“It was so challenging, of course. Knowing there were so many other surfers in the closet not coming out and just knowing that’s how it had to be if you wanted to maintain sponsorship. So knowing I couldn’t really be out and public, I feel like it’s almost formed my identity in a way.”
A Bit AbouT KYLA LANGEn:
Kyla has been riding waves since she could walk and lifeguarding and teaching surfing for over two decades. After surfing professionally for 12 years, they swam upstream as a queer person in a heteronormative surf industry. Because of her experiences and limitations in the surf industry Kyla founded Queer Surf to help expand surf culture and increase queer ocean access. Kyla believes in the healing, empowering magic of the sea and wants all people to have access to it.
Queer Surf is a California-based community organization aimed at making the ocean more accessible through knowledge sharing and skill building. Founded in 2016 by Kyla and her partner/ insatiable boogie boarder Nic Brise, Queer Surf reduces barriers and helps the LGBTQ+ community navigate all aspects of ocean recreation. Through a host of programs and events including lessons, coaching, clinics, retreats, meet-ups, night school, book clubs and more, Queer Surf builds community and fosters a safer space for non binary, trans, and queer people at the beach. Queer Surf believes deeply in the magical healing powers of the ocean and is committed to building access to the coast.
What is it like to identify as queer in a heteronormative and male-dominated surf culture?
In this episode, Kyla Langen, former pro surfer and founder of Queer Surf, reminisces with our host Holly Beck about their time together on tour and surfing around the world in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. They chat about the structure and expectations for female professional surfers of the time and what it meant for those who did not fit the standard mold (for queer folks in particular). Kyla recalls their struggles with sponsors and having to hide parts of their identity in order to remain supported. They dive into the barriers to queer surfing and the journey in creating Queer Surf. Kyla dreams of a more inclusive, friendly lineup, where people of all bodies and beliefs can find connection and awareness through the ocean, using any kind of board.
A PREVIEW OF THIS EPISODE:
“In the early days it was just like, I’m a surfer. It doesn’t matter who I’m into it doesn’t matter what else you know, I can present mostly as a surfer. Then as things started evolving, sponsors want you to wear their clothes for their things. They want you in their baby tees and they want you in their shirts and dresses. That started to get a little awkward. This is not me, this is not what I wanna be wearing, this is not my identity. It definitely came to the point where, okay, can I maintain sponsorship?
I basically started dating someone and my team manager was starting to pick up on it. And real quick it was like, you got to keep that under wraps. You can’t be that, you can’t do that.
You’ve got to be marketable to the mainstream. You have to be a feminine woman who can model. And so basically I had to decide, okay, am I going to keep down this path keep faking it?
And nowadays, I mean, I wonder, did the tour really just get more straight or are people just hiding?”