Winter in South West France can be a bleak affair, but less so when hanging out with Lee Ann Curren, as we’ve done it shooting for BAKEA and her feature in Volume II, which you’ll find below.
As we enter Lee-Ann’s apartment in Bayonne, France, we’re not only greeted by her trademark smile but also by a rather excitable border collie named Bowie.
“Bowie stop! Sorry he’s always excited when new people arrive”.
Naturally we ask if the name stems from a love for one of history’s greatest musicians. Not exactly. She goes on to tell us how she rescued Bowie from Iceland after Beau Foster had convinced her to take him, and despite being a fan of Starman’s music, it was visual artist, Andrew Kidman who suggested naming him Bowie after Beau.
“Originally there was seven puppies but he was one of the last two she had and she was gonna get rid of him so we took him and road tripped through Iceland for three weeks. Then we got his rabies shot and a passport and took him back to France with us. He speaks French with a little Icelandic accent”.
Talking of accents, Lee-Ann naturally sounds a little more French having spent most of her life here, despite having dual nationalities and visiting California often.
“It’s hard to say which I prefer, I think I feel more at home here. There are a lot of polar opposites, which is kinda cool. The French are always very down to earth. Sometimes it’s not very positive but that’s kinda funny. Americans are always believing and super positive whereas French people tell you what they think straight to your face. I have a lot of good friends in the states so I could probably live there for a while but I kinda miss the food and culture in France, especially the Basque country, it’s a pretty special place”.
We can’t argue with that. As we grab lunch at a local Basque bakery, an exchange between customer and server gets a little passive aggressive to an outsider’s perspective, but with this being France, it’s just standard procedure. There’s no real animosity between either party. Just a blunt exchange to get the order complete. Lee-Ann smirks as we note the lack of friendly customer service on offer. Having said that, the food is exquisite, but for all the fine cuisine on offer in the South West, the weather has been pretty harsh on the coast this winter. As we head out to check Lafit, a surf spot in neighbouring town Guéthary, we can’t help but wonder if Cali shores would be the better option long term?
“I dunno, I do really enjoy surfing here but this time of the year it is kinda tricky. We get hit by storms quite a bit so we’ve gotta find spots that are more sheltered. But there are always so many options in the Basque country. A lot of different beach breaks and points. There’s always a wave to surf”.
And if there isn’t, it’s not the end of the world. For all her love of surfing, Lee-Ann’s followed her Father’s footsteps and developed an avid love for music alongside it. Her band Betty The Shark recently released their second album and Lee-Ann seems as passionate writing songs as she does surfing waves.
“I guess like surfing, my music’s always evolving. I started off playing acoustic guitar with my friends and we would write folk songs with elements of rap. That was like back in middle school. It’s pretty funny, I still have all the recordings of that somewhere. And then I moved to electric guitar and with Betty The Shark I was writing more rock songs, then we started messing around with synthesizers and then it kinda went to a disco stage. I guess it’s just whatever instrument channels your inspiration. Like how different boards channel your surfing.”
It’s clear Lee-Ann is talented in her own right, successfully forging her own career, both in surfing and music alike, but as we notice her Dad’s thruster propped against the wall, complete with Op stickers from an era where the brand was yet to be sold at Walmart, we ask if she ever feels in her Father’s shadow?
“When you grow up and you’re in one situation you’re kinda used to it. I’ve never really felt like I was in his shadow. I definitely feel he was important to the people I’ve met, especially in the surfing world and that was definitely cool. It’s always been positive, people genuinely like him and wherever I go surf, people are pretty stoked to meet me because of that. It’s always nice. But then when I was competing more maybe I had a bit more pressure because I felt I had to do really good because he did really good”.
It’s no secret we’re not fans of the completive spectacle in surfing today and it’s refreshing to know Lee-Ann’s taken a step back in a bid to spend more time surfing for herself.
“I know growing up, I really used competing to push myself, to give myself a reason for trying really hard, to surf all the time and get better. It was really good having that drive being younger but then the whole idea of being the champion, I don’t really connect to it that much. I just like surfing well and doing something unique every time I’m on the wave. That’s what I’m looking for. I find more pleasure now free surfing than competing for sure. Getting outside that box of surfing criteria to simply try and get a score. Sometimes it’s something you don’t enjoy. Like if there’s a little barrel in the contest, it’s probably gonna score better to smash the lip but it feels better to I dunno, get a head dip or whatever. It’s nice surfing for yourself”.
Lee-Ann clearly has her own views and knows what she wants. But as a woman growing up in such a male dominated sport and with the overdue spotlight of feminism and equality so prominent in western culture, is it time for the same critique to be applied to the surfing world?
“I think there’s still a lot of stuff that needs to change to be considered equal in our societies. Western societies have come a long way but there’s still a lot of work, so in that way I consider myself a feminist because I want to work towards that. I mean of course I’ve experienced sexism. When I was competing we would often surf in bad conditions or small waves. Even in commentary like when there’s big waves and they say ‘yeah you need to have big balls’ or whatever, just those little things that people say that then conditions you in a certain way. Sometimes you realise yourself, like I think down on myself in certain ways subconsciously, because I’m a woman and that shouldn’t be the case but it’s because we’re so used to it. So I like people that break these codes and prove it can be different. Like women charging big waves. We went to see Justine Dupont in Nazaré recently and it was super inspiring. She was getting some bombs on a big day. It’s all about aiming for the result that you want. I feel super inspired when women do good and fulfil their potential and I just wanna do that as well, to inspire others and prove we can do it too”.
Photos by Yentl Touboul.
Words by Robin Pailler.