Ellevate San Diego: An Evening with Council Member Cori Schumacher

Ellevate San Diego hosted An Evening with Carlsbad City Council Member Cori Schumacher at Hera Hub in Carlsbad. 

Cori’s accomplishments include:

  • Being elected to the Carlsbad City Council in 2016
  • Three-time Women’s World Longboard Surf Champion. She used her platform to work for positive social change around gender disparity, homophobia, the impacts of consumer culture, and other social and environmental issues in surfing. 
  • The first openly gay world surfing champion in 2010, working to raise awareness for gay rights in surfing. 
  • Spearheaded a successful, international campaign against the hyper-sexualization of elite, female professional surfers.

Ellevate Network chapter co-president Vanessa Hardy moderated the event.


What was your experience like in the surfing industry as a young girl and young woman? 

“My mom surfed with my while pregnant and I went to the beach pretty immediately, it was something we did as a family.  I started competing when I was eight. And because my mom served I would go out a lot of times and be the only women in the water, it was very male-dominated, especially in the early 80s.

Back then, being the only or one of the only females in the water, you really had to figure out how to get waves. So it wasn’t about just sitting there and complaining. As a woman in the water, you can actually try to use your female capital to get waves, which is what older women would do. Or as a scrappy little kid, you find places in the lineup that are like these little nooks and crannies, where you’re able to able to practice. 

I grew up believing that in surf competitions, for instance, the woman who would be put out the worst conditions. Mornings are usually best, nice and glassy [water]. So the men will be put out during that time and then when the wind kicked up and everything got choppy, then it’s time for the women to go out. And once I got to the professional arena, the pay for women was substantially less than the men. So you [as a woman] really had to work to surf professionally while your male counterparts are able to just get sponsored and just surf. 


We talk a lot now about the importance of representation and role models and a lot of different fields, whether it’s in sports or it’s in entertainment, or whether it’s at work. So growing up in an industry really that was male-dominated, who did you look for look to for role models? How did you how did you find other women or other you know, girls your age? 

Great question. For a long time, I was the youngest woman surfing competitor that I knew. And because there were so few women, I would end up going up against women of two or three times my age. 

The nice thing about certain competition circles… because surfers tend to be localized, so we’re like tribes, we have one particular place that we go out in, learn the lineup, we learn who’s who out there in the market, the alpha male, the female alpha, and you just learn the lineup. 

In the winter, you’ll surf one place and then the entire tribe migrates someplace else during the summer because the swells hit the coast in different ways. So if you’re really keen, you want to travel to where the best waves are. I grew up on the beaches of Cardiff so we are parked in winter and we all migrated during the summertime. 

With surf competitions, you could introduce this really interesting element which was you weren’t really tracking with the swells, what you’re doing was you’re actually tracking with certain competitions. So if you have a surf competition in Santa Cruz, all the competitive level surfers from California would go to that event. So you’ve got to mix with a different tribe, so to speak. We’re a bit more nomadic than typical surfer. 

The women that I was able to interact with, that I looked up to, were some of the women who really started the women’s competition. So you have Jericho Poppler, who was also one of the founding board members from the Surfrider Foundation. And the Golden Girls as they were called back in the day, I got to interact with them and surf with them. But I would say that the one person that I really looked up to when I met her, who is a huge role model for a lot of women in surfing, is a woman by the name of Rell Sunn.

She’s the first female lifeguard in Hawaii and she grew up surfing there. She started a monthly contest because the lower-income families or the local line folks up there didn’t really have anything going for them. And so she started a monthly contest to try to form a community and get kids away from tracking into drugs. She would come to Oceanside surf contests and some of the club concepts that were more on the one side of things, and she’d already really made a name for herself. 

In Hawaii, they give a lot of respect to the aunties. There’s a whole different way of treating women and why it is basically the birthplace of our sport and the carriers of surfing are women. This is actually emerging more and more as we start to uncover a lot of surf history in Hawaii. 

Rell was a very well respected Auntie in, in Hawaii. She came over here and I got a chance to meet her. She ended up getting breast cancer and the entire committee formed around her. If you’re familiar with some of the work that UCSD does when the fundraising around the luau, which is sort of classic, that started because of her, because the surf community to help her out with chemotherapy. So along with my mom, she was really somebody that I looked up to, because she represented what the spirit of surfing actually is, which is a local, giving spirit.  [Contrasted with] this whole concept of surfing competitive waves.


That makes me think about when we talk about women in the workplace —  it can be competitive, right? There’s been a line of thinking for a long time, whether it’s conscious or unconscious for women, that there are a certain number of spots at the table for women and so we gotta battle it out to be that perfect woman. In this culture, women are holding other women back, because there’s only a certain number of seats right available for women. So it sounds like maybe the role models that you look to in surfing didn’t have that mentality necessarily. Did you find that in other places?

