Lauren Hill, a Florida native now living in Byron Bay, is an environmental advocate, writer, and film-maker. She is the creator of 31 Days /31 Ways, a short-film series, and was involved with the Transparensea Voyage. We spoke with Lauren to learn more about her full and fascinating life.
What was your childhood like?
Mostly peaceful and nourishing. I grew up on Anastasia Island, a barrier island of Northern Florida. Naturally, the beach and being in the water was a constant. Until I went to university I’d never lived further than walking distance from the ocean.
I was raised mostly by my single mom, who was working two or three jobs at a time for most of my life. Instead of paying for a babysitter to watch me after elementary school my mom just let me go to gymnastics. I would end up spending 4 or 5 hours 5 days a week at the gymnastics center until she picked me up after work.
Being an only child with a working mom, I learned to look after myself from an early age. When I wasn’t at the beach I was delving into poetry, music, books and crafting.
When did you get your first surfboard?
I didn’t try stand-up surfing until I was 13, even though I grew up in the ocean and with surf culture around me. I started having dreams about riding waves and I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. So I taught myself with the encouragement of friends on my dad’s faded 7’6 yellow single fin from Hawaii.
Gymnastics gave me a solid foundation for strength and balance, so I picked up the basics of surfing quickly and got my first surfboard a month or so later: a brand new 9’6 Claude Codgen longboard with a cloth inlay of citrus fruits on the nose. I have no idea why I picked it, but I imagine that I probably just thought it looked cool. In retrospect, it really didn’t.
What was the feeling you had when you first stood on a surfboard?
I remember it so clearly. Paddling out on a longboard for the first time, I was giddy and nervous and excited. The surf was typically tiny, the wind slightly onshore and there were big, scattered cumulous clouds in the sky.
And when I stood up, the overriding emotion was familiarity. It felt familiar and right. Like what I was supposed to be doing.
Who did you look up to and admire when you were a child?
Poets, teachers and activists: Kahlil Gibran, Alice Walker, Oprah, Mr. Fecteau, and John Lennon.
And I remember really admiring this girl who was a bit older than me named Kris who played basketball as the only girl and held her own. She was so cool.
Of all the places you have traveled to, what place in particular stands out and why?
Byron Bay. There are many reasons why, but for a girl who grew up on the straight beach breaks of Florida, sand points are reason enough. And not just one, but many. And they each cater to different crafts. And the water is clean and clear and “turquoisy.” It is surfing paradise for me (and a whole lot of others).
Who/what inspires you?
I’m really inspired by humans trying to right the wrongs they see in the world through non-violent, compassionate means like Gloria Steinem, Alice Walker, and Dave Rastovich, for example. And I always feel inspired when I read a good Tom Robbins novel.
A lot of my motivation now stems from mom my, I think, having seen her struggle to make it on her own, having had to sacrifice so much of her youth to raise me and remain in a monotonous, less than fulfilling, but steady job to pay the bills. She’s always been supportive of anything that I’ve ever shown interest in. And I can’t even count the number of days she spent with me at surf contests as a grom, feeding all of my friends.
Seeing the hardships she endured inspires me to take more fun risks in life.
What is the greatest thing you have learned in your life?
The way I do anything is the way I do everything.
Do you have any regrets or wish you had done something differently?
Regrets are tough to hold because I live an incredibly blessed life. If any minute decisions along the way were made differently then circumstances might not be what they now are.
What are you most proud of?
I can’t really think of anything that I’m more proud of than another. Everything has value. I am just filled with gratitude for this life.
What brings you the most happiness in the world?
Pretty simple things, mostly. It depends on the day, but these seem to consistently conjure joy: long, tiny logging waves, sharing food with friends, days without schedules, gardening, swimming underwater, or a good laugh with my man-friend.
I guess in a general sense, spaciousness makes me really happy. Not rushing, not forcing. Balance and space.
Who are some of the people you feel are shaping the path for surfing today?
