BACKBONE IN A TILTED WORLD. The Cori Schumacher Interview.
Presented by Girls4Sport
A few weeks ago the 2011 ASP Women’s Longboard Tour kicked off with the Roxy Pro Biarritz. As I watched the live feed I couldn’t shake the thought that the contest was missing something, or more specifically, someone. One year ago this month Cori Schumacher claimed her third World Title and no doubt would have been in France this summer defending her ASP World Title. Instead, Cori was at home in California, following through on her decision to boycott this year’s tour.
Title or no title this year, there is no disputing the fact that Cori Schumacher is one of the best longboard surfers on the planet, but she is also so much more than that. She is a deep thinker, a fantastic writer and as I discovered earlier this year, a gifted public speaker. In the past few months we’ve agreed and disagreed, shared laughs and tears (mine) and had supposedly quick 15-minute conversations turn into in-depth 4-hour discussions on everything from surfing to giving back to the world around us. Cori has taken a lot of heat for her boycott of the ASP but she has done what not many others in her position have, taken a stand based on her personal beliefs and convictions and said “No!” to the status quo. She may not win a trophy this year but Cori has definitely won my respect! –Chris Grant
Oceanside noseride by the 3X and current World Champion, Cori Schumacher. Photo: Chris Grant/JettyGirl.com
JettyGirl: Fair warning Cori, we’re going to head off into some deeper topics so let’s at least start off with some light-hearted faire. I recently had the opportunity to guest speak with you at an anniversary party for San Diego Surf Ladies and you gave a wonderful presentation on your life, specifically your life as a surfer. Many people know about Cori the competitor but not about your early years. What were a few of your favorite surfing memories growing up?
Cori Schumacher: Some of my favorite surfing memories growing up happened while at club contests. Back in the mid-’80s and into the early ’90s, the only events for longboarders were staged by longboard clubs up and down the coast of California. My family and I were members of the Oceanside Surf Club and we would travel to events in Santa Cruz, Ventura, Malibu, Salt Creek, Oceanside, Cardiff, Tourmaline… For a weekend, a crew of half-crazed longboarders of all ages would descend on a surf break (camping on the beach, in their cars, at a nearby campsite, if they slept at all). At the larger events, longboarders from Hawaii might fly over to compete.
Before I was competing seriously in the events, my sister and I, along with other groms who were dragged along by their parents, would find all kinds of devious ways to play tricks on the adults (who were busy draining kegs into plastic cups). Under the cover of night, for instance, we might sneak a motorized, plastic rat into the women’s bathroom and attempt to stifle our giggles as women screamed and ran out, flailing their arms above their heads (this poor plastic rat met its demise after a brave, staggering man with a knife and a beer-belly tried to disembowel it); we may have played as hogs rustling in the bushes in Malibu Canyon next to unsuspecting revelers, snorking and rattling tents before racing off, howling with laughter under the moonlight. Firecrackers may have been involved at some point, though I can neither confirm nor deny this… One of our favorite things to do at the Oceanside Club event at the O’side pier, was take giant wads of toilet paper, soak them through with water, then lob them up to the ceiling, where they would remain until they dried, leaking onto unsuspecting restroom visitors. We tried reeeaaaally hard to get the wad just above the toilets. I cannot say what may have happened to the wads after they dried out…
There were absolutely epic BBQs, award ceremonies, concerts and hula dancing. During the summers, anyone and everyone involved in a longboard club packed their vans, diesel trucks and station wagons and took to the road with their kids and dogs in tow. There was a sense of limitless possibility as the summers began and the closing of an epoch as the fall chill began to settle. I remember the scents of dew on chaparral, smoking fires and stale beer. The night was all but shaken off by the time the first heat hit the water. The sun would begin its slow crawl up the beach and the groggy surf gypsies would begin to peel off their layers of UGG boots and hoodies. Doughnuts and coffee, the smells of bacon and eggs or maybe pancakes, wax and complaints of still-damp wetsuits marked the first movements of these folk. As each band of hooligans crept onto the beach, the question was asked then answered again and again: “How’re the waves?”
