I have always loved water in all of its forms. I grew up wakeboarding, skiing, and surfing, anything to get into water or snow. My first memory of being in the ocean was back in 1990ish, at my favorite break, T-Street. My dad grew up in Dana Point so T-street, Salt Creek, and Old Man’s were my stomping grounds.
On this particular summer day, my dad was going to teach me to bodyboard - and not just catch white water like I had been as a younger kid. I remember he had a Morey Boogie Mach 10, with fins and a handle, like the thing was ready for Pipe.
I had a BZ, my first performance board, and a pair of Scotts. I remember my dad grabbing onto the nose of my board and helping me duck dive since I was probably 60lbs soaking wet. We paddled out to the main break, which I thought was overhead in my minuscule ocean experience. Looking back, it was probably 3-5 feet (which I guess is overhead if you’re 8ish years old.) I remember being scared, and kinda hating it, until he pushed me into this “massive” wave. I screamed with joy as I made the drop, straight of course, and from that moment on I was hooked.
To be clear, my understanding of what is nonbinary and transgender is my individual definition, as experienced by me. Everyone’s relationship with their gender is completely personal, and while I try to define these terms, I can’t say that I speak for the masses. For me, to be nonbinary is to understand that there is a pink and blue structure that everyone operates on, and that I don’t fit in one color box or the other.
I’d say I’m a blend of both, like a twilight indigo during a summer sunset. When we are born we are assigned a gender, male or female, based on our genitals. This assignment shapes the rest of our lives, because we are raised and experience life through the lens of our gender’s societal expectations. For me, to be transgender and/ or nonbinary is to not conform to these expectations either in action or in my intrinsic gender identity.
In my heart’s heart, I don’t identify solely as a woman or as a man. When I close my eyes, I envision myself as a Point Break’s Bodhi, but when I open my eyes I see that I’m more like a Tyler (Lori Petty’s character). For me, I realized I wanted to look like Bodhi, but still strongly identified with Tyler. I tend to use the words nonbinary and transgender in relation to my identity interchangeably, but that is not always the case.
The important distinction here is that the term nonbinary falls under the transgender umbrella, which also includes a variety of other identities. At the end of the day, they are just words and people need words to try and describe what they feel inside and to relate how they are feeling to others. Whatever word you think fits you, choose that.
I love this question. My personal journey is incredibly long and short at the same time. It’s taken me almost 35 years to come to the realization that I am transgender. It is at this point that I must say that I understood my sexual identity much earlier than I understood my gender identity, which are two completely unrelated concepts.
To explain the difference would require an entirely different dissertation. As far as being trans though, I would say that I first started identifying as trans about 3 years ago at the age of 32. I have always had a proclivity to express myself masculinely, and at a young age you could have called me a tomboy. I’ve gone through periods of my life that I have tried (unsuccessfully) to present as more feminine, but I feel most comfortable in what would be described as men’s clothes.
So in essence, before the age of 32 I identified as a masculine lesbian. Here’s the key to the “switch” in identities. Back when I was growing up in the late 80s and early 90s, I had no idea what trans even meant. All I saw represented in media were people like Ru Paul and news stories of trans sex workers. I never related to those images and thus thought I was just a tomboy.
It wasn’t until I was teaching at my school when I saw a couple of my students transition from female to male, and started understanding the complexities and subtitles of the transgender identity. It took me learning from a teenager that gender identity doesn’t have to be pink or blue, it can be on a spectrum and the trick is finding that sweet spot that you feel most confident and authentic in your own skin.
It was soon after I came out as transgender that the seed for top surgery was planted. I followed through with it this past year and it has been the best decision I’ve ever made. I feel so much more at home in my body, and bodysurfing shirtless is f***ing amazing.
First of all, I am SO grateful to the team members of Slyde and the bodysurfing community at large. I must admit, I was pretty nervous and scared to be outcasted. Recently there has been a surge in the visibility of transgender athletes, like Schylar Bailar (Harvard swimmer) and Chris Mosier (Nike sponsored Olympic duathlete). However, these athletes identify as trans men, and have taken medical pathways such as testosterone hormone therapy in their gender journey.
There are rules in the NCAA and beyond that provide a structure for trans men and women to participate in sports. I, on the other hand, don’t fit on one end of the spectrum or the other and I haven’t embarked on hormone therapy. So I pose the question, what does someone who is nonbinary do? I put it out there on Instagram and the response was overwhelming. People from all over the world, from O-side to Ozzy said with support and enthusiasm, “do whatever the hell you want!”
Needless to say it was so relieving and so invigorating to get support from fellow bodysurfers and my competitors. Slydefest itself was super fun. I went in with zero expectations, especially since I was only a few months post surgery and not in the best of shape. I figured this event would give me an idea of where I’m at physically and what I need to do to prepare for Worlds in August. It was a little nerve racking at first, taking my shirt off in front of everyone to put the jersey on, but honestly, it felt like no one even flinched. The biggest win for me that day was coming away with new friends, having some important conversations about gender, and then taking third place was icing on the cake.
I realize now, four months after surgery, that the surgery itself was just a small stop on this gender journey of mine. Since then the struggle as been trying to navigate a world that operates on a gender binary. I have a hard time deciding which public restroom is safe to use; I get mis gendered as a he or a she all the time; and I fear for my safety a lot. It’s difficult to explain to people that I am neither a man nor a woman, but also both man and a woman, and something entirely different at the same time.I’m realizing now that being nonbinary is not just an identify; it’s a movement. Every day I feel more and more confident in my skin, and every day I find moments of gender euphoria that I never knew existed before surgery. Despite the difficulties that I may face, the fact that I can show up every day as my authentic self brings me limitless joy that I hope everyone can experience at some point in their lives.
The ocean and I have a timeless love affair. I bodysurf almost every morning, in good conditions and unfortunately sometimes in bad conditions, because every time I get out I feel a sense of cleansing. Bodysurfing for me is an active meditation. I am only focused on the horizon, my breath, and feeling the waves energy as I share and harness it. All the extraneous bullshit seems to just fade into the background when I’m in the water. Without a doubt, after every session I feel lighter, more clear headed, and most importantly, happier. Vitamin Sea is the best medicine for any ailment I’ve experienced.
PC for cover & image above David Song @threedoginit
Listen and learn. There are no right or wrong answers and there is no one way to transition. If you know someone who is transitioning, respect their pronouns and try your hardest to use them correctly. Be loving and supportive like you’d treat any family member or friend. They are going to be going through a lot of uncertainty and doubt, and that’s scary for anyone.Be empathetic to the root of the change, which is that they want to be happy and be confident and live life with all of the opportunities and privileges that we sometimes take for granted. And of course, get them into the ocean ;)
Well this weekend, August 3rd, I’m competing in the International Bodysurfing Championships in Manhattan Beach. Then off to Chubascos in Huntington and World Championships in Oceanside. Three weekends in a row of body surfing competitions! After that it’s back to whomping in the mornings and teaching. I’m looking forward to the first signs of winter and the NNW swells that hit the Manhattan Beach Pier.
Beyond local body surfing I’d love to return to Panics, and explore other parts of the world during my school breaks in search of fun point or beach breaks. If anyone wants to host me, let me know ;) Who knows, maybe I’ll start a competition like Whomp Off Australia here in the states where men and women and everyone in between compete against each other as individuals and teams. The possibilities for fun in the waves are endless.