Ivana Bajic got out of the salt water of Nosara’s beaches in search of a real estate office to buy a place to live. To her, it didn’t matter that she was barefoot and wet. That day, she became convinced that this land far from her native Serbia has something that envelops women and makes them stay.
In those days, she was learning to surf and to dominate the waves, as well as feeling that Nosara is a natural sanctuary for female energy.
She didn’t just perceive it or see it in her own story but also in the stories of other women in the community.
After this revelation, Bajic decided to start the journey to produce a photobook together with Costa Rican photographer Gabriela Tellez. They called it Nature of Surf Women and it explores the relationship between women, surfing and nature in Nosara.
“I realized that these women [who surf in Nosara] are powerful and beautiful, and one day, I said to myself, ‘I’m going to make a book about this unfiltered beauty and this powerful community here,’” Bajic recalled.
On land, boards are carved by hand, one by one, to be used to dominate the sea.
They plan to publish it next year and it isn’t a traditional book. It’s an immersive project full of songs, sounds and video interviews that can be accessed through QR codes. It also has an essence that is visually distinct from commercial surf magazines.
Swimming Against Cliches
Bajic and Tellez both felt it was essential to tear down the myth that women can only realize their best potential in surfing in their 20s. That’s why the book portrays the diversity of 26 women of different ages, nationalities, life experiences and surfing levels.
Each woman will represent a quality and cycle of life according to her age: wisdom, charm, empathy and healing, among others.
“It’s like exploring the different facets of women, but they’re all united through a relationship with nature and with the sport of surfing,” explained the photographer.
For images in nature, they chose locations according to the relationship of the participants with a plant or path that was important to them.
One of the participants is Gabriela Barzuna. She’s from San Jose and has lived in Nosara for five years.
According to Barzuna, one of the most valuable points of the project is that it puts the ocean as the common denominator that connects all of the people who live in the community, from adolescents to elderly women.
“[The project] looks for what unites us all, regardless of age, the place we come from; the level at which we surf doesn’t matter either,” said Barzuna.
That was one of the main objectives, explained the photographer: not choosing those who compete or who excel, but rather showing surfing as a way of spending time together.
That decision also took them a different direction from the typical surf magazine photography: the supermodel surfer riding perfect turquoise waves under the brilliant sun on a fantasy beach.
“We weren’t interested in portraying the place or the people as exotic, and in the end, we decided to work with images that were more poetic,” added Tellez.
The way the authors present each woman also seeks to break some rules.
The pages that introduce each surfer contain a QR code that leads to a video interview with the producer. In the interviews, they talk about relevant stages and details of their lives, or sing a song that they composed themselves.
For the book, for example, Barzuna recorded a song that she composed last year during the pandemic.
“The idea is to capture the essence of each woman and each one can express it in the way that she most identifies with,” she pointed out.
In other images, the codes lead to sounds of nature that go with the atmosphere of the photos.
“We partnered with one of the largest sound libraries in the world and they are very enthusiastic about the project,” explained Bajic.
The production phase of the project is wrapping up and then its online financing phase will begin.
Bajic is convinced that surfing religiously every day has shaped the character and lives of her and the other women who are featured in the book.
“You’re in danger every day and you know that every day you suffer, you paddle, you catch the waves, then you change. You just start to be more humble, you accept the situations that surround you more and women are specifically good at this,” said the producer.
She has also noticed the increase in surf camps for women worldwide and celebrates it. According to Bajic, this sport has proven to be ideal for people who have gone through some type of trauma to recover.
The photographer herself had to overcome her fear of the ocean in order to do the project. During the first weeks of production in the ocean, she closed her eyes at night and could see the wave coming. The sound of the waves breaking tormented her a lot.
“But at the same time, I managed to find the beauty of being there and I feel very happy to have gone to a place that is not my comfort zone,” said Tellez. “When you break a certain fear, you now have the knowledge to face the situation and it extends to other life experiences,” she explained.