Film project documents gay surfers' struggle to come out in the line-up
Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 18 November, 2013 - In 1992, David Wakefield was emerging as one of Australia’s most promising surfers. After winning a state championship the door was opened to a career on the professional tour. However David was keeping a secret that stood in the way. He was gay.
Not only was his career at stake he also faced the prospect of rejection by family, friends, and the surfing community that had become his life. In the face of this fear, David chose not to pursue a career in surfing and kept his sexuality hidden for the next 20 years.
Sadly, David’s fears were not unfounded. Even today, many gay surfers are in a similar predicament. Some have witnessed ‘poofta bashing’ in the surfing community, some have been bullied in the line-up, others have been rejected by family and friends.
In the most tragic of instances, some have even taken their own lives as a result of non-acceptance. In professional surfing, several gay athletes have been told that their sexuality is incompatible with the expectations of their sponsors. As a result, many have lived in secrecy and some have walked away from competition.
In 2011, a fateful Google search leads David to GaySurfers.net, the world’s first online community for gay surfers. For the first time David connects with people who he can speak to about the secret he has carried for 20 years. He reaches out and connects with Thomas Castets and reveals his predicament. Thomas convinces David that in order to grow he needs to be honest with himself and those he loves about his sexuality.
Not only does David decide to come out, he does so in front of hundreds of thousands of spectators at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. In a poetic turn of events, the typically shy and private David is thrust into the public spotlight, a television interview with the parade’s flamboyant celebrity host makes David a media focus at the event and lands him on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald online.
The response to David’s very public ‘outing’ is mixed. Many are surprised but supportive, however some of David’s closest family and friends are confused and hurt. Despite the fallout, David feels the need to reaffirm his commitment to a new life of openness and self-acceptance. He quits his job, packs up his house and sets off on a global journey with Thomas to meet other gay surfers, hear their stories, and bring understanding to this issue so others won’t have to follow his path.
“OUT in the line-up” follows David and Thomas on this journey which takes them from the east coast of Australia to Hawaii, California, Mexico, and the Galapagos Islands. Along the road they meet a variety of characters. They hear from openly gay former professionals including three-times world champion Cori Schumacher, big wave surfer Keala Kennelly, and once top-five US professional surfer Robbins Thompson. T
hey speak to everyday gay surfers and the younger generation about being gay in the line-up. They also seek out the expert opinions of former US Congressman Barney Frank and his surfer husband Jim Ready, openly gay Australian surf icon and commentator Nell Schofield, controversial surf journalist Fred Pawle, author and academic Clifton Evers, as well as other experts.
“OUT in the line-up” uncovers a culture that has strayed from its foundation of freedom of spirit, open-mindedness and connection to nature. David and Thomas learn about the dominance of male rituals in surf culture and the way this has marginalised minorities. They also hear about the pivotal role sponsors and media play in maintaining out-dated stereotypes. On ground level they stories of fear, isolation and self doubt, but they are also inspired by tales of hope, self-empowerment, and transformation.
Beyond simply exposing this taboo issue, this film seeks to effect change. It aims to confront industry and the wider surfing community, creating awareness, provoking discussion, and overturning the stereotypes. Through this, “OUT in the line-up” seeks to pave the way for a younger generation of surfers, creating a culture in which they can connect with each other and be themselves.