Yeah, both paradigms existed. You’re in a competitive environment. So I saw that response to lack, where it’s definitely ‘We’re going to battle this out. There’s only room for one of us.’ And I think it’s a really successful tactic for keeping away quite a few folks who aren’t typically in leadership positions. The divide and conquer: if they’re fighting amongst themselves, they’re not going to focus on the change that needs to be made up here, which requires a big change from the bottom to shift up. 

But surfing originated as a sport, as a practice, where it was about communicating values, sharing and uplifting, and there was a lot of respect between generations. In the competitive round here in California, which has a whole different feel to it as Australia, it is the same way. The colonialist version of surfing really had that element of hyper-competitiveness, whether or not you’re a woman. With Brazilians, when they’re starting to come, and people of color, there’s a lot of mobility or they kind of are doing the same thing. 

Both of those paradigms existed in the world that I was experiencing, so they both live within me. That’s actually the case where you go in the water, you can turn it on and be hyper-competitive and you need to, and then you turn it off and get on the shore. But overall, the model that I believe and try to aspire to, is that giving, not getting. 

I think we’re talking about any kind of true competition. It’s such a fine line because you want to win and also want to make space for other people to come along.


So throughout your career you’ve really been outspoken about how the industry treats women and what’s expected or required for women surfers to be able to succeed professionally. Can you talk a little bit about what those expectations were in your experience?

This is a big one. I got disenchanted with surfing along the way, right about 2016-17 right when I was about to turn pro. In high school, my experience had already started to shift as I started to get really kind of recognize, okay, this is becoming a surfer. So you get the sponsors and they come out and start playing these expectations. And the expectations, of course, need to fit the model, which is like a sexy supermodel, which I just never really resonated with, I thought surfers were shallow.

So I had a really hard time interacting with an expectation that didn’t feel like me. I felt like I was being shoved into something that just didn’t fit. They didn’t realize that was going to lead into how this might have to do with my sexuality and being uncomfortable around hyper heterosexual spaces where the male and the role that the female should post against each other in this way. [The male surfers have implicit] permission to go off on their own surf trips, though they’re not perceived as homosexuals. There’s this whole academic thing that I could go into. But suffice it to say that I grew uncomfortable and started to get into competitive spaces where judges were saying you need to do this, you need to look this way if you want to get the scores. Then you had sponsors tell you to lose weight and smile when you’re surfing. 

There are a lot of expectations and some really damaging experiences. There was a lot of homophobia because when I got on tour, the women did everything that they could to prove their heterosexuality. Because in the professional in the surfing world, that was the story I went in with, that was the story that I was told that: you need to make sure that you are hyper-feminine, which leads to hyper-sexualization. You have to overly prove you’re heterosexual and then against the weight and the books and all that. I ended up backing away from that because again, it wasn’t just that it was uncomfortable and didn’t feel right. It was really emotionally and mentally damaging. To try to be climbing up to retain your sponsors, to try to be doing everything you possibly could to make it for one contest. The next week was already a struggle. 

And on top of all of that, constantly being told that there was something about you that just was was not good. Right? So you’re making one-third of what the men are making. You have to go above and beyond to prove, you’re something that you’re not. And it was just really damaging. 

I left and did some soul searching, and got more education, which was really important to understand that because at first when you go into those [situations] you internalize it all. So you think it’s just something that’s wrong with you, you start to do the damage yourself. 

[After education, you] start to realize that no, this is actually something that systemic and it’s not just systemic,  it’s disturbing. It’s actually something that’s larger in society. 

I reached a point where I asked myself a question that harkens back to my feelings about what a surfer stereotype was The question really was about how I knew the damage that did to me, and I won’t go into the sort of details but I got low. It got really low as I was figuring out some things about myself. 

I realized that I didn’t want to walk away from surfing and just leave it that toxic environment. I had actually made a name for myself. I had actually, at that point, one or two world titles. I realized that I wanted to give back, so this is the Aloha thing and I didn’t register it at the time, but I don’t want to leave the space that has actually been of great benefit. 

The actual participation and being in the ocean and what the ocean teaches you about constantly getting back on the board and when we fall down, what it teaches you about being able to be nimble and flexible and pay attention to all the little shifts, [I didn’t want to leave that]. I didn’t want the experience of other women who might be getting into this world to be the native one. I wanted for there to be space for this precious, wonderful, enlightening, edifying experience, this interaction with nature to be the thing that women experience. 

I decided very intentionally to get back in to fight for another world title and to change my sport, to change surfing fundamentally for good, so that nobody else would have to deal with the pain and disappointment that I went through. 

I very much registered that it wasn’t just me as a woman, but that just couldn’t be a good space for men, either. Or for our young boys or young girls. So I decided to give it a try. 

I got back in and I ended up winning a Third World Title and some things happen and the entire world blew up. Because I ended up coming out on the sports page of the New York Times, boycotting the entire thing as a world champion, specifically because Serbia decided they were going to move into China for the first time. And the surf contest that they were going to use was the event that I would be defending my world title at for the very first time. And the Chinese government was willing to pay for the tickets, paying for hotel space, and they had the one child policy, they had quite a lot of things going on there that I disagreed with, and I let the world know and it blew up. And that’s also when I started to do a lot of the work around pushing back against the industry for the misogyny and sexism. So basically from 2010 until 2015, I started to really push into surfing really, really hard. 