Photos above: A few moments from the 2005 Women’s World Longboard Championships in Ocean Beach. Photos: Chris Grant
JG: If I’m not mistaken, your family was part of a small group of longboard enthusiasts who helped keep the discipline alive and eventually helped it return to the mainstream. Since the longboard renaissance of the past few decades, has it surprised you how popular longboarding has become?
CS: There was something incredible that happened at these events because of the community it fostered. Before the internet, these events were where we saw innovation. When the guys who were my age and a bit older started taking longboarding seriously (we were all riding shortboards and would jump on our parents longboards “for fun” during the summers) there was a visceral change in the longboard scene. We “kids” grew up watching Dale Velzy, Rabbit Kekai, Donald Takayama, David Nuuhiwa, Rell Sunn, Jericho Poppler, Robert August, Mickey Muñoz, Jeff Hakman, Skip Frye, Nat Young, Greg Noll, Paul Strauch (and so many more!) all these guys and gals would show up at these events and we would soak it up. I saw Mickey Dora in France, was in a Surfing Hall of Fame play with Rell Sunn, watched Velzy twirl his handlebar mustache and was schooled by Donald Takayama on how to ride a longboard (which involved various “swooshing” and “zooming” sounds along with dramatic heel kicks and hand-surfing in air). We took what we learned and we began to get creative. Our shapers responded to our feedback and the whole thing took off.
Am I surprised at how popular longboarding has become?
Longboarding has always been my root and the reason for this for me, is that longboarding is generally less about dominating the wave and more about flowing with it. There will always be a place for this type of surfing in surf culture. So if longboarding’s popularity is marked, not by its being validated by some “governing body of surfing” or its “professionalism,” but by how many people are attracted to it… no, I’m not surprised at how popular longboarding has become. Longboarding is flippin’ FUN! And even a beginner can jump on one and stand up in minutes.
I think there is a general feeling that can be found in the water that values those activities that are impossible or difficult for beginners as “better than.” Once you have been surfing for long enough, I believe a choice is given to you quietly… either your relationship with the ocean will continue to broaden and deepen, remaining central to your surfing experience, or your infatuation with yourself as a (socially ranked) surfer will take over and your relationships in the water (or lack thereof) overwhelm the experience of surfing. These surfers expose themselves when they grumble and complain about “all those damn sweepers,” “all those damn longboarders,” “all those damn surf schools, girls (I’ve heard this complaint from women as well as men), kooks, kids… MY beach, MY waves…” because they refuse to adapt once they reach a certain point. For them, this point seems to be as far from “beginner” as possible. They have a single idea of what “good/valued surfing” is and they rarely stray from this ideal and they ridicule anyone who dares embrace otherwise.
Cori noseriding a small, clean day at Cardiff Reef
JG: If you can pick a couple of your all-time favorite longboards, which ones were your favorite and why?
CS: My first favorite had to be the first board I received from Donald Takayama when I was about 11 years old. It was a hand-me-down from Joel Tudor. Donald gave it to me after Joel traded it in. It was Joel’s first board from Donald as well. It was my first 9′ longboard, was purple and pink and taught me the art of picking up speed through trimming alone. That board left a mark… literally; a scar on the right side of my head.
My second favorite board was a Model-T Donald shaped me that was the heaviest board I ever owned. It was glassed with a double layer of 8 oz. volan cloth on both the top and the bottom and had a glassed on fin that hung off the back of the square tail. Nose-ride heaven.
My last favorite board was a board Donald shaped for me that was a modified version of his basic tri-fin, noserider. He innovated the design by mixing a different model’s rocker to the typically flat-rockered noserider and achieved, what I believe, to be the perfect marriage of the all-around longboard. It is responsive, tailored for noseriding but can be thrown from top to bottom with little effort and no interference from the width of the nose.
JG: I’m sure many people know this but it might come as a surprise to some surfers to learn that you actually competed on the ASP World Tour as a shortboarder before winning your world titles in longboarding. Do you still surf shortboards on occasion?
CS: I do still ride shorboards on occasion. I have a 6’0″ Simon Anderson XFC I break out when I want to reacquaint myself with waves from this perspective. The way one approaches and even sees a wave changes depending on what equipment one rides. I like to mix it up and usually look to the ocean to determine what I will be riding for the day. I was raised to respect riding waves… not riding waves with a certain board according to what was in fashion.
