Sasha Jane Lowerson is a West Australian surfer, surfboard designer, and shaper. She describes herself as a proud woman with a trans experience. At 43, she recently won both the Women’s Open and the Logger divisions of the Western Australian State Titles at her home break of Avalon, and as far as our records show, became the first openly transgender female to win a surfing competition. Three years ago she won the same title in the Men’s Division, surfing as Ryan Egan. I caught up with her in a Zoom conversation from her home in Mandurah.
It’s been a couple of days now since you won those titles. Have you had time to process it? What are you feeling right now about the whole experience?
Look, with longboarding, even if you make the World Tour, you still don’t earn money. So, you have to ask yourself; why do it? And the answer is we do it for fun. And a win or a loss will never define you. It’s how you win or lose and whether you do it with respect and dignity that is important. That’s something I pride myself on. So I’m pretty sure I surfed and gave a lot of respect to my competitors. And I received that respect, too. It was an amazing experience, with great waves. I surfed an amazing, perfect point break with three other women.
What was the reaction from your fellow athletes?
They were very inclusive. Obviously when you lose one, and I’ve lost plenty, you’re very disappointed, but I think in longboarding it’s not make or break. You know we all have jobs, and the sun still comes up tomorrow. From my point of view anyway, they were amazing. I’d say the same for the event organizers too.
You have competed in the Men’s division previously. How was this experience different?
Well, it wasn’t the first event I’ve competed in as a female. I competed in the Noosa Festival of Surfing in March. So that was technically the first time a trans athlete had ever competed in surfing. And there was no hoo haa then, because there was nothing to talk about. I came 10th. I was surfing against some of the best longboard women in the world, and they schooled me.
With this event, though, I was a bigger fish in a smaller pond, and there are going to be naysayers as soon as you win one. Unfortunately, when a trans athlete is successful a lot of people want to jump up and down. But there are also a lot of people that want to celebrate it, which is a positive thing.
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The competitive aspect of it seems to be the issue that causes the controversy. To me, it seems a lot of the negative reaction comes from men.
Yes, men especially seem to be threatened by it so much. I think it comes back to the premise of men that they think they’re stronger, better, and faster. But try telling that to some of the superstar women athletes.
With surfing now an Olympic Sport, do you think they will follow other sports in having certain levels of testosterone and other hormones that need to be measured for trans athletes? The argument is usually distilled into the belief that trans athletes have an advantage.
So you measure hormones in parts per million in every liter. So as a quick rundown, your testosterone for an average male runs between 300 to 700. For a cis woman (cis is a term used for those who identify as the sex they were assigned at birth) it runs anywhere from two to 10. Right now, and during the event, I was running at 0.5. And testosterone is like an engine of energy. It doesn’t just build muscle. So, for me, my engine was like sometimes a tenth of the women I was competing against. At the end of the Final I collapsed, because I just don’t have the engine that a Cis-born woman has. I think the science backs up the competitive fairness aspect of it all.
Since you’ve gone through the trans experience, has your surfing changed in terms of how you approach a wave or the way you think about it?
I work in the oil and gas industry, which involves a lot of problem solving, and my whole approach to solving problems got flipped on its head when my hormones changed. And it’s the same with surfing. Look, Australia has a lot of good surf breaks, and when I was seething with testosterone, I would muscle my way through any crowded lineup.
After I started the transition process, I had six months out of the water. When I came back, I had a surf and a local came up to me in the car park and he said it was an actual pleasure to have you in the water. I said, ‘What do you mean? How bad was I before?’ He said my whole demeanor in the water had changed, because I wasn’t needing to take every best wave out there. When I was posing as a male, I felt I always had to prove how masculine I was. When I didn’t need to do that, I just went out and enjoyed the waves, and the funniest thing happened; the good waves still came my way. Before I felt that if someone paddled on the inside then they were stealing my wave, now I just treat it as if I’ve gifted someone a wave. It’s a whole new mindset.
And has the interest in your experience been a surprise?
Look, people are people, and some will surprise you, both negatively and positively. But it hasn’t been easy. Something I say to everyone is that I haven’t chosen this. This is me. And it’s easier than the alternative, because the alternative was not to continue with life, you know? It was just too hard to keep pretending to be the man that I was pretending to be. So, I wish most days that I had lived my life as a young girl that matured into a woman and didn’t have to experience all the pain. Sadly, I didn’t have that, and you can’t live in the past. Now I’m living my truth, and how people react to that is really up to them.