2013 was the Roxy event. For people who might not know the reference, in 2013, I was writing articles for The Guardian, I was writing my own blog, I was writing for a couple smaller, surf oriented magazines and blogs, I started social media and really pushing out. Roxy, which is probably the most well-known surf brand that came out in the 1990s, I’d been watching what they were doing and really amazed to see women have their own brand for the first time. You should see what we were wearing before Roxy, women’s wetsuits were horrible. But Roxy took a turn in 2012 and 2013 when a new crop of women surfers were coming on the scene and Roxy started hyper sexualizing them. It was not only enough to be in a bikini on the beach with your board, now you had to do the bend over thing, it was really getting worse. Women were actually were taking it to the extremes because they had to, that’s how they make money, having to garner followers. 

Roxy ended up coming out with a video for surf event. So this is a world-class, top level, athletic competition, and the advertisement was the number one female surfer from around the world. A camera followed her as she rolled around in bed in her lingerie, taking a shower, it only showed her back, it never showed her face, it was cutting her off at the head. So no identity. It didn’t show any surfing. And the whole campaign was ‘Who am I, just guess,’ right? But nobody could tell whether or not it was a home goods ad or ad for this particular telephone that she’s looking at or for the Jeep that she’s driving. 

I came out and [publicly] said this is ridiculous, we can’t do this, and this has to stop. I formed a change.org petition and said if I get 1000 signatures I’ll walk this into Roxy myself. I got way more. It went viral, ended up on the news in Australia, England, and the United States. So I walked it into Roxy. People got fired. I got death threats and rape threats and it was lovely, wonderful.

But it changed. People noticed. It was the first time that social media was used in an issue in the surfing world. The very first time that there was this type of activism that was brought to bear on this type of issue, and it fundamentally shifted. Women’s surfing the next year it was all about surfing. The old ownership of competitive surfing, exited stage left, and three more competitions were added for women. The women’s pay for competitions was increased, not to equal, but increased to what they call parity, which means that if you have five women and 10 men, if you were divided, they each would receive the same then the men get even more. We’ll get to that later. That’s happening this year. 


So you said that was your activism first started around 2010 in surfing? In those early years, did you feel like you were sort of a lone voice? For a lot of people, activism can be kind of lonely. What was that experience like, were you the only one? How did other people come along?

My political activism actually started in 2001, after 9/11. But I kept that hidden. 2010 is when those two things, those two pieces of myself emerged. And I say it’s funny because I came out as a queer surfer, but I also came out as an activist. Becoming out of as an activist was a little bit tougher.

Nobody was used to this type of outspoken female that had intentionally walked back into the realm of surfing, refusing to take sponsorships so that I could retain the individuality of my voice. I wanted to win the World Title, but I wanted to use it as a platform to work on the things that I wanted to work on. I also knew that in this role, you’re asking for fundamental change from an industry that by definition pits women against each other, in order to keep them focused inward rather than upward at what needs to change. If I would have asked the pressure on them, then they would not have been able to say this, they would have been removed and replaced with somebody else who was going to take part in one. So it’s very intentional that I went out and I and I started initiating all of this on my own.

So that was in 2010. When I did the Roxy petition, and then after that, I realized I don’t ever want to do any of this ever again. The bullseye on my back is too much. 

So that’s when I rolled into creating the Institute of Women Surfers with that PhD from Rice University to train other activists in the surfing space to do this work. And then in the Inspire Initiative, which is also meant to do that work, which was ‘let’s teach other people to do this so that that I’m not the only one.’ And that’s really what started to initiate the fundamental shift after the model was thrown. That’s what has led, to this day, surfing being the first U.S.-based sports league to achieve prize money equity.


So what was that shift for the industry? 

I will give you an example from right around 2014 – 2015. The U.S. Open, which is the largest surfing event in the world, is in Huntington Beach. The winner for the women walked away with $60,000. And the male walked over $1 million. So that would be the example of parity.

The whole paradigm conversation I said earlier, after the Roxy video, on that whole effort, you have the professional sports in surfing, saying ‘Well, that’s what we’ll do, parity.’ Right. So parity is if you divide by the number of women who are in the league, then they should be receiving a similar amount. And a similar amount to if you were to take the 10 men who are on the other side. So there’s always less women, there’s always more men, because the qualifiers paid far less as well. So there are not women who are good enough to get equal amounts of women and men. So if you divide the total money for the men, and there’s more men, and then you divide the total money for less amount of women, and the ratio will be the same, right? It’s funky math. And now it doesn’t matter if you have 5 or 10 men, they’re all going to get an equal amount of money. And what this will do is it will actually incentivize more women to actually start to have impact. Honestly, when you’re traveling around the world, you travel somewhere to make the money to travel to the next one. I think it’s helpful because we hear about the word parity and maybe not distinguishing between [that and equal pay].

