080: Cori Schumacher/Speaking Truth To Power

Cori Schumacher, April 2019. Photo: Tozer

“I’m an inconvenient champion. I’m inconvenient for the dominant status quo”.

I first heard about three times longboard world champion and current Carlsbad city council member Cori Schumacher in 2013, at the height of the Roxy/Steph Gilmore controversy. That was an episode that shone a harsh light on some of the more retrograde and toxic attitudes at play in the surf industry; and almost perfectly encapsulated the intricacies, nuances and challenge involved in debating issues of feminism, misogyny and sexism in an inherently conservative industry like surfing.

Photo: Maria Cerda

Cori was at the forefront of the efforts to point out this rather obvious truth, and I remember at the time being hugely impressed by her bravery in steadfastly trying to reclaim the narrative in the face of relentless ad hominem attacks.

But then, speaking truth to power in this unerring, unflinching way has long been a courageous hallmark of Cori Schumacher’s life and career. It was demonstrated once again in the aftermath of Keala Kennelly’s speech at the WSL Awards in April 2019. That speech received worldwide coverage and was roundly celebrated as the first time surfing had recognised an openly gay world champion. Except, of course, it wasn’t the first time surfing had an openly gay world champion. The first was, of course, Cori herself.

Photo: Sherri Crummer

For Cori this airbrushing of widely-reported history is another example of how the surf industry sanitises the truth for their own wider narrative – which is the main theme of an episode that explores some particularly weighty themes and ideas.

Photo: Maria Cerda

The thing that I really find interesting and admirable about Cori, and about our conversation in general, is the originality of her thinking. We’re so used to the accepted surf industry narrative that standing apart this status quo can be a lonely act that comes at a huge personal cost.

Whether you agree with all of her opinions or not, to my mind she is a true unsung hero of the surf industry and somebody we should be celebrating for her unflinching honesty and the personal sacrifices she has made for her own wider beliefs. Which is exactly why I spoke to her for the podcast. Hope you enjoy the episode.

If you only have five minutes…

Listen to this section - Cori on how it feels to be airbrushed from surfing history.

Show Notes

  • Surfing once a month: “not as much as I used to”.
  • On Cori’s role in politics: “the thing that I’m doing will protect what I love so much – the ocean”.
  • The need for politicians with different backgrounds: they bring in unique experiences to creating policy and legislation.
  • The history of activism in surfing.
  • Waves of Resistance by Isaiah Walker.
  • How surfing’s association with ‘escapism’ makes it look like it should be apolitical.
  • Returning to the routes of surfing
  • Participating with the ocean is a political act.
  • Being a female LGBT surfer.
  • Her back-and-forth relationship with surfing.
  • “I wanted to leave surfing because I loved it”.
  • Having parents that competed in surfing.
  • Building an authentic relationship with the ocean.
  • How surfing wasn’t living to its potential to protecting the ocean.
  • “Social change is extraordinarily slow”.
  • Social media helps change the narrative.
  • Bursting the surf bubble.
  • How the Olympics and desire to go mainstream with surfing gives it a big spotlight.
  • Saying no to sponsorship since 2007 to ensure the authenticity of her own voice.
  • Boycotting the 2011 World Women’s Longboard Championship in China.
  • Being an activist since 2001.
  • Dealing with moral relativism.
  • The reactions she got to her political move.
  • The fragile narrative with surfing meant something had to shift.
  • On becoming a person people love to hate.
  • Making allies with academia.
  • Two ways to drive change: on your own or build an army.
  • At the frontlines of marches after the 9/11 attacks: “one of the most ferocious times in American history”.
  • The 2013 Roxy Pro sexist #WhoAmIJustGuess Advert
  • The sexualisation of women in surfing.
  • Structural racism and sexism.
  • Roxy’s advert in 2014 following anti-sexist campaigning.
  • After winning her 3rd World Title, she boycotts it in 2011.
  • “What good is a world championship title when the world is falling apart the way it is right now?”.
  • Dealing with self-identity.
  • Keala Kennelly as the first openly gay surfer to win the World Championships in 2019.
  • Keala Kennelly’s Acceptance Speech at the 2019 Annual WSL Awards.
  • “I’m an inconvenient surf champion”.
  • Marrying in 2008.
  • Her documentary about being gay.
  • Not being defined by the surf culture.
  • “Address the past to move forward”.
  • The Olympic platform is forcing sports to change for the better.
  • Her activism in Mavericks and Big Wave.
  • The big wave is last hyper-masculine the last frontier.
  • ‘Endless Summer’ movie.
  • Surfing became California’s official sport in 2018.
  • Being in public office: the balance of internal and external conversations.
  • “Redefining political spaces”: that’s how we’re going to save our climate.
  • “The activity of surfing is a relationship that never dies”.
  • Ep 38 of The Grit! Podcast with Chas Smith and David Lee Scales.

Places Mentioned