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Writing stories with Elisa Routa

Woman writers deserve a place in surf magazines and Elisa Routa shows us why.

In SURFER Magazine, there is only one contributing writer that is a girl. While in SURFING, there are two. We are used to it because we know that most readers are male (70% to 95%), but the point I am trying to make is that when you are a woman and you are being published in one of these magazines, this is surprising, rare and should be celebrated. I was almost getting discouraged when seeing those statistics, but I unexpectedly came across an article Elisa Routa wrote for Surf Session Magazine and instantly got my faith back for the future of surf writing.

There is more to surfing than the pro surfers, there are the people that make the “surf culture” even possible; the artists, the filmmakers, the photographers and most importantly, the writers. The ones that let us get a glimpse into their lives through their words. Those who allow us to open our mind to new ideas, new perspectives. Writing is a complex art and anyone that does it, and does it well, should be shined a light on.

Woman writers deserve a place in surf magazines, and I won’t emphasize this enough. This is why, to me, Elisa Routa is more than just a talented writer or photographer, she is an inspiration. She didn’t wait for people to give her space, she just took her words and took the space she deserved. And her words, oh, they’ll give you chills.

We will start a bit differently than usual. Can you tell me one thing you did over the years to catch a good story?

I have tons of memories I’d like to tell you, but I’ll pick up a special story concerning my latest road trip in the Northwest of the USA. I wrote an article about it for the 10th issue of Australian Paper Sea Quarterly Magazine. Here is an extract of the text:

Denio Junction. There is a cafe-motel at the exact crossroads of the highway 140 and the 292. In this north part of Nevada, there’s actually nothing else but antelopes and a cafe-motel. On our way back from the Alvord Desert, we naively expected to spend the night under the anxious eye of a dead deer, hung above a large bed with a floral duvet cover. “But there’s no room available tonight girls, it’s the open hunting season today.” After absorbing the idea of sleeping between a tubby stinky hunter and carcasses of huge animals piled up in iceboxes at the back of a pick-up, from now on, we had to get used to the idea of driving back West to Lakeview, 3 hours—drive from there. “Be careful, you’ll find stags, deers, does, antelopes and rabbits on the road. Drive safely girls.”

There is this road sign along the Highway 140, able to dissuade any driver to set off on a dark night. There are exactly 12 words able to give us two hands as sweaty as Celine Dion’s armpits after a show in Las Vegas. “Next Gas 100 miles/ No Service next 81 miles/ National Antelope Refuge”. With the feeling of getting the dryness of the Grand Canyon in our mouth, we finally move off.

There is absolutely nothing and nobody, except three French reckless minds. Human brain is not used to black immensity and this endless nothingness. Our ears have never listened a silence like this before. I can hear our heavy breathing, as deep as after achieving orgasm. With a few exceptions. Well, there’s no orgasm in the desert.

7 pm. It’s pitch dark outside, like nothing we’ve seen before. There’s no light, no village, no city, no street lamp, no civilization for miles around. There is absolutely nothing and nobody, except three French reckless minds. Human brain is not used to black immensity and this endless nothingness. Our ears have never listened a silence like this before. I can hear our heavy breathing, as deep as after achieving orgasm. With a few exceptions. Well, there’s no orgasm in the desert. I can hear the exact sound of wind, I can almost feel my own fear tetanizing my whole body. There is pure silence outside, as far as the ear can hear. Our official seasoned traveller status takes a hit. Obviously, when you’re left alone in the desert at the extreme south of Oregon, you give a serious thought of being eaten by wild animals. Ironically, you finally end up thinking of your own carcass piled up in an icebox at the back of a pick-up. At that point, we’re reduced to know the commonplace fate inflicted to tourists in this part of USA.

11 pm. Our perseverance got the better of wild animals. After crossing the path of a complete zoo, we finally see lights of Lakeview. With a little luck, the Interstate 8 Motel will display a deer head above our flower bed tonight.

Well, I just feel proud to be still alive.

That was a beautiful one; thanks for sharing this excerpt with us. You are a journalist, an editor as well as a writer. What do you like so much about writing? Do you have any specific goals when writing?

To me, writing is everything but an industry. It is a way to lay down my feelings and hidden thoughts on paper. I sometimes even forget that people are going to actually read my lines. It might sound a bit cheesy, but writing is a way to find myself. Before starting, I never know what I’m going to write or what I’m going to find inside me. I like to imagine I’m someone else, I like to invent characters who are a mix between someone I am and someone I wish I was. I don’t know if it makes sense, but yeah, words are more powerful than anything else to me. They always tell the truth, the bad, the worst, the hidden, they are able to reveal life.