So let’s switch to your current career. In 2016, you were elected to the city council. And what inspired you to take the leap into politics? Since you didn’t want the target on your back anymore.

I started to do some reevaluating around 2015. I really took some time off to figure out what I wanted to do next. Because I have been working in this space, I found that I was in a space where I was reacting a lot. So you see something the industry does something or put something up and then you’re scribbling down everything that’s wrong in your reply, basically. 

I realized at a certain point that I was the very thing that I was trying to change, really determining what I was doing, and that didn’t feel comfortable. I wanted to be in a creative, generative space. I am a creative, generative person. I thrive in innovation and ideas and making ideas happen. 

So I took some time off and really got to a place where I didn’t want to respond. I didn’t want to react. The reactionary space was unhealthy. So in that time period, I heard about a development that was going on in the City of Carlsbad, right on the edge of the lagoon. I’d never been to a city council meeting before other than some meetings up in Sacramento over the nuclear power station. And so I walked in, and I watched something that seemed really unfair to me. And it was that the city council was being asked to make a choice between accepting a very contentious plan or submitting it to the board. 

Here’s where back in 2001 when my political activist kind of kicked in. I was all about fairness and equity and justice and don’t march into Afghanistan, we’re going to be there too long and it’s going to be a bad idea to leave. That kicked back in where I was like, Okay, this is wrong. And this is happening in a place that I called home now for a number of years. What am I going to do about it? Maybe I was missing the active space a little bit. You know, with all that quietness and introspection. So I decided to get involved and fought long and hard beside the community that I just absolutely fell in love with. And we ended up being successful in the efforts and at the end of the day, they said, ‘We can’t spend all of our time watching or paying attention to the city council. We need somebody, need an insider. We need somebody who’s in there, who’s going to advocate and let us know what’s going on and when something is going on the real you don’t agree with.’ 

So I took that to heart I sat back with it and spent a week where I asked myself whether or not I’d become the kind of politician that I hated because I didn’t like local spaces. I was very vocal about the corruption of government and how we couldn’t trust government back in 2001. And I met up with a friend who I met through doing some documentary work Barney Frank, who’s a Massachusetts representative House of Representatives, a Congressman, and I talked through them. And he said, ‘Look, you’re either going to be standing outside trampling the grass outside of these institutions where real decisions and real power occur, are you gonna get in there and you can change it. Get in there and you’re gonna get your hands dirty, and you’re going to change it.’ So I took that as a challenge and said, ‘Yes,’ and the community lifted me up. 

I love that advice, or at least sort of imagery of any time we’re battling with a decision like that and you can either stand outside and pace around and watch it happen or get inside. This was interesting because that was the answer to the question that I started to ask myself, which was, if I don’t want to be in a reactive space, where do I need to be in the community? That actually offered that answer for me, by engaging with them. And it was the creative space within which it was, it was a political space. 

Just as I was redefining what it meant to be a surfer, I decided that I can also redefine what it meant to be a politician and what political space is worth.


You alluded to some of the things that surfing taught you around being adaptable and flexible and self-reflective, how has that helped shape how you show up for your community and make decisions in the role that you’re in now? 

Everything I have. I cannot stress how important it is to allow some part of nature to shape who you are, to shape your character. The ocean as a teacher is unlike anything that exists on land. It’s in this constant state of change. And if you have spent any time in water bodies or in the ocean, there is no way any single individual or any group is ever going to be able to push back on that. You have to surrender to it. But more than that, it’s not just about surrendering to it. It’s actually about finding ways to flow on it that communicates something beautiful.

That’s what surfers do. We find life in something that’s constantly shifting and constantly changing. Whenever you paddle out in the water, it’s different. It’s always different. 

In the course of 42 years, the ocean has taught me how to enter into it with a great deal of respect. And the ability to turn on a dime, and to listen to my intuition, because my body knows exactly how to be with something that’s constantly changing. And so this very visceral, very material interaction, where we can talk about all the ideas in the abstract and mental theory. But the body is involved in all of these processes, the body both as an individual and as a group in a society. There’s two things that are going on here. 

So when I walk into a space, a town hall meeting, I’m walking into an ocean of feeling and walking into an ocean of concern, of questions, but it’s no different than when I’m walking into an ocean that could potentially take my life. I’ve surfed some really, really big waves and I’ve trusted myself walking into these spaces. And that’s what the ocean has given me as its greatest gift, which is this deep sense of trust in situations that I can’t possibly control, that I can’t possibly predict. But I need to trust that as I enter into these spaces if I’m present, and I’m hyper-aware, and I’m with the situation, I’m gonna be okay. And more than that, I’m gonna make something beautiful.


So tell us a little bit about, you know what your priorities are right now with the City of Carlsbad and what you’re focusing on? 

