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06 • 01 • 2021

Activist Spotlight: Shelly Simon With the Los Angeles Chapter

By Surfrider Foundation

Q: Please give us a brief introduction about yourself. 

Howdy y’all! I’m Shelly Simon, a photographer, surfer, skater, designer, community organizer and a whole lot more. From the sunny shores of Charleston, South Carolina to the concrete jungle of New York City and Brooklyn, and now happily making waves in Los Angeles representing the LGBTQ+ community on the sands and in the water. I co-founded Dream Team Society (DTS) in August 2021 with Jessie Meehan to create community for marginalized communities in the water and on the sands. Our efforts extend to the LGBTQ+ community and allies, with an emphasis to inspire all, extending to the ends of the sexual and gender spectrum.

Q: What is your current job or role in your local chapter?

I am honored to hold a position volunteering on the Social Media Board, a new edition to Surfrider LA. Myself, along with a couple of others, help organize, create and produce content on the Surfrider Los Angeles Social Media channels, such as Instagram and Twitter. As a photographer, I get to utilize my talents for the team, photographing beach cleanups, events and more.

Being able to offer perspectives from a female, queer, surfer lens is a honor. Having collaborative conversations with our whole Executive Committee to produce thought-worthy content is a privilege. The surfing world, especially via social media, is an interesting world to navigate. Lots of visually pleasing-based photos, sleek videos and shiny good times, yet we often don’t portray the trying times, problematic people and more that populate our waters.

Q: Why and when did you get involved with the Surfrider Foundation?

January 2021, I saw a post on Instagram via Surfrider LA looking for a Social Media Coordinator and I immediately applied. I immensely enjoyed the content they produced, advocating for equal water access, water quality reports, activist minded information and more. It was like the strong, smart source of wisdom I was looking for while navigating these virtual waters. Turns out, this position called for a few more people to make this magic happen. So now we have a few people involved on the “board” who demonstrate such dynamic power in propelling Surfrider LA to a positive, productive place on the Internet.

Q: Has your experience as someone from the LGBTQ+ community framed your perspective as an activist and as part of the Surfrider network? And if so, how?

I’m going to say, YES. It’s the fuel to my fire, my experiences and ethos of existence. Basically, I’ve had a lot of privilege being a white woman, yet there’s more to it than the eye can see. Yet by utilizing any platform I have the privilege to work on, I am able to work towards the betterment of people’s lives. I mean, being queer (gay) on the WSL tour a mere 10, 15 years ago would have your sponsors dropping you, people disrespecting you and more hatred than was ever deserved. Being able to be OUT and LOUD in the “Surfing World” is, again, a really real privilege. With a partner, parents and people who support me for who I am and what I stand for, makes me want to fight for those who don’t have that cheerleading section on the sand, or in the lineup.

When Graham Hamilton brought me onto the team, he did so because I was different. Because I was proud. Because I was loud. It’s positive reinforcement of just really being yourself that pays off. I am able to, and want to, put my body, time and effort out on the line fighting for those who may not have the ability to. Whether it's the fish in sea, friends on the sand or future beings out there, I see you, and I will fight for you.

Q: What are some local issues that are affecting your ocean, waves and beaches?

In Los Angeles, there is just an abundance of plastic, trash and pollution since we thrive as an urban city adjacent to the sea. There are a lot of really socio-politically charged people in Los Angeles and surrounding areas who work hard to make change happen. With eyes constantly on the ever-changing state of Malibu Beach, trash pick-ups along our surfing beaches and the reduction of single-use plastics in the “to-go food” scene, there have been serious strides to make changes.

Q: What Surfrider projects have you worked on?

Since COVID, the more hands-on projects have been minimal, yet I’ve attended a few beach cleanups (Havaianas, Rails) and am currently promoting our first Virtual Art Auction!

Artists for Oceans - June 8-15th, 2021
A Virtual Art Auction Gala Supporting @surfriderla
In Celebration of World Ocean Day

Being able to utilize my skills in the virtual space for Surfrider has been really gratifying! Excited to continue contributing to the community by being a voice for the LGBTQ+ community and capturing some magic behind the lens.

Q: What has been the highlight of your Surfrider experience?

Expanding my world to meet certain people of the surf/ environmental community who are really making waves!

It’s been really awesome to integrate myself into a city, and a scene, that’s working towards so much good! I moved to LA in Summer 2020 so to get my feet wet in the community was an essential goal. If we are using the ocean, beaches and more, we need to speak up for them and give back.

Groups we are involved with, like One Watershed and Color The Water and more, really work hard on creating equal water access for folks. As someone who lived in LA for months without a car, depending on friends for rides to go surfing, to go to the beaches and the grocery store, imagine never being able to see the beach that surrounds your city due to lack of access.

The JEDI program that Surfrider implements into their DNA of existence is something that inspires me. As someone who was active in the skateboarding world in NYC, it’s been really amazing to see the strides people in power (in the surfing world) make to create equal access. Giving skateboards to people is little different than teaching and implementing a safe space on the sand and in the water.

I wanted to work with Surfrider majorly because of their insightful ways of existence! The people on the Surfrider Team are some of the most “woke” folks I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. The Surfing Social Media world and beyond needs a moral compass like the one Surfrider abides by.

Q: What's been your experience being a surfer and/or ocean enthusiast as someone from the LGBTQ+ community?

To echo my entire existence as a queer surfer and skater, it’s been about pulling up like any other person would. Unapologetically entering the water with the same goal in mind as the cis-white, 100k-earning Telsa guru-guy next to me, which nothing wrong with the identity I just described, just more so explaining how surfing has catered to a specific kind of socio-economic class. My constant mind-set of entering these spaces is:

“If I’m the only queer person on a board or in a group or at a business or on a team, I’m doing my job.”

Which makes me push myself physically and mentally in the water to catch waves, to paddle fast enough to get past those bigger dudes in the lineup and more so to flex that muscle of persistence. I’ve had a longboard drop in on me more times than I can remember, and by a guy of course. Yet when I approach the line up, check my corners and charge on a wave of my choosing, it’s incredible to see people’s faces as they try to understand what I am. A short-haired, hairy-legged, screaming surfing wonder of the world. Luckily I don’t necessarily get sexualized often when I wear short bottoms or a bikini top, but I do get all kinds of looks for existing in the grey area of gender and expression. I just like wearing what’s comfortable, and what’s going to get me that tasty left 😉

Waves don’t deter based on color, sexuality, gender or ability, so why is it some people truly believe they deserve every single wave that the ocean produces.

To change the status quo of the surfing world alongside others, via my own pursuits with Dream Team Society and the larger party at play, Surfrider, we are the catalysts of change.

Q: What is the most important thing you tell others about Surfrider?

We are a team of people connected internationally by our efforts and by our environments. To engage in a community that is actively working day and night to create positive, practical and pretty amazing change in our worlds is something worth paying attention to.

Q: Anything else you'd like to share with our network about your journey?

The safety of a conscious, consistent community has saved my life in numerous cities. From music, to skateboarding, to surfing and more the LGBTQ+ (and Allies!) in these communities have provided safe spaces for me to explore and exist.

I want to continue to create this safety in spaces for others!

Especially in the surfing world. Especially in the LGBTQ+ world. Especially in this world.