Culturally speaking, surfing seems like it is expanding in so many directions by so many different characters that it’s difficult to isolate just a couple. More people than ever have the opportunity to shape the path for surfing into what they imagine it to be, which makes our culture more diverse and more interesting.
Personally, I like to see people who aren’t taking surfing too seriously shaping the path. And people that are channeling their passion for surfing into a motivating force for serving something beyond them. Like Natalie Fox, who founded an organization called Women for Whales not long after learning to surf. Her love of being in the ocean informed her sense of responsibility for it. Stories like Natalie’s are a testament to the power of surfing.
What is currently your favorite board?
9’2 Bing Silver Spoon for logging and 5’6 Bing Dharma for cruising.
Your favorite surfspot?
It depends on all of the conspiring factors. I love surfing The Pass. It is an amazing wave and the crowd always offers entertainment, too.
What is your relationship with Bing Surfboards like?
My relationship with Bing Surfboards is a blessing. I started working with Bing almost a year ago. Prior to that I’d been riding the same longboard for about 8 years. It was my only longboard. It was also delaminated and waterlogged, so when I came to Aus two years ago I wanted to have a board that was going to survive the trip. A friend, legendary Terry Nails, wrangled a log for me to bring to Aus (at this point I was a recent college graduate and seriously underemployed). Terry also ended up introducing me to Margaret at Bing.
Margaret and I kept running into each other and started chatting about my aspirations for surfing, travel, and environmental activism. With the help of a recommendation from my dear cosmic friend Christopher Del Moro, Margaret and Matt Calvani welcomed me to the Bing team. Now I get to ride Matt’s stunningly beautiful crafts all the time.
Florida doesn’t really have the same quality of logging culture as California does. It’s probably appropriate, since we also don’t have pointbreaks. Anyway, Bings were basically the holy grail of beautiful surfing crafts as a girl growing up in Florida, where people don’t really make traditionally oriented, heavy logs like Bing does. To now be able to test out such quality crafts on the kind of waves where they belong is pretty much ultimate dreaminess.
What’s your favorite meal?
Any amalgamation of organic veggies from my backyard is pretty amazing.
Actually, the truest answer is a ‘Wailer’ burrito from my favorite restaurant in the world, Stir It Up in St. Augustine. It is a brick of a burrito with beans and rice, avocado, salsa, and hummus. And sweet lemony iced tea to drink. I am salivating.
What are you currently listening to on your iPod?
Lately I’ve just been listening to the not so gentle symphony of cicadas, frogs and kookaburras here in Australia.
Sometimes I also really enjoy the radio.
What are you most grateful for?
Being alive, healthy and capable of doing this incredible thing called surfing. The unwavering support of my mom. The opportunity to get a college education. My amazing, beautiful, loving partner Dave that teaches me so much. The magical, mysterious nature of life.
What causes/organizations do you support?
I’m passionate about eradicating pollution. From an ecological perspective, this means realizing, educating, and working to lessen behaviors that threaten the ecology of the planet, including all places, processes and biodiversity on Earth. From a feminist perspective, this means eradicating the mental, physical, and ideological “pollution” that a patriarchal system creates as it divides through oppression via race, class, gender, sexual preference, etc.
So, I support environmental, feminist or ecofeminist organizations like: Surfers for Cetaceans, Women for Whales, Vday (a global movement to end violence against women), Northern Rivers Wildlife Carers and The Humane Society.
What’s next Lauren Hill?
Lots of surfing on the blessed sand points of Northern New South Wales. Attending the International Whaling Commission meeting in Panama in July with other concerned surfers.
I’ve just joined the Billabong team, so I’m stoked to have some support in conjuring new projects and explorations.
I’m currently dreaming up a surfing/activism organization called Sea Kin to share stories from within ocean culture and to create opportunities for activated camaraderie. Check it out soon at TheSeaKin.com
And I’m really looking forward to the strawberries fruiting in our garden.