3X World Longboard Champion, Cori Schumacher and 2010 Runner-up, Kaitlin Maguire. Photos: Maria Cerda
JG: Massive (and belated) congratulations for winning your third World Title! How did your third world championship compare with the other two?
CS: My third world championship title was different because it was calculated. There was heart in the first win, expectation in the second and calculation in the third. I felt like I fell into the first two. The third, I wanted and worked toward.
JG: With three world titles in the bag and 2010 ending with thoughts of a fourth in 2011, the New Year threw a big curve ball into your competitive future when the ASP announced that this year’s world title decider would be held in China of all places. After a flurry of activity between you and the ASP, you decided to boycott the Tour, a decision that has even been written about in the New York Times. In as long or short as you care to share, how did the boycott come about?
CS: When I first received the notice in February 2011 that the deciding event for the World Women’s Longboard Championships would be held in China, I experienced a range of emotions. I was really excited that the women would be able to surf more than one event to decide the world champion but I was not pleased with the last event’s location or being offered a complete “sponsorship” by the Chinese government in order to compete in it.
China has a history of human rights violations that I very much disagree with. The most egregious for me personally, is their One-Child Policy which has been linked to gendercide, increased sex trafficking, forced abortions and forced sterilizations. I have been an outspoken opponent of my own country’s policies with regard to the various wars we are engaged in (beginning in 2001 directly after 9/11) and policies in practice (The Patriot Act, etc.), but as an American citizen, I have the ability to raise my voice in dissent. People who do so in China are thrown in jail, put under house arrest or harassed (like Ai WeiWei or the 48 other individuals who have been criminally detained in China since mid-February). There is a very distinct line drawn between how the “peasants” are treated and how the “urban dwellers” are treated. The Chinese government broadcasts a mask of constitutionality but does not follow its own façade internally.
I have spent the last decade of my life determining a life for myself that is larger than surfing, larger than selling myself out for money and much, much larger than doing what the majority says is a “correct” way of being in my culture and being in the world. The choice I ultimately made came, not from my identity as a surfer, but who I became outside of the surfing arena. For the first time, the persona I had hidden away from the tanned skin, blonde haired, joyous exterior of surfing could no longer upstage the truth of who I had become in the time I spent away from the surfing world. I have turned inside out… and probably because of how long I have kept silent, I let everything that I was out. And this is still happening now.
Ultimately, the decision came down to this: Would I be able to speak to Chinese people who are negatively affected by Chinese government policy if I went to China to compete in the first significant ASP event in China? Would I be censored across the board, by both the surf media and the Chinese media? Or would the platform I had now, as the current world longboard women’s champion be a louder voice? I gambled. The result is that both those in China and those in the surfing world have heard of my choice to a degree I had not expected but had only hoped for.
JG: Did you approach any of your fellow competitors to see if they wanted to join you in the boycott? Has their feedback been more positive or negative in regard to your stance with the ASP?
CS: I did not approach any of my fellow competitors. I felt they had enough on their shoulders trying to make their way in an industry that gave them little. I know what it is like trying to make money at this game as a female longboarder. I felt that this needed to be my choice and I hoped that it would reflect on me only and not women’s longboarding and not my fellow competitors. I have heard from two of my peers in regard to this matter. Both were supportive of my choice for their own reasons. They may not have necessarily chosen the same way I did, but they respected that I made the choice and stood by my convictions. This was far more than I expected and I am beyond thankful to them for reaching out.
As for my other competitors… I just don’t know. Time will tell. I would like to think that someday they will feel comfortable having a conversation with me about this time. I am very interested in their thoughts, for or against my choice. I made a very calculated decision not contacting them and have continually wished them the best of luck, regardless of their choice, stating that I know my peers will represent women’s longboarding beautifully in China. This initially had to be my decision and any feedback had to fall on my head alone.
JG: I personally think if the ASP had decided to go somewhere “different” meaning not the typical places like Hawaii, Australia or California, they should have taken the event to a place that loves surfing and has dedicated decades to the sport, a place like Japan. Not only would it stoke out actual surfing fans but it would bring economic benefits to a country that has been devastated by recent natural disasters. Why do you think the ASP decided to take the tour to China, a country with very, very few surfers?
