Surfer Leah Dawson Says Being Told She Surfs “Like A Woman” Is A Compliment


There’s this phrase “like a girl” that has become synonymous with something weak, something “less than” or somehow not as important as what a man can do. Women who are rising up as part of the female empowerment movement are reclaiming the notion that doing anything “like a girl” should not be seen as negative.

While there are some women who (understandably) don’t want to be labeled a “female” anything, such as Nicki Minaj, or comedians and directors who are sick of being put in a gendered category where they are already at a disadvantage in an industry that is run by men, advertising campaigns like hygiene brand Always have taken the conversation to a powerful new level with their “like a girl” videos which have become a viral sensation in sending the message that doing anything like a girl is not disempowering, but awesome.

However, the issue can still be problematic. Putting a gendered adjective in front of a job description or a talent isn’t something that men experience. We rarely talk about a male basketball player, or a male politician. We still have a long way to go in not thinking a woman in a lab coat is a “female scientist”, rather, just a scientist.

But unlike the arguments against the gender label, there is one athlete who doesn’t mind being sorted into a female category and is using it as a way to empower other women. Leah Dawson is an Hawaii-based surfer and filmmaker who believes being called a “female surfer” should be taken as a compliment.

In a video interview with surfing website The Inertia, she breaks down why women need to embrace this idea more, and how women are in a prime position in the sport to make incredible changes.

“My biggest compliment is not that I surf like a man, but that I surf like a woman. If someone watches me ride a wave, I want them at the end of it to know that I’m in love with the ocean,” she said.


In the interview, which is part of Intertia’s ‘Creators’ series, Leah says her style of surfing has evolved drastically just over the past 5 years since she started riding a single fin short board, and now she sees the sport as more of a dance. She also believes surfing is the reason she is passionate about the environment.

“There’s a mystique about surfing. I think it awakens you to the way that humans are a part of our natural environment,” she said.

Leah wants to see more from the female surfing community, but says it can only happen once women discover their own abilities regardless of comparisons to men.

“I recognize that the women’s surf culture and the women’s surf community has room to grow and that’s exciting. It makes my heart sing when I see other women out celebrating the water…They’re not trying to do tricks, and they’re not trying to become number one in the world…As a lover of the sport I want to see women feeling more empowered to surf like a woman,” she said.

Leah has a great point about women looking at their feminine qualities and talents. There is this idea that in order to be considered “good” at anything it has to live up to or exceed a male standard, but that should not be the goal of any woman. We are built differently to men, and our differences should be celebrated, not compared or denigrated. Just because we bring something different to the world doesn’t mean we are less than, or more important than men. Our differences should become part of what makes us equal.

“You don’t look at a male ballet dancer and go ‘oh he should be doing pirouettes’. We have different things that we’re naturally gonna do in the water. I’ve been lucky enough to have great mentors to awaken me to that, and now I want to be a mentor to as many other women as I can to help share that,” said Leah. It’s such a brilliantly profound and simple statement speaking about female empowerment that can translate into any arena or industry.


Leah says female surfers are in a prime position to shift ideas about body image, and should take advantage of the platform they have. In fact all female athletes have the opportunity to reclaim the dominant body image messages away from harmful and narrow ideals perpetuated by the media, advertising and fashion. The Women’s Sport Foundation has conducted research which suggests when girls are involved in sports, it has a much more positive effect on their confidence in life:

“High school girls who play sports are less likely to be involved in an unintended pregnancy; more likely to get better grades in school and more likely to graduate than girls who do not play sports. Girls and women who play sports have higher levels of confidence and self-esteem and lower levels of depression. Girls and women who play sports have a more positive body image and experience higher states of psychological well-being than girls and women who do not play sports,” said the foundation.

“We have to be the stewards of change. When more and more women start to feel beautiful form the inside out, when we wear equipment that makes us feel beautiful, but also doesn’t sell our sex, when we take our power back and tell the story from our own female voice, then we’re going to recognize that women’s surfing may be the biggest growth available in the surfing market,” said Leah.

She believes it is a massively untapped market that shouldn’t simply be utilized for money (or sex, because of the whole “sex sells” mantra), and we couldn’t agree more.

There are certainly some inspirational and incredibly talented professional female surfers that have made an indelible mark within the sport such as Stephanie Gilmore, Bethany Hamilton whose story of getting her arm bitten off by a shark became the subject of a Hollywood movie called ‘Soul Surfer’, and Australian former world champion Layne Beachley. And with the addition of surfers like Leah Dawson who are determined to bring change throughout the sport by helping women tap into their unique feminine potential, it could be a beacon of hope for the female empowerment movement going forward.

Take a look at the video interview as well as some epic shots of Leah surfing below:




One Comment

  1. Pingback: World Surfing Champion Carissa Moore On Body Image & Encouraging Girls To Chase Their Dreams - GirlTalkHQ

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