The people elected me to help midwife some change in Carlsbad, which as you can imagine, for a surfer, what I just described is something I’m very comfortable with. Right now we’re at the point in the transition where now I get to flow with the momentum. There’s been a political shift. There is new leadership with city manager. We’ve got new staff coming on board. And now the ideas are starting to emerge, the innovation and creative space. The Carlsbad Connector is an example, the first of its kind pilot program, which is basically like an app for rideshare like Uber and Lyft, but this is for public transit. So we’ll take folks from Poinsettia in a loop and also during lunch, to connect our business center with transit because what we really need here is actually a lot better transit. This is a sort of a first step to accomplishing that last mile deficit that we have here. 

Last night we passed something that I’ve been working on for the last two and a half years, which is called Community Choice energy. And this is a really exciting program that is going to allow us to hit 100% renewable energy very quickly, 2035, far ahead of city and company mandates. What it will also do is allow us to fund local renewable energy projects. So it’s actually going to create global clean energy jobs, and put us on a sustainable future which is where you generate energy locally that is consumed locally. We can actually use the resources that we have around us, like the ocean, for instance, and some battery storage and sunlight to really put us on a track for creating something that’s going to be long term for kids. It will do what we need to do to protect our environment, which is something that no matter what your ideology is, Carlsbad residents, North County residents in particular, all of us have this real keen sense of wanting to hold on to the environment that we love so much here. Open space and the ocean. We’re really excited about that because that’s also a first step toward getting to the very first hundred percent renewable desalination in the world. Because we have a desalination plant here in Carlsbad that helps with the entire region’s water supply. You can imagine what 100% renewable desalinated water might do. Because you eliminate the greenhouse gas emissions and you create sustainable water supply in perpetuity. It’s connected to the ocean. We’re talking about a green future where Carlsbad is leading the way globally, it’s pretty significant. 

I can go on and on. There’s a lifeguard program that we have on the beach, that I worked really hard to pull out from its stagnation. There’s now good public safety on our North Beach, which is where Carlsbad has responsibility for and the feedback has just been tremendous. There’s a lot going on and it’s amazing.


I think your comment about regardless of where you are ideology wise or on the political spectrum, that is one thing that I find that people kind of strip the buzzwords out of, however, we talk about the environment like talking about our relationship with how we interact with the earth with nature around us with our communities is important. One last question, I first heard you speak a long time ago right after the 2016 election and Run Women Run is an organization that is committed to getting more women into elected positions in San Diego. At that event, you spoke really passionately about the importance of supporting women candidates. Share with us a few things are on your mind about what each of us individually can do to make sure that we progress in reaching gender equity and politics, especially as we get closer to the 2020 election. We’re not a political organization, but I think our mission of making sure that women are in positions of leadership, whether it’s in boardroom [or other arenas, is relevant]. 

It’s always difficult to transition from a status quo to another. There’s a rubber band effect a lot, and that’s something that I’ve seen now over the course of many, many years of activism. The setting of you make progress of any kind and then it snaps back, and then you push harder. But you can’t ever give up on pushing. That’s the one thing that I’ve learned, you can’t ever give up, or sit back and think, okay, we’re good now. We’re not ever good. There’s always going to be some track that you need to get out of.

What I have seen is that for at least the next couple of generations of women, we all have been socialized to work harder than our peers, to excel beyond anything that is expected of our male peers. We saw it in surfing. You have to go out there and surf so good. They can’t stop. Right? You have to be so far ahead that they can’t deny how good you are. And so what that means is that moving into space of leadership, you already have that right? You shouldn’t have to, but you have that. The other thing is, the way we’ve been socialized to be more cooperative, it’s not necessarily true that women are more cooperative since birth. It’s just this is true of the lower socioeconomic status folks as well. When you have to come together and we’re going to get anything done. And you develop this capacity for being able to work within diversity, a great deal. You’re going to work with whatever you got in that story. I told you earlier about a little girl in the lineup how I have just scratched over and found work or whatever I could be adaptability to the flexibility, the nimbleness is baked in, when you’re trying to get something that is not ever handed over to you. 

There’s a lot that we have to offer leadership positions that make the type of leadership that we have to offer different than what is currently being seen. This means that people aren’t going to serve the last generation of women. We’re very interested in entering spaces that have already been determined for them. So a lot of the women who moved into spaces had sort of this, ‘I’m going to need like lead like males’ [attitude] before, right? And then you have the next generation of women who are coming up and are like ‘where’s my hand up, I thought we were supposed to be all in this together.’ And that’s the gap that I’m in. Then the younger women who are younger than me, are just entering in that and they have a whole different experience of what it means to be a woman in the workplace with this shifting dynamic happening. And so what I’ve learned is that you have to support women who are coming up underneath you, but you also have to challenge them to remember that they’re not entitled to any of this. So they aren’t simply going to be handed something. They have to work hard to prove themselves in the midst of it all because we do almost have a sea of change right now working in spaces, corporate spaces like government spaces, and we each have a different experience of what it means to break the glass ceilings, for instance, right? Some of the women have talked them there for a while. They want a different level of respect, because they feel as though they were the first ones to advocate. Well, women who are coming up, have a full experience. I think we’re getting really good at sort of this horizontal diversity and being together. I think that there is some work to be done with this verticality of women and power and togetherness. And that’s actually what I think was taken advantage of, in the last election, where that verticality ended up being women competing against other women and saying, ‘No, she doesn’t deserve this. We’re not going to give it to her.’ And that actually still exists with us. 