I don’t have any specific goal when I write, I just let my fingers take a walk on the keyboard in rhythm. It’s like making music with words and make sentences sing a bit. I let my mind go freely as when I’m lying in bed at night, before falling asleep. You know, when you have thousands of thoughts that cross your mind. Well, at this precise moment, I turn things over in my head with a weird dexterity and precision, there’s like an invisible line that guides my thoughts and makes everything clearer. That’s when I imagine stories. All my body and mind fall into an unknown universe, like a dream you didn’t expect to make.

It might sound a bit cheesy, but writing is a way to find myself. Before starting, I never know what I’m going to write or what I’m going to find inside me. I like to imagine I’m someone else, I like to invent characters who are a mix between someone I am and someone I wish I was.

Not only writing, you are also taking photos. Can you tell me more about the short film you did with your girlfriends, showcasing a trip across the USA?  

Two years ago, we were travelling on the Route 66 from Chicago to Los Angeles with two friends of mine, with skateboards and backpacks full of film cameras cause I’m obsessed with films, especially expired films black and white films. We wanted to discover the USA a bit differently than the usual tourist tour suggested by most of the travel companies. So, during a few weeks, we travelled on more than 3000 miles across 8 states following that unique yellow line that somehow became our guideline and fourth road companion. We met unforgettable people with amazing stories to tell, we shared drinks with old men who were living on the side of the road since forever. We witnessed high-speed pursuit in Missouri with a Police helicopter flying above our heads. We ate burgers in a bar where bras were suspended from the ceiling. We saw the biggest tarantulas we’ve ever seen in Texas, making that day a bit scarier than the others. We ended up in a restaurant-cafe-post office where a sign in the window said “Here, we don’t call 911, we use our guns” and where the waitress was this kind of person you don’t want to have trouble with. Just in case she decides to get rid of your French face and bury it in the desert. We found ourselves crying like shit because of the unusual beauty of New Mexico. We woke up under a sky full of air balloons in Albuquerque. We rode on the wildest part of Arizona making our boards dirtier than ever. We shared a conversation with a donkey and stared at purple sunsets. We finally found ourselves face to face with the immensity of the Pacific Ocean, which meant the end of our trip. That was, at the same time, a relief and an intense sadness. Last year, we left again and travelled from Seattle to Los Angeles, across Washington, Oregon, Nevada and California. We drove along the Pacific Coast on the Highway 1 and 101. But I’ll tell you that story next time.

Even if you like travelling as well as different sports, surfing seems to be your main focus. What do you like most about the surf industry?

I don’t like to talk about surfing as an industry because this is not what I like in surfing. Obviously, since a long time, the oh so cool side of surfing made a great opportunity for people to create an industry around it. And I don’t blame it at all cause I’m part of it and part of the whole process of creating content about surfing. However, I like to believe surfing still remains something different than the other worlds. Despite the vipers and crocodiles in the pond, you can still find true people with authentic intentions and unique talents. I’m passionate about discovering people, interviewing artists, photographers, surfers, shapers, filmmakers, travellers, anyone with a creative skill and a fresh point of view, able to make the debate richer, with an ability to stand back and see the whole picture. Since more a decade now, I have been watching people surfing, my eyes riveted on people’s life and career, trying to put words on their feelings and habits. This world is a contrasted microcosm, a miniature life bigger than you and me, but always too small. The good point is that there is always someone you never heard about, there’s always someone you never saw surfing. I sincerely believe the surfing world is a bottomless pit of inspirations. That’s what I like above all about it. There are hundreds of trends, currents, movements, codes, laws, bans, jerks and idols. There are hundreds of mini worlds within the big world which is surfing.

We keep seeing you everywhere, especially when you’re out there doing exhibitions all across Europe. Aren’t you tired of travelling? And, tell me, which exhibit was your favourite?

To be honest, I fear I’m cooler on my Instagram account than in real life actually. Exhibitions are not my favourite part of the game. I’m suffering from a widespread sickness called … shyness. So making my pictures and words visible to people requires some considerable efforts. Hopefully, in a few years, thanks to the technological evolution, I could send my hologram during opening parties! Seriously, I’m very lucky cause people I usually meet during exhibitions are very friendly and I receive a lot of positive vibes, which makes the situation much easier. I’ve been taking part of several exhibitions in the past few years, so it would be hard to just mention one. But I’ve been very happy to be invited to show my pictures during the Surf City “We are antonyms” Exhibition in Bilbao (Spain) last year where I displayed my series of pictures “Fish n’ Sheeps” as well as some skateboards made in collaboration with Footloose. I met amazing people who became my friends today. The exhibition was extended in Barcelona and Palma De Majorca. I also appreciated the concept of the Cyan Exhibition in Hamburg (Germany) about surfing as something different than the simple physical exercise. I also remember the Nollie Exhibition in Paris (France) where I met talented people with a true interest in the skateboarding culture. So it would be difficult to say I’m getting tired of travelling. Did someone already get tired of discovering the world? Surfing is just an excuse for my travels cause I’m in love with road trips. They gather all of my ideals.

