Thank you to Cori Schumacher and the Inspire Initiative for this interview!!
There is often a great distance between people who point out the problems they see around them and those who actively work at solving them. The Inspire Initiative seeks to recognize and support those individuals and projects that are making a difference in the world around them, with the understanding that it takes a diversified collective of similar-minded, supportive and tenacious individuals to tackle what can feel like an endless sea of challenges and mind-numbing inertia.
We are honored to share with you our conversation with the founder and owner ofThe Surf Institute. She is an educator and surfer whose inspired and inspirational reach spans from Malibu to the Philippines, whose interests and mindful activism encompasses both environmental and social issues.
Carla Rowland reminds us that when you don’t feel like you fit into something that already exists, the best thing to do is to create something new that incorporates every portion of who you are and then allow this novel energy to spill out into the world.
Carla reminds us to tender each other, to give back and to be good stewards of the challenges, joys and hardships that have shaped us.
We are deeply grateful for you and the work you do in the world, Carla.
TII: Malibu is such an eccentric and historic surf break. What was it like for you growing up here? Who did you look up to as a young surfer and how did they influence/shape the woman you are today?
CR: Growing up at a surf break with the notoriety that Malibu possesses was unique, to say the least. My father taught me to surf at a young age, but it wasn’t until my teens that I decided to make it my world.
It was the early to mid 90’s when the traditional longboarding aesthetic was making a comeback and Malibu was at the epicenter. At this time, there were only a few older women who had established themselves in the cutthroat, hierarchal lineup – Diane Sanders, Brittny Leonard, Phranc Gottlieb. Although I remember Phranc as being one of my first influences in classic logging, it was mainly men who received my adoration and although I studied their techniques like a hawk, I have always prided myself on having my own style.
The irony of looking up to men, however, is that we were never treated as equals and were always reminded that we were less than. I’ll never forget being told by the head honcho regarding the lineup hierarchy, “You’re just a girl. Even the groms are above you!” As a strong individual and one of the eldest in this new generation of wahines, I could never accept the devaluing from our male-counterparts and would often find ways to promote, encourage, and inspire my fellow females.
Whether it was sharing sponsorships and photo shoots or simply cheering my girlfriends on, empowering women in this male-dominated sport has always been important to me.
Can you tell us about The Surf Institute?
I am a natural born teacher. I spent seven years as a Special Educational Instructional Assistant and learned a wide variety of skills that prepared me for my next phase in life. A few years ago, having spent nearly a decade garnering experience and respect as a successful surf instructor, I decided to give my method and business a legitimate name, thus, creating The Surf Institute. The goal of TSI has been to illuminate others of all things surf, which involves all aspects concerning surfing – wind, waves, weather, people, etiquette, technique, etc. The program revolves around the Golden Rule, encouraging people to do unto others as you’d have done unto you, yet invites strength, self-belief, and awareness of self and surroundings. As time has progressed, TSI has maintained this mantra, but also evolved to mean much, much more.
Most recently, it has become obvious to me, that surfing offers people much more than a sport to enjoy and/or excel at. It is a great metaphor for life and a great way to help people find their best selves. Those who have been through this program often begin fearful, timid, and uncertain of how to go after what they want. After only a short time, they come to realize their worth and the incredible potential they are capable of.
What inspired you to break out of the Malibu/Southern California bubble, travel to the Philippines and establish such an intimate kinship with the local people there? Can you tell us about the work you have done in the Philippines?
First of all, anyone interested in expanding their perspective and being more in tune with the environment must travel outside of their pinpoint on the map!
My fiancé, Ian Zamora, was born and spent most of his childhood in the Philippines. Feeling a dire need to get away from the drama bubble that Malibu sucks you into, we decided to make a trip in 2011 to see what we could find. What started as a 2-week excursion became 4 weeks and what we thought would be your ordinary surf trip turned into a total of 11 months of making the archipelago our home over a 2-year timeframe. After that first trip, we committed to two separate 5-month stints where we did a number of things.
Filipinos are newborns in relation to their surf history and experience, which gave me the opportunity to share my love and knowledge with many. I also organized and ran the first all-women’s surf contest for all abilities. Above and beyond that, Ian and I actively participated with Waves For Water and delivered filters to many of the different villages we visited throughout our stays. Incredibly, during our second stint, while feeling a bit idle and useless, Super Typhoon Yolanda hit the central part of the country with a vengeance and devastated much of the Visayan region.
