By Marlena Chavira-Medford
It’s not every day that a world champion tops off your coffee, but if you’re eating breakfast at Naked Café in Solana Beach, it’s a likely scenario.
That is where you’ll find reigning women’s world longboard champion Cori Schumacher waiting tables. Though she has three titles under her belt — the only female longboarder to hold that distinction — Schumacher does not have any sponsorships and, in fact, she does not want any. She chooses to pay her bills working a nine-to-five because this independence gives her the freedom to publicly speak her mind, and she’s got a lot to say.
Schumacher is boycotting the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) Longboard Tour this year because one of the events is taking place on Hainan Island in China, a country infamous for human rights violations. This is the first year that ASP has added a second event to the competition, something the women in this industry have been pushing toward for years, making the decision to boycott all the more difficult, Schumacher said.
“I felt like I had two choices: I could go with my reservations and wear a ‘Free Tibet’ shirt, or something trite like that. Or, I could stand up for what I believe in and hopefully call more attention to these issues through a boycott.”
Her strategy seems to be working. Schumacher’s boycott has got people in the surfing world talking and she hopes it’s also got them thinking.
“Every event has been in a place with a surf culture, so why China?”
The answer, she said, is because there’s a huge push within the surf industry to move production to China, even if it means doing business in a country with a history of putting profit above its workers.
“I’m not saying the surf industry shouldn’t go into China, but go in with your eyes open. There needs to be more transparency in the production line and supply chain. The surf industry is a $7.2 billion industry. It has the ability to change some precedents in China.”
For example, she said American companies could work with non-government organizations in China, which make unannounced visits to factories to ensure human rights violations are not happening. Schumacher is also using her boycott as a means to spotlight some other human rights violations happening in China, such as the government’s extreme censorship of its people and its one-child policy, which she said has been linked to a spike in infanticide, forced sterilization, forced abortion and even sex slavery.
“This isn’t about me or any title, this is about something much bigger,” said Schumacher, visibly choked up, the passion and sincerity in her voice almost palpable. “Back in 2001, I had won my first world title, something nobody in my peer group had done. That same year I sat and watched the 9-11 attacks feeling totally helpless. No matter how many trophies and titles I had, I still had this feeling of not being able to change anything in my world.”
That moment would prove to plant a seed of activism that has led Schumacher to this boycott today. After the 9-11 attacks, she joined the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice to oppose the war in Iraq. Schumacher, who married her longtime partner Maria Cerda in 2008, has also been a longtime advocate for gay rights, especially within the surfing world, which she describes as “very homophobic” and “misogynistic.” Schumacher said encountering homophobia and mysogyny when she was 18 and first became a professional shortboarder was “like having your life-long dream shatter before your eyes.”
And for Schumacher, professional surfing was quite literally her life-long dream. She was born into surfing. Her mother Jeannette Prince was a professional surfer who rode the waves until she was eight months pregnant. Once Schumacher was born, her father Craig Schumacher had her in the water before she could walk. The family spent winters surfing Cardiff and summers surfing San Onofre. Schumacher received her first surfboard at 5, which she recalls was a blue and yellow single-fin soft board. When Schumacher turned 12, she received a board shaped by Donald Takayama, who still shapes her boards today. While some kids grew up idolizing Michael Jordan and Kristi Yamaguchi, Schumacher was raised looking up to surfers like the late Rell Sunn, Solana Beach’s Linda Benson and, of course, her mother.
No doubt, surfing was one of Schumacher’s first loves — but at 18 when she entered the professional realm, she quickly fell out of love with the sport.
“I decided that I did not want to be part of an environment were women were devalued, so I walked away. It was heartbreaking. I totally stopped surfing. It was that bad.”
It was at the urging of her mother that she got back into the water, and eventually the professional realm. Now that she’s returned, she hopes to bring a wave of change to the world of professional women’s longboarding, which is at the bottom of surfing’s hierarchy because it is newer than shortboarding. The problem, she said, is that female longboarders are being subjected to an unfair one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to judging the sport.
“Look at gymnastics, women don’t use the rings or pummel horse, and men have different floor exercises,” she said. “I don’t think women should be expected to mimic men.”
That’s especially true of longboarding, which she said is a much more feminine way of surfing than shortboarding.
“Shortboarding has reached a point where surfers are using the wave as a platform for doing tricks. It’s a very masculine way of surfing.
“Longboarding is all about harmony with the wave, it’s all about riding on the nose. When you’re on the nose, there’s a stillness that happens. There’s this poise and balance that happens.”
Schumacher said she’d like to see more judges develop a deeper appreciation for that type of grace. She’s hopeful that in time those judging standards will evolve — and in the meantime, she’s continuing to perfect her art of riding on the nose of wave, a feeling she said that can be summed up in a single word: “Zen.”
“You completely loose yourself in that moment. There is no ‘I,' just movement. Once you feel it, you want to chase it,” she said, seated just yards away from the sea at Naked Café. It’s evident she’s fallen back in love with the sport, and she’s promised herself that she’ll never let something like corporate sponsorships leave her disenchanted again.
And so, here she’ll remain, topping off coffees at Naked Café, happy to do it, still in love with surfing, and staying true to who she is.