CS: I think the decision was purely economic. They are holding the event in a Special Economic Zone in China, which gives them special tax breaks, as a foreign business, as well as bringing attention to an island that has been very specifically cleaned up to be the “Hawaiian Island” tourist trap of China. This event has nothing to do with the surfers. They are entertainment only… this event is not for spectators and it is not for the surfers. It is to celebrate a business deal. At no other time in the history of the ASP has a contest of this caliber been run in an environment 1) without a culture of surfing, 2) without a world-class wave. Should women longboarders just be thankful to get what they are given? Or should we ask, why? I have been asking “why?” and for me, none of it adds up… if the ASP cared so much about longboarding, they would have sent an invite to Duane DeSoto and I for the ASP Awards in Australia. Nothing is adding up and I really believe that ASP International is running itself poorly as a business that has no credibility or integrity. I can no longer feel comfortable supporting such an institution.
No matter how many fancy press releases, glossy look books or advertorial surf trips are pushed in our faces, sometimes the horizon simply isn’t straight. Photo: Chris Grant/JettyGirl.com
JG: Ever since your boycott of this year’s ASP Tour was announced and you threw off the constraints of “doing what was expected,” you appear to be taking up all sorts of causes and we’ve noticed your writing has been appearing regularly in places like The Guardian and The Inertia. In recent weeks you’ve begun to take on the topic of sponsorships or lack thereof for many female surfers. What’s your take on the current sponsorship situation in women’s surfing?
CS: I think anybody who has known me for long enough has heard me talking about these things ad nauseam. There is nothing new in my rhetoric and, unfortunately, there is nothing new in how the surf industry is running their approach to female surfing either. In fact, I am of the belief that things are getting worse… for both males and females.
Most people will point to money as proof-positive that things are getting better, but if you do a comparative analysis, it soon becomes evident that nothing monetarily has changed… well, except for the companies. Women in 1979 were given 20% of the ASP’s total prize purse. In 2011, they are given 22% of the total prize money on the ASP. People like to talk about how men surf better than women, but the idea that women are competing against men is absurd. Women surf differently than men. Yet, the way they approach surfing is undervalued in some strange attempt at validating why women need to have so much sex appeal. Women don’t surf like men. Who is expecting them to? Why do we expect them to? Why do we want them to? I don’t want to surf like a guy… yet, a woman’s approach to surfing is undervalued, by both women and men. The world needs multiple perspectives… even in surfing.
JG: It seems that the surfers who are throwing a bit of sex appeal into their act are the ones getting the best sponsorship deals. Even though they may be getting the most sponsorship dollars, what do you think is the true cost, if any?
CS: The true cost is that the feminine way of approaching a wave is abdicated to how she looks while she is surfing. How a woman surfs is trivialized by how she looks while she is surfing. I find it incredible how violent the responses of men are when women speak about how they are not impressed by what Nike has done with “Leave A Message”… women are saying that Nike hasn’t done much to empower women and male surfers are tearing their opinions apart. Nothing has changed, really, because the accepted attitude is “if guys like it, it has value” above and beyond anyone (women) else.
Look, I am not saying, nor is any woman saying, that an empowered body image is not sexy. It is so very important that young girls love their bodies, but androcentric surf companies are simply blinded to the subtleties required in this type of empowered advertising. It remains obvious that the advertising revolves, not around empowering young women, but enticing young men. They are using heuristics grounded in sex appeal to sell product. That there are women involved in these projects behind the scenes does not automatically equate to equality or healthy female images in advertising.
Top: Cori pulls in at Backdoor, photo by Maria Cerda. All others: Cori in Oceanside, photos by Chris Grant.
JG: Picture an 18-year-old surfer girl coming to you for advice. She’s fit, intelligent, ranked highly in contests yet lacks sponsorship opportunities. Her peer is also fit, intelligent, ranked highly in contests but in contrast has a great deal of sponsorship offers. The only difference between the two is a couple of inches of fabric …one wears a fairly standard bikini while the other surfs in a thong. The girl knows if she sports one too, sponsorship dollars will be hers and she’s seeking your advice on the subject. How would you advise her?
