• • • Born and raised in Los Angeles, Monica Medellin grew up with both the surf and Hollywood on her doorstep. By combining the two together, she has directed and produced short film ‘Water Warrior’ with Define American, a culture change media organization named Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies in the World for Film and TV. We talked about how the film was conceived, her future in film and her passion for encouraging the next generation of surfers.

Hi Monica! You’ve made a short film called ‘Water Warrior’, could you tell me a little bit more about the background behind the film and how your personal path with surfing led to the conception of the film.

I think it’s important to get into a little bit about my background, as this has a lot to do with why I made ‘Water Warrior’ in the first place. I was born and raised in Los Angeles by a single, working mum and Mexican immigrant, and she came to the U.S. to look for a better life.

Growing up, my mum worked what felt like all the time. She couldn’t afford childcare, so she sought out different scholarships and free programs so I could participate in after school sports. That’s when I was introduced to surfing!

I went to a surf camp for the first time when I was 9 years old and I just fell in love.

I had a background of gymnastics so I was immediately doing headstands on my board by the time I was 12. That was just the beginning for me and my passion for surfing. I still do headstands on my board to this day. It’s my favorite style!

While the camp was super fun, I did notice there were no women councillors and they’d separate the boys and the girls. They let the boys go to the outside end of the waves and the girls were restrained to the whitewash.

There was a lot of language to “be careful” about surfing directed at the girls, but not so much at the boys.

On top of navigating gender roles at a young age, I was also attending a private high school in the area where I was one of the few kids of colour who played sports at the school. All of my peers would make jokes that I only participated in “white people sports” because that’s how surfing was viewed.

It was becoming difficult to feel a sense of belonging in a sport that I truly loved.

A couple of years later, when I was in college, I met my friend Olivia, the only other Latina Mexican American surfer I knew at the time, and she shared with me that some historians believe surfing was started by indigenous coastal communities around the world.

It was this information and cultural root that brought me back to surfing.

Meeting Olivia changed everything and I started paddling out every week after I graduated from school and returned to LA.

That’s when I met my friend Zach and a group of surfers who all lived in LA, other women and WOC surfers who are now my closest friends.

Now, after a lifetime of surfing, I finally feel I have a surf community.

With that said, I met Margie through Olivia, who is the main character of the film.

Margie’s story was similar to mine in that she always walked into spaces that didn’t necessarily welcome her.

It wasn’t until she started doing a program through City Surf Project, a local community organisation that brings underrepresented youth to the beach and introduce them to surfing, that she formed her own community of other young women of colour that surf together, draw on indigenous surfing history and make a space for themselves.

It was a reflection of my own story that I saw in a young Mexican American girl, and ultimately, that was how Water Warrior was born.

It was really a very common story that I felt wasn’t being represented in the mainstream.

I want little girls and young women to feel like they can start surfing, skateboarding and do anything they want to do, regardless if they don’t fit a certain “look” that we see in mainstream media and advertising.

Monica Medellin – Fierce Athlete & Filmmaker Extraordinaire (SLO ACTIVE)

The Future is Female

It’s so nice to hear the background of why you’re doing it and the fact that you want to pass it on to the current and next generation of Women of Colour (WOC) surfers and make it a little bit easier and feel more approachable.

Right! I want little girls and young women to feel like they can start surfing, skateboarding and do anything they want to do, regardless if they don’t fit a certain “look” that we see in mainstream media and advertising.

Exactly. Through the journey of making the film, was there anything that you uncovered about yours and the girls’ relationship with surfing and water that you weren’t really aware of before whilst making the film?

Around the time I was making ‘Water Warrior’ for Shondaland, a few girlfriends and I had started our production company The Gnar Gnar Honeys. As a collective, we could keep telling meaningful stories and create the change we want to see, together.

I learned that beyond working together, what we all have in common is our connection to the ocean and passion for surfing. No matter what, we were rebuilding a space for ourselves in and out of the water.

We have a couple of projects in the works so I’ll keep you posted! In the meantime, you can check out our most recent work at thegnargnarhoneys.com.

Oh wow, that sounds great! Is there anyone in the world of surfing that you look up too and inspired you to do what you’re doing?

Yeah definitely!

Just because I didn’t see a lot of WOC surfers in my experience growing up, doesn’t mean that there aren’t a tonne of WOC surfers everywhere. There are so many women leading in this movement.
I really look up to all my Girlfriends and all the surfers that I’ve met from our stories and projects.

It’s funny because as much as society talks about social media being toxic, it actually opened up a lot of opportunities that I didn’t even know existed.

I now have girlfriends all along the California coast (and East Coast!) that I’m now connected with because of Water Warrior and The Gnar Gnar Honeys.

I met my friends Giselle, Cassie and Vanessa who founded the Latinx Surf Club, an inclusive surf camp for Latinx youth in Southern California.

I also met Danielle and Chelsea, who recently launched an organization called Textured Waves. Yes! We have interviewed Chelsea from Textured Waves earlier this year, what they’re doing is awesome.

Yes, she’s an amazing surfer and friend! Now, a year later, The Gnar Gnar Honeys and Textured Waves premiered our most recent film at Girls on Film Festival in Venice, CA and will be hosting an event together at Traveler Surf Club in Malibu, CA in the new year.

The Gnar Gnar Honeys, Textured Waves and Latinx Surf Club are all positive examples we’ve wanted to see our whole lives and I’m very proud of the work we’ve done so far.

Water Warrior Poster

Water Warrior Film Poster

I’m excited to immerse myself in surfing day to day, and hopefully, make a positive impact in surf communities around the world.

The Importance of Courage

If you could pass on any advice onto younger women who want to get into filmmaking and surfing, what would you like to say to the next generation?

I believe social movements begin with sharing stories. ‘Water Warrior’ is an example of creating the change I wanted to see. I didn’t have a large budget at all, and produced the short film with very minimal resources.

I think a challenge for young filmmakers is that we think we’re not ready because of A, B or C. If you have an idea for a film, just make it.

For surfing, I just hope that Water Warrior will help young girls and women see that they deserve to be in the ocean as much as anyone else does.

That’s so cool and very inspiring!

Finally, what has 2020 got in store for you?

2020 is coming in hot, to say the least! I recently started working at World Surf League, where I create global social video content with my team.

I’m excited to immerse myself in surfing day to day, and hopefully, make a positive impact in surf communities around the world. I am also focusing on building out The Gnar Gnar Honeys with the ladies (shout out Karen, Steph, Ari, Hannah, Brie and Gabriella!).

• • • Monica’s determination to create change in the world of surfing is so important when encouraging the young women and kids to get into the water and pick up a board. This incredible young woman is an inspiration and we can’t wait to see where the world takes her.

December 19, 2019 — Janaya Wilkins