[Member Highlight] Dayla Soul – Filmmaker

The first time I met Dayla Soul was at the inaugural Institute for Women Surfers. As we all descended on Oceanside back in the summer of 2014, women from all sorts of backgrounds and origins would come together for the first time to discuss gender issues in surfing. Everyone brought something to the table to offer an interesting perspective that we could all benefit from.

The energy and passion that Dayla exudes not only with her smile (and cool hair), truly comes from the heart and is magnetic. I gravitated to her warm, fun energy right away and have enjoyed not only watching Dayla complete and distribute her film to the world, but I also had a chance to be a part of it. Her journey of creating the documentary about women surfing in cold AF San Francisco, “It Ain’t Pretty” is one of my favorite stories to share.  Enjoy getting to know Dayla!!

Surfeminism: What inspired you to make the It Ain’t Pretty Film?

Dayla Soul: I was inspired to make this film because of the shortage of surfing films on women that are focussed on the real aspects of who we are vs. an agenda to sell some bikinis or false image of women in a magazine.
Although there are few good films that speak on how women are portrayed in the media as well as focussing on the talent aspect and abilities. It was like finding a needle in haystack of sexy soft porn warm weather women in G-strings surfing 4 foot waves at sunset with Morcheeba playing in the background. I just couldn’t take it anymore!! I still think there is a place for those films however with that being your only choice of a role models for the next generation of surfer girls….well I thought I would tell our story here in Northern California and see what would happen. Some films that I did find that I thought were well done and inspired me: One Winters Story and La Meastra Directed by Elizabeth Pepin Silva. Women in the Waves 1-2 Directed by Heather Hudson. Also the original Documentary Blue Crush directed by Bill Ballard was great! Waves of Disruption The Cori Schumacher Story Directed by Beth O’rourke and SeaLevelTV. I will say that our film differed slightly as we had a focus on women in big waves just asOne Winters story the documentary on Sarah Gherhardt the first woman to surf Mavericks. directed by Elizebeth Pepin Silva.

While filming Bianca win the Oregon Big Wave contest, the Nelscot Pro in 2014, I met Devon Bisson who was making a film on Paige Alms that has since come out called the Wave I Ride. Also I had the opportunity to go to the SF premier of She is Ocean directed by Inessa Blokhina. Including the documentary called Kim Swims directed by Kate Webber. So the landscape is improving for sure!

Surfeminism: What challenges did you have along the way?

Dayla Soul: Well at first there were no challenges. I lived across the street from Ocean Beach and could literally go film with a moments notice. I could even see the women pull up and park to suit up on big days. So I would grab my camera and go and ask them questions. I met a ton of women that way. Thats really how the word got out about my film. I guess the first challenge was getting money for real equipment when I realized I wanted to make a worthy documentary and that there was a real story to tell. As I spoke to a lot of women who surfed Ocean Beach [San Francisco] there seemed to be a re-occurring theme.

How they, like me, were sick of seeing the same old beach bunny BS and wanted to see a film with women who wore wetsuits and surfed gnarly OB. Like them!

The other challenge came when it was time to edit over 2000 hours I shot! I was lucky to have found Jody Banks who did an incredible job editing and piecing it all together with me for almost a year.

Surfeminism: What did you learn in making this film?

Dayla Soul: The first thing I learned was to not take NO for an answer. In other words when you have a huge goal you either have to go around the obstacles in your way…or through them. Sometimes there are a ton of complicated and difficult things you have to complete in life when your trying to accomplish a big goal.

Some days I didn’t want to do those things and wanted to give up. Sometimes it even felt impossible.Yet at the core somewhere in my soul, no matter how small that seed was, I knew, I just knew it was all worth it.

So I did what I could each day to take out little chunks of the Everest Mountain of tasks so i could sleep at night. If I slept well I knew I did what I could. If I couldn’t sleep I would stay up and get what needed to get done until I could. I don’t want to pretend that it got any better than that for 3 years. It did pick up momentum and some days were easier than others. However I knew I couldn’t get soft and to relaxed until it was done. The process wasn’t pretty. However now that its been out I can finally sleep through the night and be proud that I actually accomplished doing what I set out to and survived. Wether or not everyone likes this film doesn’t matter to me as much as if it starts a conversation about inequality and telling our own accurate story as female surfers through out History. I can look back now and be proud of my contribution to that conversation.

Surfeminism: What are your plans after making this film? What new developments have come up?

Dayla Soul: Well right now I am just taking a deep breather after a 4 year journey. Enjoying film and lecture tours with the movie and talking to schools and youth on empowering them to go after whats important to them and not being stopped by what magazines, media and others say about how you should look or what you can and can not do!

