In 1992, David Wakefield won his first surfing contest and went on to become state champion. However he was keeping a secret that stopped him from wanting to enter competitions. He was gay, and gay was not acceptable in surf culture. David’s greatest fear was that he would be found out and rejected by his family, friends and the surfing community that had become his life. David kept his sexuality hidden for the next 20 years.
Sadly, David’s fears were not unfounded. Even today, many gay surfers are in a similar predicament. Some have witnessed ‘poofter bashing’ in the surfing community, some have been bullied in the line-up and others have been rejected by family and friends. In the most tragic cases, some have even taken their own lives as a result of non-acceptance. In professional surfing, several gay athletes have been told that their sexuality is incompatible with the expectations of their sponsors. As a result, many have lived in secrecy and some have walked away from competition.
In 2011, a fateful Google search leads David to GaySurfers.net, the world’s first online community for gay surfers. For the first time David connects with people who he can speak to about the secret he has carried for 20 years. He reaches out to the site’s founder, Thomas Castets, and they become good friends. They work through how hard it is to come out as a gay person and even harder as a gay surfer. Not only does David decide to come out, he does so in front of hundreds of thousands of spectators at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. In a poetic turn of events, the typically shy and private David is thrust into the public spotlight, a television interview with the parade’s flamboyant celebrity host makes David a media focus at the event and lands him on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald online.
The response to David’s very public ‘outing’ is mixed. Many are surprised but supportive, however some closest to David are confused and hurt. Despite the fallout, David is determined to find out why homosexuality is so hidden in surfing. He quits his job, packs up his house and sets off on a global journey with Thomas to meet other gay surfers, hear their stories and bring understanding to this issue.
“OUT in the line-up” follows David and Thomas on a journey that takes them from the east coast of Australia to Hawaii, California, Mexico and the Galapagos Islands. Along the road they meet a variety of characters. They hear from openly gay former professionals including three-time world champion Cori Schumacher, big wave rider Keala Kennelly and once top-five US professional surfer Robbins Thompson. They speak to everyday gay surfers and the younger generation about being gay in the line-up. They also seek out the expert opinions of former US Congressman Barney Frank and his surfer husband Jim Ready, openly gay Australian surf icon Nell Schofield, controversial surf journalist Fred Pawle, author-academic Clifton Evers and many others.
“OUT in the line-up” uncovers a culture that has strayed from its foundation of freedom of spirit, open-mindedness and connection to nature. David and Thomas learn about the dominance of male rituals in surf culture and the way this has marginalised minorities. They also hear about the pivotal role sponsors and media play in maintaining out-dated stereotypes. On ground level they hear stories of fear, isolation and self-doubt, but they are also inspired by tales of hope, self-empowerment and transformation.
Beyond simply exposing this taboo issue, this film seeks to affect change. It aims to confront the surf industry and the wider surfing community, creating awareness, provoking discussion and challenging stereotypes. Through this, “OUT in the line-up” seeks to pave the way for a younger generation of surfers, creating a culture in which they can connect with each other and be themselves.