Home Interview en chaine /// surf Leah Dawson, an interview by Lee-Ann Curren

Leah Dawson, an interview by Lee-Ann Curren

by Lee-Ann Curren 18 March 2018

This is the first one of a serie of interviews: "en chaîne".

A serie of interview with a simple concept: we choose a surfer and ask her to pick someone she would like to interview, who will then, in turn, pick another person to interview. Et cetera. A domino effect without dominos and without real effect except the one of discovering people through their answers but also through the questions that they have in mind for their peer. Here, we asked Lee-Ann Curren to start this surf serie.

For this first link of this chain, she picked to interview the inspiring, stylish, multi-talented Leah Dawson. 

Leah_Dawson_Bryanna Bradley-3

Leah Dawson by Bryanna Bradley

LEE-ANN: Can you tell us about you ? When and where did you get into surfing?

Leah: Occupation: filmmaker, live camera operator, writer, professional surfer

I live part time on the North Shore of Oahu, and the other part so many other places in this beautiful world. I grew up in Orlando, Florida, so I was a weekend warrior for all my youth. My parents are both ocean lovers. I feel forever blessed they put me on a surfboard when I was three, and I've never strayed away from the sea.

I am a lover of the sea and utilize this passion to fuel the rest of my life. Being environmentally conscious and outspoken is my life purpose and spiritually the reason I believe surfing is in my path. Speaking the language of the sea brings me pure joy, and also lights my fire to help protect our earth.

Do you have a signature move?

Haha, I will, I'm still working on it, it's a backwards bottom turn. Shifting the feet, so the toes face the tail of the board, and hips and shoulders are backwards too. I've become almost obsessed with learning how to ride backwards this year, mainly because it is so foreign, and really challenges me physically and mentally.

Other than the backwards bottom turn, my other favorite is the 4 second bottom turn, this requires a biggish wave and lots of speed, but I like drawing my bottom turns as long as possible while maintaining momentum.

How did you make it your own, why do you like it so much?

The backwards bottom turn came from wanting to infuse creativity and footwork into my surfing, craving for a new feeling. Going backwards at high speed is definitely new, and so hard. I've seen a tangible progression though over the last six months, so I know it's just a matter of time and courage before I reach my goal of doing a turn like this on a solid wave at Sunset Beach!

Leah Dawson by Bryanna Bradley

Leah Dawson by Bryanna Bradley

If you could only have 3 boards for the rest of your life what would they be ?

A 6'6 singlefin old school gun
A 9'6 singlefin log
A 5'6 beefy shortboard

Learning surfing isn’t always linear, you stagnate for a while but then something ticks and you can make a huge jump of improvement. If you’ve had that experience, can you remember 3 key moments in your learning process of surfing and what happened ?

Yes for sure! Surf progression often sees plateaus. When I'm feeling this stagnation, it is usually a sign for me I need to switch things up and infuse creativity into what I'm doing.

Sometimes that comes with switching up equipment, which always makes us approach a wave a little bit different. Sometimes it's studying other surfers and selecting certain aspects of the ride I want to work on.

Often times I'll focus solely on one aspect for a whole session, whether it's where I have my hands, how I'm using my arms to turn, how I use my hips. Surfing is challenging because we don't get repetitive practice, so it takes spontaneous abilities to apply what we are trying to learn and work on.

Have you had mentors that guided you in your surfing journey?

Surf mentors have been monumental to my surf journey. Donald TAKAYAMA was the first who I really drew a ton of surf and life inspiration from. He always encouraged me to pursue both longboarding and shortboarding and to get after it in Hawaii. It helps when you have people who believe in you!

Kassia Meador has been a best friend and mentor of mine for 16 years now, time flies. She was my first introduction to true feminine surfing. She ignited my passion to learn from the past and study other women and men who grew our sport in the early days. Yet Kassi's surfing has always stood out to me. She's the first person whose 'style' I could recognize. I was kind of blind to it for my first 15 + years of surfing. I had no idea what style really was, let alone infusing it into my own surfing. But I recognized it in Kassia right away, and since have been on a quest to allow my own style to evolve.

Leah Dawson and Kassia Meador - Photo: FranMiller

Leah Dawson and Kassia Meador - Photo: FranMiller

Rochelle Ballard has also been a huge mentor of mine. She took me under her wing when I moved to the north shore. She taught me how to surf Sunset, how to get barreled, how to cook, clean, practice yoga. She was an integral part of my single-fin discovery, allowing me to ride her boards and giving me shit when I would make mistakes. I loved being a Grom and learning from the best. Now I feel it's my duty to be that for the future generations.

You’ve been surfing for a long time, does your “drive” for surfing have ups and downs or do you find the same excitement every time you go surf?

My surfing drive, since I've discovered single fins and given up competing, never wanes.
The quest to continue learning to speak Ocean, to evolve my perspective to see more on the wave, to move my body in different ways, I feel like I'm on a constant journey of discovery.

