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‘It Ain’t Pretty’ (review)

Produced By Dayla Soul
Written by Dayla Soul, Jody Banks
Directed By Dayla Soul
Featuring Bianca Valenti, Rebecca Sandidge,
Andrea Moller, Keala Kennelly, Paige Alms,
Emi Erickson, Sarah Gerhardt, Jamilah Starr, Savannah Shaughnessy, Easkey Britto


To say Dayla Soul’s debut documentary It Ain’t Pretty is complex would be an understatement.

The film documents the multifaceted challenges of women who surf big waves.  It is a commentary about women in sports, the definition of sexuality, societal norms and business.

It is about history and the future at the same time.

Surfers speak a different language than the rest of the world and this makes the early part of the documentary distracting.

As it progresses you get more and more comfortable with the vernacular of the surfing world and things come into focus. I assume 99% of the people who watch this will be into surfing so it doesn’t matter much, but as someone outside looking in, I struggled for a while.

The documentary takes it’s title from one of the subjects, who talks about surfing the cold waters of Ocean Beach in San Francisco, CA.

This type of surfing is dangerous in a way that is difficult to understand. Why risk your life to ride a wave for 30 seconds and then fight back out in enormous surf to do it again and again?  It reminded me in many ways of Matt Sheridan’s Birdmen: The Original Dream of Human Flight, which is about wing-suit base jumping. The peril these athletes face forces them to be completely present in the moment. They must be mindful in a way that most people can only hope for, because if they aren’t, death is lurking.

It Ain’t Pretty paints a picture of strength, passion and perseverance that is beautiful and sad at the same time. These women are surfing, not for riches or glory, but out of some deep desire to connect with the ocean and each other.  However, because the surf business is about bikinis and sex these women lag behind in terms of endorsement and fame.  Almost all of the them have “day jobs”.

Despite being among the greatest athletes in their sport, they can’t devote themselves to it full time. All of them, at one point of another talk about the bonds of sisterhood that form with their surfing cohorts.

I could write for days about the feminist side of this movie. However, whenever I try I just feel inadequate. A  forty-something white man can’t credibly moralize about the importance of women in society and how women like this should be lauded because they can inspire in ways that others can’t or don’t… See I did it again.

Suffice it to say, that’s the real message here.

Social commentary aside, the surf footage is excellent. This is northern California big wave surfing, so it ain’t pretty.  You are used to seeing surf footage that is shot close up in crystal blue water.  Almost all of the surf footage you see in this film is shot from a distance. (Some Go Pro footage aside) This is an important choice, because it is only from a distance you can see how shockingly massive these waves are and truly understand the moment to moment danger these women face.  The water is dark and foreboding. The surfers wear full wet suits because the temperatures are frigid. There is nothing casual here. They are out there because they want it.

It Ain’t Pretty hits on all cylinders, saving an oddly Fresh Prince of Bel Air type opening sequence.  It is passionate, well constructed, reasonably well edited and conveys it’s message without shoving it down the viewer’s throat.  If you are a feminist and like scary surf footage this is a film for you.  If you are a casual observer I encourage you to watch this film. It says a lot about who these women are but much more about society.

4 out of 5 stars


It Ain’t Pretty is now available on DVD and Digital HD
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