If you’re a woman into surfing and active on Instagram, then you’ve probably seen some of her super cute, fun surf comics. Maybe you even follow her account. Robin Lanei publishes illustrations inspired by her personal experiences in the surf, to which most of us can relate. And she does it with a great dose of humour, often also sprinkled with sarcasm.
Born in California, Robin is currently living in Sayulita, Mexico. She’s been surfing for 15 years strong and drawing since she could pick up a marker. She’s a Gemini and has travelled around the sun 29 times. Let’s get to know her.
How did your love story with surfing start?
Classic scenario, my dad taught me how to surf when I was 9 because he surfed and wanted to share that with me. However, little 9-year-old me, who preferred karate, was not having it. I was always so miserable out there, getting washed around in cold waves with a big fat foamie and literally screaming and crying. I remember when I told him I never wanted to surf again, and I wonder if it crushed him. Poor Rick… He respected my boundary, which was very cool and just said, “you’ll love it one day.” Fast forward to high school in Freshman year, and I met some girls my age who were learning how to surf. They are still my closest friends today. I squeezed into my kid-sized wetsuit and busted out the BZ (a soft top brand). I haven’t looked back since. Rick was right after all!
What about drawing? How did this other passion of yours begin?
Okay, let’s rewind to toddler Robin (laughs). Drawing makes more sense to me than writing when it comes to expressing myself. I have my mother to thank for this channel. Sunny always encouraged my creativity. I remember sitting at the dining table, and she was teaching me how to draw a person. It absolutely blew my child’s mind! I wanted to draw as she did.
“I was chasing my Blue Crush dream life and promptly fell on my face. I hardly ever surfed, worked full time, made bad choices.”
You were born and raised in California but now live in Sayulita, Mexico. What brought you there?
It’s a funny story. I was surfing at my home break in Monterey, and this woman beelined over to me. She’s like, “Hey, you’re a female surfer! I’m starting an NPO (non-profit organisation) for teaching girls how to surf.” So she asked me if I was willing to volunteer. It was my first experience as a surf instructor. Not long after, I graduated high school and moved to Oahu. I was chasing my Blue Crush dream life and promptly fell on my face. I hardly ever surfed, worked full time, made bad choices.
So Dionne, NPO lady, hit me up while I’m totally Blue Crushed. “Hey”, she says, “I’m driving to Mexico to give free surf lessons to Mexican girls, and I don’t wanna drive alone.” So that’s exactly what we did in Sayulita and Punta de Mita. Mind you, Dionne is 20 years older than me. She took me under her mama bird wing, gave me a shot of tequila and taught me how to trust in “the universe.” Plus, I already spoke Spanish. Mi sueño se hizo realidad (My dream became reality)! I found my home. It was my Blue Crush dream come true.
That was in 2010. Dionne’s NPO is called The Wahine Project, and we are still best friends to this day. Based in Monterey, CA, she serves thousands of children through her organisation by providing means for a healthy relationship with the ocean and self through surfing.
Your Instagram almost looks like a diary, but with drawings instead of words. Was it the purpose you had when you started the account?
It 100% is my surf diary! Though, it was not the original purpose of starting the account. One day, my good friend Leah said, “you’re good at drawing; you should start an IG and only post your illustrations.” I’m like, “that’s stupid, lol.” She took my phone, made the account, name and all, even the bio that is still the same, and handed it back. “Post a drawing every day no matter what it is, see what happens.” So I did, and here we are. I drew whatever was on my mind. Surf related or not, and posted until I found my niche.
You are often quite sarcastic, which is seriously funny. Is it a way for you to blow off steam?