In small waves, especially if I'm somewhere where the waves are dismal, I've become so thrilled on learning to surf switch foot. Learning to surf the other way, first began because my boyfriend is goofy, so I figure we may be surfing a lot of lefts in the future, so I want to be able to enjoy them as much as possible. Then I also discovered how twisted my body has become from only surfing regular stance.

So surfing is always a new experience now for me, as there is SOoooo much to work on.

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To you, is SOUL on a surfboard or any medium something natural or something you can work on?

I totally think Soul on any medium is something that can be worked on, just as our spirituality can be.

Sometimes we read books that inspire a new way of thinking, or we see a film that changes the way we feel about something.

In the same way, infusing soul into our surfing or riding of any kind come from intention. To me, Soul on a board is when you can see someone's heart expressed as they are riding. When you can feel their joy emanating.

Soul cannot be forced, but allowed, invited in. I often see it in people who make time seem to slow down, like the enter the matrix, their ability to be in flow while experience joy at the same time.

Leah Dawson by Fran Miller

Leah Dawson by Fran Miller

You are committed in environmental causes, in your opinion what are some key things that each of us could do to make the world a cleaner place?

Single-use plastics are a way of the past, and have no use for our future, they only hinder it. Raising awareness and inspiring people to care about the plastic fork they throw in the trash, the coffee cap they get every morning, this is a global issue that will take global commitment.

Real food is also a huge space where I feel a duty to help advocate for. The food industry, at least in America, is not designed for health, it's designed to make a few rich folks even richer. "Filthy rich" is a proper term for them.
Supporting local farmers, composting our own food scraps, buying organic (though that label is in danger in America 🙁 ), connecting with community to trade and sell things so we are not dependent on big Ag to feed us with their fake food.

As we get into 2018, for my first time ever, I'll be an outspoken voter for mid-term elections. I think our younger generations are awakening to the fact that out government is filled with ego maniacs only worried about their own pockets rather than the health of the entire planet. We all have a voice with our vote, and it's time we get people in power that actually give a damn and can get us back on track for environmentally friendly systems for our future.

At every level, we have to engage, we have to inspire, speak out, demand a new way so that our future grandchildren have the potential for clean water. The amount of pollution on our planet is daunting. We cannot go on as we are, so we are all going to be a part of the change, we don't have a choice.

The world is changing fast. Since I’ve started surfing, surfers (and people in general) have more and more control and responsibility in building their image and career through social media. Do you see social media as daunting or freeing, and why?

Social media had undoubtably changed every business, especially in marketing and advertising. Personally, it has enabled me to have a voice and a platform in a surf culture that had previously had no way to be spoken to.

My professional surfing career was born from social media, because I was able to market myself authentically, rather than through the eyes and mind of a male marketing executive at a surf brand.
We all have to take social media with a grain of salt, as it is easy to slip into the FOMO feeling. So I do my best to approach what I share with an inclusive perspective.

Maintaining privacy is important for all of us, as well as portraying truth. Yet it is difficult because now in order to be a professional personality for companies, social media has to be a part of it, self-promotion is required.
Finding the balance, I do my best to focus on self-expression, and if that happens to promote at the same time great. I think audiences really appreciate when true feelings and thoughts are expressed. We need as much of that as we can get!

Leah Dawson by Bryanna Bradley

Close your eyes and picture the world in 2081. What do you see ? (You can do a drawing or describe it with words. It can be related to surfing but not necessarily).


I'll be old and still surfing. There may be a propulsion button on my board to catch the wave for me, but I'll still be popping up on my own, due to a long life of yoga 😉

I'll have a big tree house, complete with its own free energy. We'll be traveling in our own personal flight quarters, my dream to 'fly' comes true.

Plastic is something only found in museums, as an example as a way of the past. The ocean is rebooted and the corals are thriving again, after a drastic shift in the 20's. The world wakes up then and begins the mass clean up and restoration project.

Our governments will work together, and the people will be represented truthfully and wholesomely by their leaders.

There may be sunken cities, and lost waves, but new waves will be created as well. Trade will be restored and communities and villages thriving and working together.

Who knows, the waves could be firing on Planet X next week, how many boards should we take?!

And LAST question: Future projects, what’s next for you?


I know it's my calling to tell stories, to inspire and engage with people through this medium. I've always believed media to be a tool for education. So my goal is to utilize my platform as a surfer and environmentalist to make effective content that people want to watch and gain knowledge and activation from.

Watch Leah in LUNAR, a short film in Fuerteventura

I also want to do a beautiful women's surf film that will require me being around Your inspiring surfing Lee Ann !!!

Who is the surfer you picked to interview next ?

That would be Erin Ashley, @wormtown


Leah Dawson by Fran Miller

Leah Dawson by Fran Miller

Leah Dawson by Fran Miller

Leah Dawson by Fran Miller

Leah Dawson by Bryanna Bradley

Leah Dawson by Bryanna Bradley

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