CS: Quite simply, and I have done this before, I would ask what the girl wants. Foremost, what does this girl want out of her LIFE. The choice is really the girl’s, yes? If she wants nothing more than to get money and a husband, she is on the right track doing what she is doing, short skirt. If she wants, instead, to have a future of some kind, a future in changing her sport, or in being something beyond surfing, then she better get to school and get serious about her education.
Surfing is such a closed off world. Those who make money and actually control the sport, have educations and are involved in the business of surfing. It seems surfing gives two choices to athletes: “Do what we tell you to or you disappear.” I would encourage more women to go to school, get back involved in surfing and change the entire landscape. This question goes beyond fabric.
JG: Changing topics here …as we mentioned before, you’ve been writing for TheInertia.com recently. Do you think sites like The Inertia are the future of surf media? What do they have to offer that you feel is missing in traditional surf magazines?
CS: I do feel like media outlets like TheInertia.com and JettyGirl.com are the future of surf media. I think it takes a lot of guts to print radically offensive or dissenting opinions than what one finds in the normal surf media. I love that the internet has opened up these channels to voices that wouldn’t ever get the chance to see the light of day otherwise.
There is a lot of control by surf brands through advertising in traditional surf media. This is why dissident media outlets are emerging… people are sick of it. But they don’t want to read the same things they might find in the traditional media. They want to be challenged. Conversations can get heated, but you can really tell when those who are defending traditional media and the surf brands show up… and they are showing up. These media outlets are gaining ground and they are doing so because they are not filtered by money interests. Simple as that… there is a lot of hunger out there for truth. So much so, that when the truth is spoken, even that is sometimes attacked… integrity is more valuable than gold, these days, and viewed with the most cynicism. The extent to which one must be “pure” to have any sort of opinion these days is nearly impossible. Still, people pursue their opinions… and those of accord will align and those who do not, will attack. It is the way of the web, it seems. Our civility runs out at “anonymous.”
JG: Finally, while many surfers tend to gravitate towards typical and even somewhat trendy charities, you’ve chosen an entirely different path by supporting Women for Women. Tell us about the organization and why it’s important to you.
CS: Aristotle believed there to be three basic activities of humans. The first, theoretical, has an end goal of truth. The second, poietical, has an end goal of production. The third, praxis, has an end goal of action. Women for Women is an organization that teaches women how to change their situations for a lifetime. They are given the skills and tools they need while building a network of women who are learning at the same time, that will positively alter the course of their lives. These women, once they “graduate” from the program, transform their communities.
I am actively engaged in the persons I sponsor and I know that they are actively engaged in learning the tools of their freedom. I understand this because I have sought education and have felt the impact this education has had on myself. Everything has its place and this is where I feel pulled. These women will change more in their lifetime than I can in mine, given their connections with their communities. I have the ability to support their education. I believe in them… I am not looking for a charity that bolsters my ego. I am looking for real change… fundamental, root shaking change. These women represent that type of change. I want their eyes to transform from the dead I have seen into the light of belief, the knowledge that they can absolutely transform the community they live in.
Cori with her wife, Maria Cerda
JG: Thank you for your time Cori and please accept our deepest apologies for this long delayed interview. In closing, we know you’ve given sponsorships a pass but is there anyone you’d like to thank or give a shout out to?
CS: Thanks Chris, for you commitment to JettyGirl.com. Thank you to my wife, who has more patience than anyone I have known with me other than my parents… and I don’t deserve her love. And thank you to every person who reads these words who is not defensive but who finds in themselves something that works, that inspires and that they can take to transform in their own lives for the betterment of someone else.
I walked away from surfing because I didn’t think I could make a difference in the world as a surfer… I underestimated what surfing was and is. Surfing made me what I am. I only hope I can give back in the way that it expresses itself through me. For good or for bad, I am a part of surfing and it is a part of me…
Photo Credits: MARIA CERDA & CHRIS GRANT/JETTYGIRL.COM
Special Thanks: to Girls4Sport for their support of this JettyGirl.com feature!