Ha, thanks! I paid a lot of attention to how surf-related media is presented to consumers. It’s sexy, it’s powerful, it’s beautiful, it’s edgy, and it’s elegant. Even surf art I find very idyllic, and rainbows, and unicorns, etc. And I’m like, “man, this marketing is really working, but is that what surfing really feels like to me?” Hell, no! It’s heartbreaking and awkward. Dodging people, getting yelled at, sprayed by locals, etc. I looked at these micro-interactions, considered lineup dynamics and really asked myself “why?”. Why did that happen? Why did he say that? Why am I reacting this way? And no matter what, “what can I learn from this situation that will make me a better surfer?”. So whether the comic is silly or sarcastic or straight up decapitating someone, I always try to pull a lesson from it. And, yes, let off a little steam.
“I have faith in the newest generations of kids raised with more acceptance and compassion. They will be less shitty in the water.”
Guys in the surf are also a recurrent topic of your drawings, and we can all relate to your stories. But do you believe things are slowly getting better?
Are you surprised that 100% of my negative comments, not that I get many, have come from men? Probably not. Surfing is male-dominated; we know this. I draw a lot of comics about my interactions with men in the water because there’s always mostly men in the water. I have faith in the newest generations of kids raised with more acceptance and compassion. They will be less shitty in the water. But damn, that shit gets passed down too. All I have to say is if you’re a surf dad, or know a surf dad, how you act in the water, how you treat people in the lineup, your child will learn from you and do the same in adulthood. And it’s not just your child; all the groms in the lineup are watching and learning.
What role do surfing and drawing play in your mental wellbeing?
Surfing definitely plays a key role in my mental health. There are many activities we as humans can do that bring us this kind of inner peace. Surfing helps me the same way flossing does, for example. Do you need to floss to survive? No, but it keeps your mouth healthy. Surfing keeps my brain healthy and is more fun than flossing.
You recently published a short story called “Be The Board”, about mental health and taking care of it. Can you tell us a bit more about why this reflection and what inspired it?
Thanks for including this one. If you really want to know, I was in a somatic experience (SE) session, when the idea came to me. I’ve been working on my mental health more and more, and if you don’t know what somatic experience is, well, google it. It’s like therapy but more in the body and less in the brain. I highly recommended it for those who lean on movement for self-expression. Anyway, I was lying on the floor and describing what I felt and saw. And I was floating. I was floating face-up in the ocean, looking up at the sky, and it felt like there were nasty gashes all over my body. Aka, all these traumas I have accumulated over the years.
My SE therapist asked me if anything was coming out of the wounds, like blood? And I said no, that the water was seeping into me and making me heavy. And voila! Laugh if it’s cheesy, but I literally felt like a surfboard getting waterlogged because of my unhealed wounds. And if I don’t do some emotional ding repair, my body and brain will only get heavier.
“It is no secret that the sacred sport of Polynesian kings and queens is grossly whitewashed.”
You also published a few drawings about racism, which is something you’ve experienced in the surf. Can you tell us a bit more about this specific issue?
Yes totally, it is no secret that the sacred sport of Polynesian kings and queens is grossly whitewashed. To the point that when someone who looks “different” from the “standard” paddles out, they’re met with this strange feeling of novelty. Like, I stick out because I’m me and not a white, cis-gender man. White people love asking me, in and out of the water, where I’m really from, or why my English is so good. And my fave, men telling me how “exotic” I am. A guy told me I’m like a “sexy surfing geisha”, compliment taken but *vomit emoji*. White people don’t paddle up to other white people and ask them about their ethnicity or push their blatantly racist fetishes onto unsuspecting strangers. Just let the people surf in peace!!!
So what do you hope to achieve with your drawings?
To wrap up my last answer and this entire conversation, I hope surfers can relate to the scenarios in which I find myself and respect each other more for them. I hope they know that everyone’s journey looks different. The ocean doesn’t care who we are or what we look like. So it’s up to us. What’s important is, when you hit the water: “Are you kind? Are you respectful? Can you handle sticky situations with humility or compassion? Can you educate less experienced surfers without cruelty or rage? Are you setting a good example for the groms? Do you love surfing as much as I do?!”