 Since more a decade now, I have been watching people surfing, my eyes riveted on people’s life and career, trying to put words on their feelings and habits. This world is a contrasted microcosm, a miniature life bigger than you and me, but always too small.

You still do a lot of freelance work for different companies. What are your goals now? Is your plan to work for a company/magazine or do you prefer the freedom freelancing brings you?

Working as a freelance as always been a goal in itself. I feel very lucky to still be able to work as a freelance after almost 10 years now on the ground. I deeply appreciate the fact of being free to choose what to work on and what to write about. I do a wide range of jobs from journalist, writer, reporter to community manager (for Polerstuff France and Footloose Skateboards) and photographer. And that’s what I like the most, jumping from a job to another, but with always two common themes which are surfing and writing. I try to organize my days depending on my different tasks. I have to write a lot either for surfing magazines, travel or music magazines. It can be news, portraits, features, 8 pages-articles or full essays. I also recently joined the Instagram Team from France as a journalist and I’m also part of Panthalassa now, which is a collective of content creators united by one main subject which is the ocean. There’s always a lot to work on every day. I’ve recently been offered a full-time job in a company but, today, I’m not sure I’d be able to quit my freelance status. It means a lot to me, but you never can tell.

What are some of the obstacles you went through as a freelancer? Being a journalist isn’t the easiest career.

Oh wow, yeah, you’re so right! This is quite a challenging status. I mean, you don’t do it for money and for the fame. You just do it cause you’re deeply in love with words and cause writing is everything you are and everything you’ve always been. I cannot spend a day without writing, even just a scribble on a paper or just a few words that sound good together and that resonate in my head. It’s been hard to keep on working fully as a freelance writer during all these years. It’s been complicated and embarrassing sometimes to ask magazines to pay you in the same way as they pay a photographer or a graphic designer. Unfortunately, I feel images rule the world cause pictures and logos are easy to capture, easy to understand, easy to sell and so easy to buy. On the contrary, in order to be able to read words, lines and texts, all you need is time. You need time to sit and time to think. You cannot just swallow words in one breathe. You need to digest them. Time is the most precious jewel we have as humans. But, nowadays, only a few people take time to read and digest words. So as a freelance writer, your job is always threatened. The most recurring sentence freelancers are used to hear is probably “Sorry, we don’t have any budget for our contributors.” And that’s why, I started to say no to photo albums! Today, I’m more than ever attached to publications with a genuine interest in showing a balanced relationship between content and form, between an elaborate content and aesthetics. I feel we’re lucky today with the internet revolution cause internet is really challenging the printed magazines. And we have to take up this challenge. Today, we have to work our guts out and make something really special. Magazines are not only a collection of information anymore but became a precious object you want to keep. Magazines have to be relevant, entertaining and a timeless collection in terms of interest. And they need contributors to perpetuate this art.

Do you have any projects coming up? You seem always busy, so I believe we can expect some cool stuff coming from you

I’ve been invited to take part to the next Cyan Anthracite exhibition about the relationship between skateboarding and surfing, taking place in Hamburg next year. So this is going to be a cool place to be next spring. There will also be an exhibition in Borriana, near Valencia in Spain soon where I’ll be part of. I’ve also recently joined the Instagram team in France and work as a journalist, so days are very busy for the moment. I’m also planning a road trip in October but not sure where exactly.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where will you go?

Oh, that’s a hard one cause I feel so good at home in Biarritz and I don’t get used to the beauty that surrounds us. I found my nook of peace and perfect balance in Biarritz. Every little moment is magic, from the morning to the night, from the sunrise to the sunset on the Atlantic Ocean. So it would be difficult to move from here. But if I HAD, I’d probably choose to live on a sailboat, not a big one, but an 8 metre-Tarantella like my grandfather had. I’d also like to live on the road between the walls of my Nautilus 1994 van, constantly moving. Last year, I discovered the North West of the USA and fell deeply in love with Oregon. There’d be everything I need there, nature, outdoors, the ocean, the mountains, the desert and nice people. So maybe, I’d like to live in Portland for a while where I felt unique creative vibes and where art prevails. I discovered that we could actually surf on the Oregon coast, so that would be a nice option to think about. 

Read more from Elisa:
Website | Instagram

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