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Activist Spotlight: EMOCEAN Co-founders Thembi Hanify & Mariah Ernst

Introduce yourself!

Thembi: I’m half Kiwi half South African, but grew up in Australia. I moved to New York in 2010 and have lived in America ever since. I made the move over to California in 2019 in search of mild weather and more right hand point breaks. I learned to surf in Rockaway Beach, New York. Most people I meet assume I learned in Australia, but that is not the case! I’ll always cherish my Rockaway memories and community! I’m a creative director by trade. Most recently I was the creative director of Billabong Women’s, but now I’m back to freelancing and focusing mainly on Emocean.


Mariah: I’m from Maine, and I’ve spent the last 21 years between there, Bali, NYC and the Caribbean. A Balinese prince from Seminyak taught me to surf when I was 16, and I’ve been splashing around ever since. I’ve been compelled to write since I was a child, and after an intense editorial experience at a small Indonesian surf publication directly after college, I’ve been bonded to surf writing. Like Fran Lebowitz, much of the time I’m not writing or editing I feel like a criminal. So that’s most of the time. It’s a pleasure and relief to work on Emocean. 


What is EMOCEAN? 

Emocean is an everyperson surf magazine that champions diverse perspectives, radical creativity, relatability, empowerment, new momentum and especially the narratives of women, BIPOC and LGBTQ+ surfers. We publish the magazine twice a year and independently. We’re stocked in surf lifestyle boutiques and bookstores all over the world, mostly in California and New York!

What inspired you to create it? 

We saw a big gap in the realm of printed surf publishing. In existing publications, the pages were mostly filled with white straight men. We wanted to create a platform that could share the stories of a wider and more diverse group of surfers, and bring fresh excitement to the repetitive history of surf stories. 


What role does the ocean play in your lives? 

Thembi: The ocean shapes every aspect of my life. It’s odd to think that by being devoted to surfing, it’s become a non-negotiable to live by the water. That comes at a premium, especially living in SoCal. There are so many other beautiful and interesting places to live in the world, but if they’re not close to surf, I just don’t think I could do it!

Mariah: It feels like a part of me. Most of my life is spent in it, writing about it, or scheming how to live closer to it. 

Where do you see the future of surf culture? 

It’s a critical time now for the culture and industry. With the slow death of the big surf brands, sponsorships are diversifying towards non-endemic brands. I think there’s a fertile space for new surf brands to pop up and grow too. Overall, the wave of diversification is growing, but there’s still so much ground to make up. In the past, diverse talent from athletes to photographers to writers hasn’t fully been celebrated, fostered, or mentored, so our hope is for Emocean to play a part in trying to do that. And we love capturing the new momentum of what’s fresh and exciting in surf culture, and leaning into that future together. 


Are there local or specific issues impacting our ocean and coasts that are of special importance to you? 

Mariah: For starters, plastic pollution is an apocalyptic problem around the world, but especially in Asia and where I’m based here in Bali. I co-founded a start-up that provides large scale reusable solutions for takeaway, which is still operating in Asia and abroad. With Emocean, we focus on stories that highlight human’s rich connection with the ocean, in hopes of inspiring greater love and care of our natural world. 

What has been the highlight so far of creating EMOCEAN magazine? 

The highlight hands down is the community we’ve made. Connecting with so many different people for each issue really fills our cup. We’ve had the honor and pleasure of profiling some incredibly brilliant, resilient, interesting, talented surfers who are doing incredible things for surf culture. That will never get old!

Anything else?  

Issue 06—Love will is out now! Order your copy today: