When Pam Chevez moved to Maine from Mexico City five years ago, she had no visions of herself surfing here. Like most people, Pam imagined surfing as a warm-weather activity, done in the sunshine by people wearing swimsuits. That’s not the reality in Maine. Surfing here is more of a winter sport, dictated by weather and ocean patterns. Surfable waves come most during the winter months, and that long, frigid season of short days wasn’t a time Pam imagined she’d want to take to the water.
“It’s dark most of the day. It’s cold. Prepping, you have to get into a wetsuit, put on gloves, and wear a hoodie,” she said.
It took a year before Pam was ready to put on the wetsuit she described as being “way thicker than a regular wetsuit.” The motivation to surf can be difficult, too.
“If you don’t know a person to surf with, it can be hard,” she said. “Sometimes you need a little bit of a push. A friend makes it easier.”
Then Pam took a free surfing class and later found a friend, as well as a kindred spirit. Early in the friendship, Pam and Juliette Sutherland, both 32, discovered they shared creative talent and a passion for surfing. Together they founded Maine Women Surf and made Behind the Waves, a short film that documents the surfing experience through the lens of women.
Pam is a multidimensional designer with experience in branding and motion design. She earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Graphic Design in Mexico City and worked for a variety of studios with clients like Nickelodeon, Sam’s Club, and the National Institute of Archeology in Mexico.
In addition to wanting to become a Maine Guide and making the outdoors more accessible for Hispanic immigrants, Pam would like to use her talents to make educational programs for surfers. She hopes to create a way for surfers to use their phones to access helpful surfing tips on surfable beaches in Maine.
Juliette tried surfing a few times while growing up in Massachusetts. But, living inland, she didn’t have the time to pursue the sport. When Juliette moved to Maine, she found a class for women and appreciated that it didn’t matter if she messed up. Juliette is an independent photographer and filmmaker with her own business producing commercial videos and documentaries. Recently, she added digital fine art photography to her resumé. Juliette also serves as the Maine State Chair for Women in Film and Video New England.
Pam and Juliette’s short film Behind the Waves, like their commitment to surfing, involved many long hours of working together in the cold. Making the film was not a linear process. They spent time experimenting and finding ways to balance their different approaches, making time to capture footage and finish the film in a timely manner. Juliette purchased a special watertight housing for her camera to allow her to take underwater shots.
Ironically, the work that brought the team of Chevez and Sutherland together was a challenge that grew out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Juliette credits Maine Street USA, a short documentary film festival that showcases Maine-based filmmakers, with inspiring the film. Juliette thought the 2021 festival would be an amazing excuse to combine their talents and showcase women surfing. However, Juliette and Pam admit that what ultimately helped get the film done was the submission deadline. Because the two have day jobs that take precedent, they needed a reason to commit to focusing on the film. Juliette laughs because without the submission deadline she expects that they’d still be adding new film footage and brainstorming new techniques and editing approaches to try.
Juliette has made another film about surfing, this one titled The Surfboard Builder. The documentary spotlights the man who made her a 9-foot, 1-inch “nose rider” surfboard. The board is particularly close to Juliette’s heart because her dad, himself a woodworker, created for it a compass rose inlay of his design.
To people who might not believe that they can be warm in a wetsuit even in winter, Juliette explains that they don’t come in direct contact with the water as they wade in.
“The funny thing is with a wetsuit, the water isn’t touching your skin. It slowly seeps in. The only time you actually feel the cold water is on your face,” she said. “That all that’s exposed.”
That’s the case for surfers who wear the full suit, including booties, gloves, and a head covering, all made of neoprene, a form of synthetic rubber. Juliette admits that after 45-60 minutes in the icy water she suddenly realizes that her core body temperature has dropped, and she finds that doing normal things becomes difficult. For her, the worst is that her fingers are cold, and she struggles to tie her surfboard on top of her car.
Pam plans to make educational animations and videos for Maine’s growing community of women surfers. She and Juliette are dedicated to Maine Women Surf because they find the surf culture in Maine friendly, accepting, and inclusive. It’s a sisterhood that, as Pam describes it, knows they’ve got “each other’s back.” Because of this supportive community, she feels safe surfing. Pam wants to introduce more minority women to the joy of surfing and Maine’s outdoors.
Even though the community is non-competitive and welcoming because the sport is done in a cold, unpredictable environment, there is still a constant need for encouragement. An additional challenge is that surfable waves don’t appear on a daily basis. However, when there’s a great day, seven-foot-high waves may reward the patient surfer.
Given these variations and uncertainties, a person might be excused if they ask: Why do it? For Pam, it’s because she finds the ocean healing.
“It’s a space where you can be happy,” she said.
Juliette also appreciates the feeling the sport offers.
“When you are riding on your surfboard, flying down the face of a wave, you are one with the ocean,” she said. “The act of it is a connecting force.”
For more information about Maine Women Surf, please visit their website at www.mainewomensurf.com. A video interview with Pam Chevez and Juliette Sutherland can be seen at womenmindthewater.com/artivist-series/artivist-series-pam-chevez-and-juliette-sutherland.