I have been studying up on what it means to be a feminist filmmaker. I am currently working on a short surreal film about the lack of access and diversity in surfing. Bringing more images of indigenous women, transgender and LGBT and women of color onto the big screen. Set to music and poetry giving the viewer their own personal perspective and emotions through their imagination. More on that later.

Surfeminism: What was your favorite part of making this film?

Dayla Soul:  My favorite part of making this film was defiantly shooting the surfing! When I would shoot Mavericks or big days at Ocean Beach there was nothing like it. I loved waking up at 5am with butterflies in my stomach and making hot coffee and going over all my equipment. Putting on all my warm gear and creating a compact unit for the day that I need to carry on my own. With my backpack with 2 cameras and couple lenses as well as a huge tripod bag and a metal box that carried my 600mm I looked a little like I was a soldier in a bomb squad unit. I even kinda felt I was sorta going off to fight a war on women. Then when all the equipment was set up and I had focus on the surfers I was filming that day I went into meditation through the lens. Following their every move in the water. If I didn’t sometimes the waves were so big I would actually lose where they were. So I learned very quickly to keep an eye on every move. I still missed a few really great shots of tube rides from Bianca Valenti, however I got most.

Surfeminism: What does Surfeminism mean to you and why is it important?

Dayla Soul:

Well feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes. So as it pertains to women who surf I think it allows that definition to be seen through a different platform. Sports in general is a great way to discuss inequality. Surfing allows for a level playing field. Where as given the opportunity women can perform at an equal level that is more diffiicult to argue that one should not get the same amount of prestige and money based on their talent. The mistake we have made early on is comparing whats marketable and whats not. Surf feminism movement has opened a much broader conversation around diversity and strength. That is why I believe Media doesnt need to take away all the bikini adds to make an impact. They just need to include a focus on the strengths and athleticism of women and trust that thats what we all really want to see. The whole idea that sex is what sells is a lazy excuse to not even trying something new. To portray women as strong, courageous and intelligent vs. something men need to protect or fantasize about. Theres a whole area or market that hasn’t even been tapped. If the large branding corporations like ROXY and RedBull ever open there eyes they would realize its time to let women shine and given the opportunity those women would help them tapp into that market of equality. Maybe then I would start buying their products.

Early on as I was finding my voice as a filmmaker, I met Krista Comer and Cori Schumacher at the first ever IWS Institute for Women Surfers. I drove down to SoCal with Bianca Valenti to attend the three day conference. What I learned that weekend had an indelible affect on me. The connections that were established that weekend are still thriving to this day. Many of the Institute members were just recently invited to speak at the conference at San Diego State impact zones and liminal Spaces Both Krista Comer and Cori Schumacher were keynote speakers. The take away from that weekend was that we are all stronger when we work together as activists. With out the divides that competition and power moves can create. The strategies that have plagued so many notable movements sets one segment of philosophy against another. I believe many of us are waking up to that there can be no equality without alignment and at its core inclusion. With out sacrificing one for the other. To open up s broader dialogue so we can create more understanding and access to all areas of surf It’s critical we all try and find alignment with one another.


Film Synopsis:

A documentary about the challenges and triumphs of female big wave surfers fighting sexism in the water, in competition, in the media and in the surf industry with the support of a closely-knit community of likeminded women. Featuring Ocean Beach surfer Bianca Valenti’s journey from childhood phenom to world-class big wave charger, this probing, incendiary and thought-provoking film takes you inside a growing movement of women that are shattering the shallow and sexualized images of female surfers in the media. Including interviews with
top female athletes and awe-inspiring big wave surf footage filmed in the icy waters of Ocean Beach, San Francisco and Mavericks – one of the biggest
waves on the planet – this film empowers a new generation of girls to live their dreams and overcome the challenges they face along the way.

It Ain't Pretty Surf Film By Dayla Soul

Nicole Grodesky

Nicole is an avid surfer with over 20 years of surfing experience. Along her travels, she took her camera with her and started documenting the people and places that inspired her. In the early 2000s Nicole began submitting her work to online magazines and print publications. Her photography and feature articles have been published in Surf Shot Magazine, Surfline.com, Surf Life for Women and SG Magazine. Published works include: ASP contest coverage, NSSA contest coverage, Home Break with Holly Beck, Home Break with Erica Hosseini, Ornella Pellizzari feature article, Alisa Schwarzstein-Cairns interview, Jenny Quam feature, Costa Rica and Santa Barbara travel stories.