And so I think where I see some of my responsibility is not only do I check out myself, I am a gap person, I’m not quite Gen X. And I’m actually not quite Gen Y. And I know there’s millennials and Gen Z has a lot of legitimacy. But there’s I’m past straddling this gap. So there’s a really tiny window of time that exists between the Gen Xers and the Gen Y. So I’ve seen both sides. 

We have to support each other in the positions that we have and continue to listen to each other when we end up in those positions. Because of the experiences that the women who’ve been there longer, and the women who are coming up, all of that is valuable. We can’t lose those spaces, as they’re churning and changing, and work is shifting and changing with them. We can’t ever let those spaces solidify too much. Does that make sense? Because when they solidify, it will snap back. So we’re actually in a really unique time. Where do you need time where it’s not just about getting white women in positions of power? It’s actually about doing our utmost to get women of color in positions of power now, and that’s our responsibility. So we need to need to completely continue to diversify horizontally. But we actually need to pay attention to the verticality of this as well. 


Audience Questions

When you mentioned that you’re pushing back against the culture, were there any male mentors or do any of those men have the same walls as you focus on your talent? 

Interestingly enough, it took a woman standing up to say something before those men started in. Those very, very few men. But before those men started to say something, the majority of them had excuses, right? We don’t surf as good and hey, there’s not enough women surfing, yada, yada, yada. So, it actually took the person who was the representative of the group that was being oppressed or pushed down to stand up for themselves. And it didn’t happen right away. It took years. Until finally it was like, yeah, maybe she’s had enough. Maybe we actually need to start using our voices, and it was more than men and it was the women. Some of the women came on board, but then it turned into ‘Well, I’m not that, I don’t believe that. I’m a woman. So she’s wrong.’ It was the men that became the best allies. And some of the women that were were cautious. 

But it was also women who took up the mantle and who carry the mantle forward, whenever I talk about patriarchy or when systems of oppression were in them. If you want to talk about misogyny and sexism, we’re not raised separately from the systems that raised us to believe about ourselves and each other that we don’t deserve or we should do this or we should do x y&z so that’s what I learned during that process. Was that work? We actually have to struggle with that first within ourselves, and then we have to make sure that we’re doing our utmost. It’s the system. It’s not individuals, it’s actually the system.


Have you noticed is there a difference in these spaces for queer surfers?

It’s starting to change. There’s still sort of the, just keep quiet about it [mindset]. But I came out as the first out world professional surfer in 2011. And then one other woman has just come out. And she’s the big wave tour champion from last year. There was a documentary that was made out made about it. But you have to understand, and this is where it gets a little academic, surfing has traditionally had a narrative, because it was a male-dominated sport, starting with the Endless Summer after Gidget, starting with the end of summer of men going off by themselves with each other to try to find the perfect wave. What do we think about this, it is very homoerotic. And it’s always been the sissy sport when compared to football, right? It’s not the most masculine sport. So women in surfing have always been used in a way that is meant to foil the masculinity of sort of male surfers to avoid the homoeroticism. So women surfers actually carry the burden of proving that men in the surfing are not gay. So there’s a very interesting dynamic. That’s not typical for other sports, but it is starting to shift.


When you return to competitive sport, did you have to change your management setup from your prior leadership? Since you were thinking differently and obviously wanting to focus differently? You were saying no to sponsors, but had your agency changed as well? Or were there even agencies that were in kind of that viewpoint at that time?

Yeah, you have to understand that was nothing. So I entered into the space and intentionally as soon as I started to rise up the ranks again. Sponsors came and I had been out of it because I was doing school and I was doing some of the things so as I started to rise, the sponsorships attract and I started to turn them down so I worked my own menial job 80 hours a week to afford to travel, to do what I want. To get that I was pretty single-minded. It’s not something I’d recommend to anybody who doesn’t want to be the script going to change. It’s a tough job to be as the point of change, and really, it takes a lot of work, a lot of single-minded focus. There’s not a lot of people who should do it. It’s actually quite dangerous.

But when those people come around, when you identify when those people come around, you identify yourself as one of those people. If you can, you should be great. So I don’t have kids. I don’t have a very complex life. I’ve always been very, very focused on just making things that are changed, fairness, justice. That’s what drives me. Money doesn’t drive me. And when I recognize that, I knew that I had that in me, and I need to follow it.

