men and women I met and spoke with were all very supportive of what I was filming and researching. After the first screenings in Australia, the girls told me that men and women paddled up to them in the line up to express support, so that is one of the best things I could've wished for. 

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(From the film, Just Go Fucking Surfing)

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LB: Why is it important for you to tell this story? 
JH: So many women who have seen the film have already expressed to me that they are so happy to finally see women who they look like; to hear stories they recognize themselves in. And without actively trying to reach this purpose, I have had women coming up to me saying they feel inspired to pick up surfing again, to try and see the fun in it again. To me this says it all: telling this underexposed story can change lives. Representation really matters.

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(From the film, Just Go Fucking Surfing)

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LB: Who would you really want to watch your film? 
JH: To change the surfing industry and the atmosphere in the water we don't need to just have women on board, we need men and women. So first of all I want all the women who have felt unheard for a long time to see the film and second get all our male surfer friends to watch it too.

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LB:  What's your personal favorite scene in your film? 
JHMy personal favorite scene is the one with Grace in the kitchen. It is such an honest moment, and to me - the real part. I felt like she fully opened up to me here. Filming and becoming friends is quite challenging sometimes, because on the one hand you want to be there as a friend and express support. But on the other hand you really have to shut your mouth, listen and try not to intervene since you might ruin what you are filming. In this part I was so genuinely moved by what she was saying that I was walking this thin line of what my role should be at that moment. After filming we luckily were able to talk a little more off camera. This scene for me shows how heartbreaking the industry is for so many women we don't get to hear from often. 

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LB: What do you think it means to be a surfer in 2020? 
JH For me being a surfer in 2020 means to be in the movement of change. More and more women are taking up surfing and are therefore shaping new surf spaces. While it still might be challenging at times, the more we are doing it, the easier it will become for all of us. In 2030, I wish the line-up would be filled up with different types of women surfing on different boards.

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(Juul with her pup)
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LB If you could change anything about the surf industry, what would it be?
JHTo not have the entire competition world revolve around endorsement money. I wish surf comps would be available for everyone with every background and was entirely free from sponsored deals.

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LB What's your advice for someone, anyone, who feels like they don't quite "fit in"?
JHI find it hard to be advising people what to do, since I do not come from a place where I have fully felt like I don't fit it. So please keep that in mind. But if I could give advice I'd say, find at least one buddy with whom you feel fully comfortable going into the uncomfortable with and try to be the change you want to see.

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LB Last, but not least, when and where can we watch your film?
JH: It's still in the film festival loop, so unfortunately it isn't available yet! But the first online screening is going the be at 'Regard Bleu' in Zurich on the weekend of 16th - 18th of October.