Katherine Donnelly | 05.25.2018

As part of Outdoor Project's Women In the Wild series this summer, I have had the honor of working with outdoor women from all over the industry to dig a bit deeper into who they are, how they got to where they are now, how they approach the outdoors, and more. These women are all rad in their own right, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, or how "badass" they might be. Whether they're mothers, daughters, sisters, professional athletes, beginners, weekend warriors, "instafamous," or anywhere in-between, their unique stories, journeys, opinions, and perspectives are incredibly valuable and insightful as Outdoor Project - and the industry as a whole - progresses and evolves to become more inclusive to every type of outdoors person. 

Through in-depth and often thought-provoking interviews, I hope to highlight these women's stories, their work, their adventures, and so much more with an eye toward giving them their well-deserved share of the spotlight while inspiring and empowering even more women to get outside!

In this feature we talk to Brianna Ortega.

Life-long surfer, artist, and MFA candidate, this Women In the Wild has been making waves in the surfing world as she works to give women a place for themselves within surf media with her empowering and culture-shifting Sea Together Magazine. Get the full scoop below.

Photo by Neek Mason.

OP: Give us the skinny on who Brianna Ortega is.

Brianna Ortega: I’m an Artist, surfer, and a Pacific Northwest Environmental Marine Educator. I recently launched a creative project called Sea Together Magazine, an annual publication uniting, rewriting, and highlighting women’s surfing through writing, creativity, and community. I also live with colitis/IBD, a type of chronic invisible illness/autoimmune disease.

OP: What does it mean to you to be a woman in the outdoor industry? 

Brianna Ortega: Women in leadership in outdoor industries is less common. Even in the corporate surf industry, from what I hear, there are mostly men running everything, and sometimes it’s difficult for women to have a voice or to be taken seriously. I started Sea Together with the intention of making it for women and by women and to highlight the voices of actual women surfers. Giving women what they want, being egalitarian, and giving us a space that is so needed in the currently patriarchal surf world. It is 2018. Women know that they can rise to become whatever they want to be. There is nothing holding us back from pursuing our passions and leading the change in and out of the surf industry.

OP: How does Sea Together Magazine differ from other surf magazines? 

Brianna Ortega: Sea Together Magazine is a creative platform featuring the creativity, writing, and voices of women surfers worldwide. Even from a young age, all I’ve ever known is opening up a mainstream surf magazine in a surf shop and the first few pages being hypersexualized advertisement images of women in bikinis who were not even necessarily surfing. And then flipping through the pages, sometimes you can’t even find a woman surfer featured in it. Then there are certain surf websites, one specifically that comes to mind that I won’t name, that go even further with the objectification of women by creating a “hottest women surfers” list. You never see a “hottest male surfer” list because the patriarchy controls mainstream surf media. I recommend reading “Surfer Girl in the New World Order,” by Krista Comer, which goes in-depth about women, surfing, capitalism, racism, and the patriarchy.  

Sea Together gives woman a space where they don’t have to be objectified or not taken seriously. It is a space for all types of women, and even women left out of mainstream surf media. 

OP: What has the outdoors done for you, and how do you pay it back?

Brianna Ortega: Without the outdoors, I’d be nothing. Without the ocean, I don’t know how I’d be living my life. I am grateful for my step-dad instilling a love of the ocean into me from a young age and teaching me how to surf, never treating me different for being a girl. I am an Environmental Marine Educator on the Oregon coast, where I educate the public daily about environmental issues happening throughout the North American Pacific Coastline and specifically the Pacific Northwest. Nothing makes me happier or more fulfilled than seeing an adult or kid get stoked on learning about the ocean or being informed on pressing environmental issues in the ocean. Education is the bedrock of change. 

OP: Conservation and protection of our public lands are central themes in today’s outdoor recreation narrative. As someone who spends a significant amount of time on outdoors and on public lands, what role do you think surfers should play in this evolving conversation and landscape?

Brianna Ortega: Besides voting (especially at the local county level), I think the number one thing that anyone can do is share their love of nature with others. Through sharing and through education, individuals can rise up to their responsibility to protect nature. Once individuals create a clear connection with nature, they can get involved in community projects.

A key organization is Surfrider Foundation, and specifically their Blue Water Task Force program, which both tests and raise awareness about water quality. I think we should be talking more about water quality in streams, oceans, and watersheds. I agree that it is important to have conversations surrounding the issue of plastics, but I think that we often forget about the incredible importance of water quality. Water connects all land together and all ecosystems. 

OP: Who or what has inspired you along the way?

Brianna Ortega: I’d say I was influenced the most by the culture living in Hawai‘i growing up. Hawai‘i is so passionate about connecting with nature and protecting the land and the sea. “Malama ka 'aina i ke kai.” They treat nature as a gift, and it is our responsibility to look out for it. Nothing is taken for granted, and nothing is overlooked. 

I’m inspired by Cori Schumacher for really being one of the first women to be incredibly bold about women’s surfing and speaking her mind publicly and through women's surf projects, like The Inspire Initiative. Emi Koch, of Beyond the Surface International, has always been an inspiration to me in the way that she carefully works with communities and gives them a voice through photography and surfing. Also, Captain Liz Clark inspires the world through her courage to sail the world by herself, to live a simple life connecting with the sea, and to spread awareness of environmental issues. And lastly, Kimi Werner, for her beautiful relationship with being in tune with the ocean, freediving, and sea creatures. Besides that, I’m inspired by my family and friends who have shown me so much about life and what it means to chase after your dreams and follow the still, small voice of God in nature. 