And then competition really just created that single-minded focus that I have. So the position that I’m in right now is really interesting because I view myself as bringing the change and kind of driving it, and I still stand with my community. They’re the ones who lift me up and I know that I stand on their backs and that wherever it is that they want me to go, I will make sure that I get that done. And that’s been a deeper sense of purpose. it’s larger than myself. That has been really fulfilling. 


In terms of waste, were the plans of the city to reduce waste and how, as a community that’s important?

We actually addressed this last night. We have a sustainability management plan that focuses on what we’re going to be doing with our organic waste. We actually have some pretty cool plans for that. So I don’t know if you know about the wastewater plan before it, which is just around this area in senior wastewater. There’s a three megawatt methane gas energy production that’s going on there. So it’s actually renewable already. But there’s a lot more plans for the waste side of things. 

And then I forgot to share something I sure really excited about. So kind of the end story of all this focus on the equity and surfing and getting into political spaces, I was able to work with our local assembly member to introduce a piece of legislation. That is the most significant piece of legislation in 40 years since Title Nine, which is the reason that women can actually practice sports in high school. It just happened, it is on the Senate floor and is on its way to the governor’s desk: equal pay for equal play in the state of California, which means that if you’re playing, if you’re competing on state lands, you have to pay men and women equally and it will be law by the end of this year. It was 37 to zero [vote], full bipartisan. Everybody on the floor voted for it. 


Are you working on any other benefits for women in state or locally? 

Locally we already have it in place, but we’re actually looking to expand it and some of the work we need to do to uplift and change our benefits of our employees. I would assume it’s internally maternity leave for both men and women. We have families and we do offer that the City of Carlsbad, we’re going to do better. We need to offer more at the state and know that they’re working on it. But that’s as far as I know, about the same level. One of the things that they do really well over in Europe is you have a baby and they get six months for one parent and six months for the other or both of the same time if you want it. So normally people take a year.{And other benefits like] before they reach the seventh year, you can take like half day every Friday for those seven years. So this is what I’m thinking. It is millennials and Gen Z, previous generations of really focusing on the productivity, what you produce, how much you save what you buy.

And we’re entering into a mode where people are not so invested in what you buy, but experiences. It is a big part of the shift in values that’s going on right now. By the way, millennials now outnumber baby boomers. There’s those of us who are stuck in the gaps. But there’s a whole different value system that’s rising up right now. And so you’re starting to see some clash of values, you’re starting to see sort of the death of some old dinosaurs. And you have to understand that when you’re in that state where there’s a shift that’s going on, I talked earlier about what it takes to push and push and push. There’s not going to be an end to these clashes anytime soon, these cultural clashes. And what that means is that those of us who are in positions of leadership, you’re here for a reason you’re here because you’re invested in leadership. So that does fall to some of you to really think about. You don’t have to do everything. Nobody’s saying you have to do everything. But pick something that you’re passionate about and focus in on it, and do it differently. And do it differently for the rest of your life. And that will help to be a significant part of what it is that needs to shift. If you only shift that one little part. That’s okay. Somebody else is going to come along and push that further or build on it. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the big thing, like I talked to you about some of the things I’m proud of. They seem like really big things at the time. I wasn’t invested in the big shiny thing. I was like, I know that I need to do my part and I don’t see any outcome from it or not.

I know that I have to do my part. In the midst of all of this, so you commit to doing it because it’s the right thing. And because really it burns inside of you. You get lucky when you get an outcome. You really do.

But that’s not to take away from what the main thing should be, just do your part. And a lot of activists, who are investing in change out there right now, they’re trying to do too much because they want to put throw it up over Facebook andInstagram, and then they get burned out. Right?

This is not actually about the change at all. Right? So just pick the small thing, focusing on it. Do your part. Let somebody else come along with pushing. It’s a really big thing. If it’s a really big thing, ladies pushing hard and get other people to tell the story so that there are other people who can pick up the work.


When you’re starting with something small that you care about,what does that look like? And was education sort of how you build that?

I would say that where I started was a lot of writing. So self reflection. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I knew I had a lot of emotions. So I spent a lot of time writing. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of pages, which I burned instantly.

Because if you’re only putting things in words, then you’re not out talking to people and sharing those ideas. So there’s a process to this which is rightly identified. So I started with a lot of writing to identify my own emotions kind of narrow down some of the things that I was feeling, what they were in relation to.

It also pulled it out of me in a way that was healing when I went to school because I had done sort of the self-reflection, figuring things out with others, like, what is it? When I took classes that weren’t necessarily about getting a degree, but were more about following my curiosity, following sort of those lines that I had cast, so I took a lot of psychology and social psychology, I took a lot of classes like comparative religion, politics, because I just wanted to figure out the whys of things. So curiosity in this process was really important. 

