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Hannah Kohn and The Wet Lidded Wake

As women who surf, many of us understand the essence of our harmony with the sea. The feeling of fulfilling dewy dreams at dawn, wet lidded and wet suited. You could say that the water is a motherly realm of resonance, waking within us the memory that we are a part of her. Her swelling and dissolution, her shine and her shadow, her grandest peaks and her greatest falls. Amongst our early morning head-dips, the illusion of our separation is cleansed.

Thus, from our very first dance with a wave, we are bewitched. Feeding from all of her grunt and her grace, served as surging reminders of the fire that burns inside of us too. It is only natural that a love affair should ignite. To me, surfing is an act to tell the world that I adore her, and a way for her to say it back. 

However, despite this inherent romance, surfing has, at times, felt like a boys club. Where condensing, masculine energies have stirred a stiffness within me. And although I believe gender binaries to be an illusory thread stitched cunningly into the veil of separation, there are times when I can not deny the unbalance in energetic motion. Where the disconnection between the sea and me becomes stronger, and creates an abrasiveness that stunts my flow and tells me that I do not belong.

Fortunately, this experience has been softened and soothed by my good friend, and lifelong surfer, Hannah Kohn. Only at the beginning of my surfing journey, many of the sweetest fruits in my floundering I owe to her. Representing Aotearoa in the 2024 ISA World Longboarding Championship over in El Salvador, Hannah has never failed to show me just how far not being afraid to take up space can take you. Hannah’s achievements have been realised by her courage, creativity, focus and initiative. 

To watch Hannah surf is to watch as the petals of your own earthly connection unfold. Her takeoffs’ are a portal, dragging us ever-closer to the infinite depths of the human soul. The waves she catches are a thrilling, seemingly prophetic expression of beauty and a cinematic depiction of the universe loving itself. It seems as though she can feel the ocean as it breathes and has learnt its language long ago. This sixth sense provides her with the ability to both dance the delicate dance, and rip the radical rip. 

I am obviously very much in awe of your unwavering commitment and what you have accomplished in your craft so far. How do you think 15 year old Hannah, with dreams in her heart, feels right now?

At 15 I wouldn’t have been caught dead on a longboard. I wouldn’t have been caught dead on any alternative board, it was 3 fins or nothing. So although I know she would be proud and stoked, she would definitely rip me out for being on a longboard.

Well, as you now know, surfing has many different, ever changing pathways. Just like the moana. How would you describe your experiences surfing on a longboard versus a shortboard?

The feeling that you get after a good surf on whatever craft is the same. I have just as much peace no matter what craft I’m on, but you have more consistent satisfaction from longboarding. There’s less pressure and because you’re catching lots of waves you’re less frustrated. Whereas, when you’re shortboarding you can quite often come in only catching one good wave and it’s really frustrating. With longboarding, I don’t get the same adrenaline that I get with shortboarding. I’ve never had that adrenaline pumped up feeling that I get on a shortboard. 

They’re kind of two different energies;

If I’ve had a bad day where I’m feeling sad or flat, I’ll go longboarding.

If I’ve had a bad day where I feel angry, I’ll reach for my shortboard. There’s a lot more energy release in a way.

I find balance in both, but if the waves were better I would always choose a shortboard. I think there’s more variety in shortboarding. There’s more unknowns, more obstacles and things to overcome. But when you’re longboarding you’re generally in more of a glide with what’s going down.

Beautifully said. What other words of wisdom do you have for any kōtiro or wahine interested in surfing, but are perceiving a block?

To someone who is struggling to get better: It’s about consistency and being prepared to be humbled. 80% of the progression is confidence. Often less is more, especially when it comes to logging.

To someone who is struggling to get started: Go for it. Don’t be afraid, no one is watching you. Surfing is an individual sport and everyone is doing what they want to do. But, if you can, get a friend to go with you. It helps with everything. Having a mate to share it with is massive, especially if it’s a girl mate. Have a laugh and always smile when you come up from a wipe out. And finally, embody your surfing, do what feels good for you and own it.

And it is this embodiment of her craft that makes her surfing so mesmerising. You just know that this symbiosis has been written in the surfing stars and is an honour to watch as her name is emblazoned in her own light. If just one other wahine can also be touched by her power, I feel as though the surfing world will be one step closer to finding balance. So, if you’re on the cusp of entry, I welcome you to take the plunge into the wet lidded wake.

Story by Jessie Blade

Photograph by Margherita Visconti


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