I also want to take this moment to thank Angela Blumen, Mikaela Horvath, Michael Swamer, and especially my dad, my mom, my step-dad, my brother, my grandma, and sister for helping and encouraging me on this journey. My friend Angela designed the entire magazine for free with her amazing design skills, and I'm so grateful for her patience with me, her encouragement, and her help as I start my first publication. This magazine wouldn't be a magazine without Angela's design direction and creativity!

OP: What mantra(s) or set of words do you live by?

Brianna Ortega: I wouldn’t say that I can always live by these words, but these are quotes that have inspired me over the years:

"The only way that we can live is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open. Do it. Throw yourself." - C. JoyBell C.  

"For whatever we lose (like a you or a me) / it’s always ourselves we find in the sea." - E.E. Cummings 

"Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." - Howard Thurman

"In the West we have a tendency to be profit-oriented, where everything is measured according to the results and we get caught up in being more and more active to generate results. In the East — especially in India — I find that people are more content to just be, to just sit around under a banyan tree for half a day chatting to each other. We Westerners would probably call that wasting time. But there is value to it. Being with someone, listening without a clock and without anticipation of results, teaches us about love. The success of love is in the loving — it is not in the result of loving." - Mother Teresa, A Simple Path: Mother Teresa

"So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning." - Mitch Albom

OP: If you could give one piece of advice to yourself when you were just starting out with Sea Together, what would it be?

Brianna Ortega: You could think about an idea for years, or you could just start the idea. Anyone can start the idea or the project, but all it takes is commitment to start. Don’t let your life circumstances defer you from following your wildest dream. Don’t think about planning 10 steps ahead. Instead, take one step at a time and walk in confidence, knowing that the right people will see your heart and want to help you along the way. 

OP: In a world seemingly run by online personas, how do you approach social media? 

Brianna Ortega: I try to have Sea Together be as authentic as possible. I think that’s the key to anything right now on social media, as there are already so many surf Instagram accounts that feel so manufactured or superficial. The ones that are building a community out of love and passion are the ones that succeed. @theoceanspell @theoceanisfemale @theseea @theseakin are a few Instagram accounts that are inspiring due to their vulnerability and the way they empower other women surfers.

I think when it comes down to it, I always have to remind myself why I started this. It’s not to get more followers, but it’s to create a community. I have connected with so many amazing and inspiring women across the world through this project. If all else fails, I will still have those connections and conversations to treasure. 

OP: What’s next for you in the coming months and years?

Brianna Ortega: The Sea Together Kickstarter ended on May 31 at 12:38 p.m., and we were 100% funded in the first six days. Now that our crowdfunding has ended and processed, we are going into printing our first issue! We are so excited, and I cannot thank the world enough for believing in this project and the dream of Sea Together! 

This year, I want to keep expanding countries involved in the project on Instagram and also release a blog on our website. In the next two years, a vision is to release a Spanish translation of our magazine issue(s) and release a women’s surf history issue. In the next two years, I’d also love to do a Sea Together tour in Australia and New Zealand, raise enough money to print in Australia, and become a sustainably funded magazine that offers fair pay for everyone involved. 

The ultimate vision for Sea Together is for it to expand to workshops and surf retreats and to collaborate with surfers of environmental, humanitarian, and artistic organizations around the world. I have big dreams for this project, but most importantly, I want the project to evolve as the surf community worldwide contributes and collaborates with Sea Together. Patience is key, and I look forward to the project evolving as more people help out with it. 

Also, on a more personal note, I start an MFA program in the fall that will hopefully help me learn how to work more ethically with communities worldwide and with Sea Together. 

OP: How has living with colitis, an autoimmune disease, changed your relationship with surfing and also Sea Together? 

Brianna Ortega: Colitis has been an incredible journey of learning how to be disciplined and take care of myself before I take care of other people or tasks. Often my body has changed how it feels from hour to hour, and symptoms can range from nausea to intestinal pain to severe fatigue or dizziness. I am so incredibly thankful for the perspectives that colitis has given me. I have become more empathetic toward people and more understanding of invisible illnesses. I haven’t always been able to surf, so when I do surf, I am that much more thankful. I'm more considerate when people aren't surfing as well one day versus another. 

I have been inspired by Brittani Nicholl, a surfer in Australia who is a Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of Australia ambassador raising awareness for IBD and still following her dreams. 

As a person who has constantly been misunderstood due to a chronic invisible illness, I want to include all types of people in this surf magazine. Moving forward with Sea Together, I hope that we can be more and more diverse and inclusive of all types of women from all countries and all languages around the world. In a world where it is easy for us to fall into judgment (even I admit to it), and in our world where we are currently divided, it is important for us to come together despite differences. I think we need to realize that everyone deserves a space in surf culture despite their difference from us. We can come together in love of surfing and empowering women surfers worldwide. 

OP: If our readers were to take one thing from this interview, what would you like it to be?

Brianna Ortega: Go make your dreams happen, even if everyone thinks you are crazy. Don’t hesitate, and don’t doubt yourself. If it’s something the world needs and you’re willing to do it, then what are you waiting for? I truly believe that if you are 100% passionate about a project or idea, the world will value it and help you carry your idea to fruition. You just have to put in the work. 

Even if you are a small and happy woman, you can still follow your dreams. Don’t let the patriarchal world hold you back from going after what makes you light up with joy. 

Learn more about Brianna and Sea Together Magazine and follow along on their adventures through Facebook or Instagram.

Featured photo by Hansen Murray.


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