Paige Alms Interview: The Wave I Ride
Big Wave Surfer, Feminist, Record Breaker And General Badass- Meet The Woman Taking On The World Of Surfing
"It literally takes just one wave where you decide you're going to do it. Just that one wave to be like - I did that, and I can do it again"
This is big wave surfer Paige Alms' advice - at the screening of her documentary The Wave I Ride - to anyone who wants to surf bigger waves.
Paige is the main woman at the forefront of a new era in surfing, one where women are taking on bigger and gnarlier swell than they ever thought possible. She wants to see more women giving it a go.
"It's kind of a new thing" says Paige. "There are a small number of big wave surfers in the world. The female population is even smaller."
"I could name 50 big wave surfers that are at the top of our sport right now. Yet there's only about a dozen women."
"It's a lot harder to convince sponsors that it's something worth supporting. We're at the forefront of that change now. I'm really proud to be within the top five women in the world."
That change that Paige is talking about can be felt in the air at the London Surf Film Festival screening of The Wave I Ride, directed by Devyn Bisson.
If women's big wave surfing is a niche sport, it won't be called that for much longer. As I arrive at the venue I pass a queue, fifty people deep that didn't get tickets, waiting in hope of getting some on the door.
Inside people wait for the screen to open, stealing glances at Paige who is looking incredibly glamorous, greeting people in a sheer floor length dress.
This is not your usual big wave documentary screening.
While it's easy to get caught up in the excitement of what Paige means to the surf industry, she is first and foremost an incredible surfer. The Wave I Ride showcases her talent in an amazing light.
"There's something just drawing me towards bigger surf," says Paige. "My mentor who is mentioned in the film was a huge inspiration to me - to push myself and believe that I could go bigger."
"It was just something that I always felt comfortable in. That's not to say that when I paddle out to Jaws I feel super comfortable, but it's something that you work through with your fear."
"There's the connection with the ocean in big surf, you just feel really connected."
The Wave I Ride is a film of so many different parts.
It’s a love letter to charging big waves, a tale of a surfer recovering from a nasty injury, a commentary on the unequal set up of competitive surfing, an expose of the life of a jobbing surfer and a lesson in knowing your goals and achieving them in the way that’s specifically right for you.
Paige dislocates and fractures her shoulder badly within the first twenty minutes and this gives the documentary a unique frame with which to explore so much more than just the waves she's chasing.
The film is rooted firmly in the message to do what you love, just because you love it and Paige emulates this passion.
You can see it in her surfing and in how grateful she is to have surfing in her life. In a world of commercial surfing and competitions, it's both bold and touching to watch.
One of the best things about a surf documentary both starring and directed by a female surfer is the lack of sexual imagery. Paige is portrayed as only the person and the athlete.
It's a long stretch from the view most people get of top female surfers in adverts and on billboards...
Show who these women are as people, not just who they are from their looks
In regards to women in surf advertising, Paige is aware of the balance between business and sport.
"It's hard because I know that sex sells and women being beautiful sells a product for companies."
"They all show these straight up butt shots and I have a hard time relating to it. They're not posting photos in Surfer Mag of Mick Fanning stood there topless like 'check out my awesome body'."
"It would just be nice to see them show who these women are as people, not just who they are from their looks. But things are changing."
While addressing the difference between male and female surfing is a prevalent theme throughout the entire film, the disparity between prize money and sponsorship is mentioned only once.
Instead it becomes apparent through the story of the usual battles of a big wave surfer, teamed with the difficulties of earning a living without a major sponsor.
"I get that there's not as many women doing it [big wave surfing], but that's no excuse," Paige says about the lack of prize money in the female divisions to the audience.
"I always bring up the female tennis tour in conversation. The prize money was obviously a lot less for many years and the Williams sisters fought for it."
"Yes, the men hit it harder. Does that matter? No. They openly spoke about it in interviews. They fought for years and now the prize money is equal."
If the Williams sisters were the voice for female tennis players, it looks like female big wave surfers have now found a voice of their own.
Even a person unfamiliar with the surfing could not have left this screening without feeling inspired.
There is a change in the surf industry. People like Paige Alms are leading it.