Leah Dawson: Discovering Femininity


There are many ways to be male, and many ways to be female. Though our culture is full of prescriptions for how to do it the “right” way. As if such a static impression of perfection could be conveyed by only playing with trucks, or always crossing your legs when seated.

Photo: Luki O’Keefe

Leah Dawson thanks surfing for leading her along the path to honouring her femininity. And if you think this is a story just for women, you’d be wrong

“What would women’s surfing look like if we had never seen it before and we were just out there creating it on our own?  

Gender is a performance that we all play along with everyday. To greater or lesser degrees, we buy into what we’ve been told it means to be a man or woman ( how we dress, how long we hold eye contact for, how we wear our hair — these are the minutiae that make up the performance of gender).

That’s not to discount our biological differences. We’re not the same. But we are all more similar than we are different. And taking the time to recognise unconscious prescriptions of gender can unlock needs, wants, desires and abilities that we didn’t even know we had within us.

Leah, leading with her hips. Photo Doug Falter

In Episode 5, Leah shares a beautiful story about her mentorship with surfing icon and tube riding master Rochelle Ballard. She goes on illustrate the ways that riding boards like mid lengths and single fins, as opposed to the standard shortboards and longboards she grew up on, helped her feel not only more feminine, but beautiful.

“I never really felt extremely feminine on land. I was never really attracted to make up and dressing up… I felt very in tune with my body and I loved being a woman, but I never quite felt a calling to showcase it or embellish it. Rather, the opposite. I tend to dress down. When I was discovering single fins and riding these boards that slowed your surfing down and made you use your hips more, I was, in turn discovering my own femininity. And falling in love with my femininity. … and for the first time in my life, I felt beautiful. ” – Leah Dawson

Her experience speaks to the deeply moving potential of riding waves. It can be a superfluous, selfish act, or it can be a portal to knowing ourselves more fully. And both.

              Rochelle Ballard , icon and mentor

We interviewed Leah in a little rental shack just off of Sunset Beach in the quiet lull before a big swell brought the wave roaring to life. Actually, what was roaring during our interview was lawn maintenance machines; mowers, weed whackers, etc. The sound was spilling in from every angle so we had to change rooms during the interview. If the sound is weird, let’s blame it on that.

For years, it was as if the surf industry didn’t know what to do with Leah. She didn’t fit the mould of the binary options for industry supported female surfers: lifestyle longboarder or WCT shortboarder. She was always a bit of both. Always kind of in-between. She was always skilled on everything she rode. I’ve known Leah for almost 20 years, and she has always been a naturally gifted surfer who also happened to not shy away from honing her skills and working hard to refine her abilities.

Leah Dawson doesn’t shy away from the tough questions. Photo Doug Falter

After years of studying, surfing, and  studying surfing, Leah emerged with new boards under her arms: single fin mid-lengths. The process of evolving her surfing, expanding her spiritual self and finding a community of like minded women on the North Shore gave way to a woman who knew her path.

Leah takes an artful and considered approach to riding anything – and her voice has found its place right in the heart of modern surfing. In her episode, Leah shares stories about studying the iconic style — the overtly feminine style —  of the “Goddess of Aloha” Rell Sunn.

Rell Sunn, open hearted Goddess of Aloha, on land and in the water Photo: Jeff Divine 

Leah also talks about her blooming relationship with Alex Lopez, son of legendary style master Gerry Lopez, and shares some wisdom from the breakfast table with one of our culture’s great icons.

                          Gerry Lopez, bringing a touch of feminine to men’s surfing: relaxed hands and hips forward. Photo: Jeff Divine 

Leah recently helped to establish The Changing Tides Foundation to empower women and girls through travel and surfing. Changing Tides creates spaces for sisterhoods at home and abroad and runs a diverse set of campaigns, from community composting initiatives, to taking much needed menstrual supplies to girls and women in need.

Leah brings a distinctly feminine interpretation to riding waves. In doing so, she’s nurturing the space for the next generations of women to continue bustin’ down the doors of patriarchal norms.

“Do what Rell did and go in the ocean every day and say THANK YOU”

Photo: Luki O’Keefe

Photo: Luki O’Keefe


You can listen to every episode of The Waterpeople Podcast HERE



Sound Engineer: Shannon Sol Carroll 

Join the conversation:@Waterpeoplepodcast

More about Leah:

Instagram @Leah_Loves


3 Thoughts

  1. Love love loved this episode. Leah is everything surfing should be. Grass roots, feel, grace and finding your own path/lines. Another fantastic episode Rom Lauren and Dave at the Waterpeople podcast.
    Thanks guys

  2. Leah is such an inspiration for me! I always love to mention how her video and story about Peanut Butter board changed my perception of surfing, when I just started to surfing and discovering this amazing universe.
    “Ride with love” she said, and this gave me more purpose. Thank you so much for that, was really looking forward to hear a podcast featuring her!🙏

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