And then once I land on something, I researched it. Internalization, I’m going to really dig into this. So I gave myself the space to really spend time with ideas, and then to kind of reflect on what that might mean for me. Then what that might mean in the world. So there is this iterative process that I was allowing myself. I don’t know that a lot of people go to school, go to college, jump in a degree for yourself that you’ve got this track already laid out. My life was not like that at all. Surfing isn’t aligned with academia. So it wasn’t like I was going to school and playing soccer and I had a lot of time to engage in an iterative process with myself and my education, and what that meant out in the world. So my Women’s Studies class, and my social psychology class, or two of the most important classes I ever took.

If you haven’t taken the woman’s studies class, it makes you angry. You’re just going ‘oh my gosh,’ because you start to realize that some of the things you’ve taken as your own, they’re not yours. And then you start to see it everywhere, right? So you go through this process of, it’s everywhere, I can’t get out of it. It’s gonna be fine. You’re going to get out of it. It’s gonna be but my wife who is Latina goes through the same thing. She had engaged in the same processes when it comes to racism. And we go through the same things when it’s learning about oh, that’s just that’s not just about me being LGBT, right, the whole coming out story, there’s a coming out story for, for women’s empowerment, there’s a coming out story for racism. There are all of these arcs of coming out of it’s not just me, it’s actually baked into the system. And my wife likes to say she’s a three strikes, she’s got Latina, she’s gay, and she’s a woman, three strikes. But the more you go through this process, you start to go ‘Okay, that’s just the system write about it, take it out on the individual.’ I’m going to work on the system. So it’s that iterative process and it’s giving yourself time to do it. So patience with yourself is so important. It’s so so important. I don’t know that I’ve achieved patience with other people yet to the degree that I’d like. But we have to remember that we’re all stuck in this, too. And so then it becomes a matter of ‘Where are the push points to try to pull open what seems to be a completely smooth wall,’ and you start to be able to see where the ruptures are.

It’s like having a conversation with somebody who you think is just nothing. You think that they’re hard-nosed, you think that they have one opinion. But the more time you spend with them, the more of a relationship you build with them, the more empathy then you start to realize that they start to loosen up, right? Society is no different now. As are the systems that we have created. So the more time you spend with them, the more time you analyze them, the more time you interact with them yourself in a soft and vulnerable way, the more you’re actually able to find those where those points are and guess what? It’s gonna hurt. None of this is easy, and you are going to get hurt. That’s the one thing to know. If you want to be a leader, and you want to be invested in social change, and you want to break barriers, then you’re going to have to be okay with getting hurt, and returning to the scene of the crime. Again. And again. And again.

That’s what you do when you go to the gym. You go in, you do your workout, and tear some muscles, get lactic acid and rebuild. You go in day after day to return and get stronger. And you get stronger and your heart doesn’t fall apart completely. And you’re not there. You just learn and you learn better, learn more, and you’re better suited to change, and then you can share. The sharing piece is where you hand it off. It’s where you get to say ‘I don’t want to be the one with the bullseye on the back anymore.’

You actually have to let go. And that was what the burning of everything was for me. In 2015 I took about four feet worth of things I had written. And I just watched it burn. That was the moment when I said okay, it’s time for me to start going out. And that was the same year that I also was invited by my community to engage with the council. So there’s a weirdness to this, like the way that you’re engaging and getting to keep going back to the ocean. There’s a really wonderful thing to share. 

I know we’re tight on time, but I want to share one more of the things happening. It’s really exciting. There’s this really amazing thing that’s happening in new materialism, it is really starting to engage with nature in a way where it’s not just subjective. It’s not just your subjective experience with the ocean. We’re starting to realize that when you’re engaging with the ocean, or you’re engaging with a rock, or you’re engaging rock climbing, or you’re engaging with some part of nature, it’s engaging back with you. We know this when we deal with each other, I can sit here and I can see your face I can see you’re human and I know you’re having emotions. And I know you’re going through different things in your head and you’re thinking how is this fight in my life? Because we’re familiar with each other as human beings. This happens in nature, too. When you go out in the world, there’s actually things that respond to you. When you start to get to the phase where you’re starting to say, okay, I’m engaging with the ocean and the ocean is engaging with me, how do I translate that now to a system made up of human beings? Is there any difference? What does it mean for me to be in the world or in the system, holding to the set of values that I have and constantly showing up for it?

Change is inevitable when you’re entering into those spaces with this kind of relationship. Some people enter into those spaces with a lot of negativity baked in. They’re just not happy people. And we need to enter into those spaces with some pretty strong intent. It doesn’t take away from the work that needs to get done. There’s good strong work that needs to get done. But how you process yourself is really important as well. And that’s one thing if you as you start to grow into your leadership positions, or if any of you engage in politics or any of you engage in spaces where there’s power, be very, very careful. You need to have your shit worked out. Because there are places in us that certain things like a lot of money or a lot of power, there’s places they can work into, and you lose yourself to them. And when you’re engaged with change, we see a lot of activists get toxic really fast. Why would that happen? Because activists are people who want to heal something in themselves and are doing it in the world. So just make sure you spend that time with yourself. Make sure you give yourself that space.

Thank you, Cori!

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