Transgender pro-surfer Sasha Jane Lowerson turned her back on surfing to find peace, but it was the women possibly most threatened by her involvement that convinced her she belonged with them.
Ms Lowerson, 44, recalls facing the reality that she may never participate again when her transition began in 2020, due to fears of ‘rejection and violence’ from the old guard of male surfers.
As with many transgender people, transitioning wasn’t about choosing a lifestyle — there wasn’t much choice, she told Daily Mail Australia.
“I got to a point where I couldn’t go on. I suffered from many mental health issues that were symptoms of my gender dysphoria… from agoraphobia to anxiety and depression, which led to multiple attempts on my own life,” Lowerson said.
“I didn’t choose to live my truth, I just chose to live.”
“I got to a point where I couldn’t go on. I had a lot of mental health issues that were symptoms of my gender dysphoria,” Sasha Jane Lowerson told Daily Mail Australia.
‘When I started switching, I stopped surfing for six months. I was willing to run away from it to be truly happy’
Ms Lowerson has secured several sponsorship deals as a pro surfer, including Liquor Barons (pictured), but still needs to do FiFo work in Western Australia’s mines to support her surfing
Heartbreakingly, that meant she had to quit the sport she loved since grade school
“Surfing was something that kept me from switching because the old guard was so patriarchal and transphobic and homophobic,” she said.
‘When I started switching, I stopped surfing for six months. I was willing to walk away from it to be truly happy.
“To think that something that gave me so much love and freedom was holding me back was really awful and hard to deal with.”
But slowly she got back into the water, finding only warmth, especially from an unexpected group of surfers: cis-female board riders, all potential rivals, went out of their way to wish her well.
“The current number six in the world, who I hadn’t seen since before my transition, I paddled up to her and she saw me and said, ‘Look at you, you look great.’ 2016 World Champion Rachael Tilly came up and said hello, she said “It’s so good to see you here”.
“I was very afraid for my safety at first, but there were little things, little acts of kindness. One by one, the things that happened made me regain faith in humanity.
“Trans women have been through enough trauma and surfing shouldn’t add to that,” said one of Lowerson’s friends on the longboard tour, Roison Carolan (photo, Sasha Jane Lowerson)
“It was as simple as people coming up to you and saying hello and being friendly.
“You have all these fears or rejection and even the threat of violence. But what I got was people reaching out and saying ‘we’ll see you.’
Two of her best friends today are both “rivals” on tour – Hawaiian Sierra Lerback and Aussie Roisin Carolan.
Carolan says there is much more support for Lowerson than opposition among female surfers.
“Most people don’t care and they think, what’s the fuss? If someone wants to surf, let them surf. This is an inclusive sport, and I don’t really think there is a physical advantage.
“I also think what’s the fuss, but I want to support her, and out loud.
‘Trans women have been through enough trauma and surfing shouldn’t add to that.
‘She is very friendly to everyone, even though not everyone is friendly to her.
As with many transgender people, the transition for Lowerson wasn’t about choosing a lifestyle
Her story is illustrated in a vibrant tattoo on her left forearm, featuring a butterfly, a symbol of metamorphosis, emerging from a woman’s mind
“She’s very outgoing and likes to giggle. She is amazing.’
Lowerson admits she had reservations about being interviewed, especially as the current narrative of transgender people ruining women’s sport makes it inevitable that she will have to defend her involvement.
“I just laugh at anyone who suggests I have to justify my existence,” she said.
It’s not even worth discussing. I am a woman and all trans women are women.
“Why should I or anyone else justify who they are and what they do?
“I’m just a girl next door who goes surfing and I’m good at it.”
Of course, surfing, like many other sports, makes Ms. Lowerson justify her involvement by submitting blood tests every six months that show her hormone levels.
‘The policy is in line with the IOC (International Olympic Committee). I see it as one of the hoops I have to jump through in order to compete,” she said.
“It’s exactly where we are right now.”
Fellow longboard tour surfer Roisin Carolan says there is much more support for Ms Lowerson than opposition among female surfers
Lowerson is an ambassador for the pro-LGBTQI organization Athlete Ally, which has championed research showing that the inclusion of transgender athletes helps rather than harm women’s sports.
She’s also the kind of ambassador that many high-profile transgender women eventually become: a role model.
“I grew up without positive role models, which is why I didn’t come out for years.
‘I think it’s important to be an ambassador and role model for the next generation; you cannot be what you cannot see.
“Getting my story out in front of other young women is a big thing for me.”
It’s essential, she says, so describe how her life has improved since she switched.
“I wake up every day and I’m happy to be here, I can make plans for my life, for the coming year
“Before, I was afraid of the future, so I couldn’t make plans. I just wanted to end it, but today life is the opposite.’
It’s a story illustrated in a vibrant tattoo on her left forearm featuring a butterfly – a symbol of metamorphosis – emerging from a woman’s mind.
However, being an ambassador is not easy. While most female surfers are accepting of her, some male surfers are less tolerant.
Kelly Slater, considered the greatest surfer ever, believes transgender surfers should compete in a trans-only division.
His friend and bandmate in The Surfers, Peter King, made a series of hostile remarks, claiming that transgender people are “harming” women’s sports.
“Stay out of women’s sports where you win miraculously if you’re an average-achieving man. Women’s sport is not a back-up plan where you can’t win a trophy,” said King.
Hawaiian Sierra Lerback is one of Mrs. Lowerson’s best friends on tour
But Lowerson believes the sport is slowly accepting transgender women.
She has secured several sponsorships, including swimwear brands Atmosea and Zealous, and Holly Ryan Jewellery.
She has also appeared on street billboards in Perth for bottle shop chain Liquor Barons.
While she’s lucky enough to surf the world on tour for three months a year, it’s not just bikinis and big waves.
The rest of the time, Lowerson supports himself by working as a fly-in, fly-out oil and gas worker in Western Australian mines.
Because that barely covers her many surfing costs, Mrs. Lowerson also started one GoFundMe page.
Ms. Lowerson became the first transgender surfer to compete at a world level, even winning several times.
In May 2022, she won both the Open Women’s and Open Logger divisions at the West Coast Suspensions Longboard and Logger State Championships in Avalon, Western Australia.
She was crowned Men’s Champion in the same competition in 2019 – competing as Ryan Egan – before switching a few years later.
She was in contention for the Australian longboard title last season and eventually finished fourth.
She believes the idea of athletes switching to find success is “absurd.”
“Any suggestion that I review every aspect of my life and open myself to scathing criticism in order to improve my chances of winning is downright bizarre.”