SheChange, a project by Sachi Cunningham

A project by Sachi Cunningham

SheChange follows an elite tribe of water women as they fight for recognition, respect, and equity in the sport of big wave surfing. From the precipice of an eighty-foot wall of water, to the training, competitions, and communities of this fast-growing adventure sport, this documentary follows four pioneers as they overcome the obstacles that have kept women out of the lineup for nearly a century – until now. After a multi-year battle for a women’s heat in the fabled Mavericks big wave surf contest in Northern California, we witness history as these women surf the largest waves on the planet.

Hi Sachi, how long have you been working on this project?

I’ve been shooting my documentary about the big wave women since the 2014-15 Pacific Northwest winter swell season, so I’m going into my fifth year chronicling their story. Before this I covered big wave surfing for the LA Times, where I made a video series called Chasing the Swell, which covered the first big wave world tour for men in 2009-10, so I consider my work on this project to really have started 10 years ago with that project.

Paige Alms

How did you get the idea for this film?

After making the video Chasing the Swell for the LA Times about Greg Long, Mark Healey, Shane Dorian and some of the other legends of big wave surfing chasing swells from Hawaii to California to Mexico, I started to see women pop up on the scene in greater numbers and with increasing skill. As a woman working in male dominated fields of photojournalism and film production, this obviously peaked my interest. After moving to San Francisco to take a tenure track job teaching multimedia journalism at SF State, I had the good fortune of meeting Bianca Valenti, one of the best big wave surfers in the world, who has been leading the fight for a women’s heat at Mavericks.

Bianca and I have worked very closely in and out of the water over the last five seasons. What she and the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing have been doing to get a women’s heat at Mavericks and to have equal prize money has been a historic first. As the daughter of a Japanese American mother who was born in an incarceration center during WWII I am painfully aware of what happens when stories from our collective history are lost. The culture suffers. We’re seeing this play out with the treatment of Muslims in in the U.S. and immigrants at our borders today. I knew that I had a very unique perspective on this story of the big wave women as the only water photographer following them and their story closely. I didn’t want the story of these pioneers to be lost.

Paige Alms and Sean

How did you choose the surfers?

The surfers that I am focusing on are the founding members of the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing, the four women leading the charge for equality in the sport, who also happen to be the most decorated athletes in competition today: Bianca Valenti, Paige Alms, Keala Kennelly and Andrea Möller.

Justine Dupont

Is it a feminist movie?

Absolutely. Feminism is not a bad word. Feminism by definition is, “the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes.” If half of our population is being held back then we are all being held back. I firmly believe that feminism needs good men. This isn’t a man hating film. This is a story that I expect men and women to get behind, support and share.

What message do you want to convey?

The message that I want to convey is that women have the same right to dream big, explore the great outdoors and push their limits as men do. Big wave surfing, the great outdoors and adventuring into the unknown are character building activities that should be open to people of all genders, races, sexual orientations, etc. Watching women perform in these arenas naturally opens doors and expands the horizons for women and men in the water, work place and beyond.

Chasing the Swell, is an other movie made by Sachi:

Paige Alms and Bianca Valenti

Bianca Valenti