Out of harms way ourselves and sitting with 100 filters on hand, Ian and I immediately began making arrangements to distribute these filters to areas in need. It was an incredibly humbling experience to see how quickly life can change and be taken away, but equally heartwarming to see how resilient the Filipino people are. Even with so little for themselves, Filipinos are extremely hospitable and won’t hesitate to offer you whatever they have.
You recently launched the Jr. Wahine Empowerment Workshop through The Surf Institute. Why are programs like this necessary and what can the young ladies expect from your workshop series?
I have noticed over the years, especially with my younger ladies, a dire need for esteem and awareness education. While some are searching for an identity, others struggle with confidence, while others are having a hard time becoming comfortable in their own skin. With the help of my incredibly intelligent and seasoned educator of a mother, we have outlined a program that encourages self-belief, confidence, and a desire to be the best possible self. In an intimate group setting, located up in the tranquil hills of Malibu, the girls participate in various crafting activities and journal writing that revolve around esteem building, body image, positive affirmations, leadership, and conflict resolution. The gals also get some surf and hiking time, which helps enforce the idea that they are in charge of their journey.
“This true immersion of my two worlds – educational teaching and surfing instruction – has renewed my spirit and is giving me purpose.”
You are an intelligent, talented, outspoken and tenacious woman who is an activist for environmental and social issues, with a great desire to share your experience and wisdom with the world. Are there some defining moments in your life that you can recall that helped to shape your character and direction in life to this point?
At 3 years of age, I could be found standing on the neighbor’s tree stump declaring my spiritual position and scaring my poor, dear friend into salvation. I think my folks would say that from birth I have had a very strong idea of who I am. That said, everyone has moments of uncertainty and most of my adolescence I felt out of place. Even when I found acceptance among the hot-doggers at the Bu, I struggled with feeling understood, appreciated, and noticed. This insecurity often compromised my own moral fiber and the things that I believed in. The discrimination and hazing received from the men lit a fire within me that grew as the abuse continued. I made it my personal mission to protect the ladies who would come after me and instill in them strength and self-love needed to be a woman in a male-dominated sport.
I’m not sure if there was a specific moment, but over the last decade I have come to these conclusions:
1. Women’s Pro Longboarding is a fallacy.
Being a professional at something means you can make a living and support yourself. There are perhaps a dozen or so people who can agree to this statement when regarding professional surfing. The majority of “pros” struggle to get from contest to contest. Women’s longboarding, in particular, titles a world champion based on one event. As a woman longboarder who dabbled in the professional arena, companies constantly shunned me because of the length of my board or the fact that I had boobs.
When the corporations finally did see the potential in women’s longboarding, the women selected were either naturally ambivalent to social issues or too self-consumed to speak truth. I discovered, perhaps not soon enough, that the title of “professional” was not simply something that was nearly impossible to achieve, but was, in reality, not something I wanted to strive for. Life has more to offer.
2. Finding joy through others’ success.
I spent way too much of my time trying to “make it.” As the first woman under the age of 20 to live in and frequent Malibu, I had huge dreams of taking my talent to a level that hadn’t been reached before. Despite following the schedule that all the up-and-coming surfers were participating in – competitions, surf trips, magazines, movies, etc. – I consistently found myself feeling unappreciated.
Although I tried hard to support my fellow women, some of them were too insecure to return the favor, which has never sat right with me. Realizing that some things will never change, I finally made the conscious decision to no longer put such care and focus into promoting, enhancing, and competing for my own position within an industry that was made of façades. Since this choice, I have found a joy that is far more genuine and a success that no contest could ever give me.
What does the future hold for Carla Rowland?
My word these days is evolve. Most important to me is that I am constantly progressing and willing to adapt to the changes life throws at me. In the coming months, I plan to enhance the Wahine Empowerment Workshops to include sessions for all ages and hope to take the concept and program to a state, even national, level. I’m also excited to organize the 2nd Annual Philippine Wahine Classic, but most importantly, looking forward to settling down a bit and hopefully have a little mini me (or mini Ian) within the next year.