Sasha Jane Lowerson is a well-known name in the Aussie surfing community.
She grew up on the sandy beaches of Australia and found her solace in surfing, even when life was difficult.
Ten years ago, she moved to Western Australia, finding her perfect home beach in Mandurah where she would spend her time out in the waves.
Fast forward and Sasha hasn't just made a name for herself as a competitive surfer, but as an advocate for transgender athletes, fighting to make space for them in the surfing world.
Over the weekend of May 14-15, Sasha made impressive waves at the West Coast Suspensions Longboard and Logger State Championships on her home beach at Avalon, taking out the Open Women's and Open Logger divisions as well as a number of state titles.
Being on her home beach, she said, made her feel "liberated" and the emotional moment made her cry with happiness - and she couldn't help but reflect on her journey to this point.
Sasha said she knew she was a woman from a young age, and surfing helped to comfort her through what was a tumultuous time in the early 90s.
"I started surfing at a very young age, before I was 10. I've come from a rich surfing background.
"I knew the whole time - I had these feelings the whole time. You don't really understand until you start meeting other boys and think 'my interests are different to them, why's that?'"
When Sasha's surfing career began to take off, she said the mainstream media soon made her come to a heart-wrenching realisation.
"With my surfing, I was sponsored by Quicksilver, I was very good from a young age - I could see that I could never be me.
"It was the early 90s and I basically projected what I thought people would want to see, I created this male persona and I just felt torn the entire time."
When Sasha was 19, she decided she would "sneak off" and start a new life, leaving her surfing career behind.
"I tried to transition and just got nowhere with the medical system the way that it was at the time.
"When that failed, that's when my mental health issues really started to form."
Sasha spent the next 10 years suffering with anxiety, thoughts of self-harm and depression, and the conversation surrounding trans people at the time only added to her stress.
"I just thought - is it worth continuing? In sport, there was no one who had done this, there was no one who had continued to do their sport after transitioning," she said.
"Even on TV at the time, trans women were portrayed as sinister, murderers or victims."
When she was 29, Sasha tried to transition again, but found the system still hadn't come very far.
"From there more mental scars and issues were formed - but I kept going and kept surfing, that was my only release."
A few years ago, Sasha said she reached a breaking point, where she realised she could no longer live as an unauthentic version of herself.
"I just thought... I have to do this, I can't go on. I decided to quit surfing because I thought there's no way I'm going to be able to surf and be accepted.
"I decided I'd rather be happy and live the remainder of my life happy and not surf and not be subjected to not being able to be me."
When she reached about four to five months into her transition, Sasha said she woke up with an overwhelming drive to change things.
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"One morning it just dawned on me - I can't not continue to surf and do the things I love - because that's actually a part of me. Male or female, I'm a surfer."
So Sasha reached out to governing bodies and Surfing Australia, and poured through their policies - noticing there weren't any which pertained to trans athletes.
"At first I was like, I'm going to contact them and just talk about my existence and maybe we can put something in place for the next lot of girls to come along," she said.
"If I can put something in place, the next girl will see someone older and visible like me in the community and it might be easier on her."
Sasha said she never considered she would be able to surf again, but during her conversation with Surfing Australia, her world was turned upside-down.
"Our head judge Glen Elliott, who is the head judge for the Olympics too, he has judged many Australian Titles and pro events and knew who I was," she said.
"He said - 'Sasha, are you going to compete again? It would be a huge loss to our surfing community if you're not going to continue.' I was just blown away. I started crying."
Sasha said her response was instantaneous, she hadn't thought about it or processed the question, she just said "yes, Glen - I'm going to compete".
"That was a really defining moment. I hadn't even considered it, it was a reaction that was so deep it just came out, it was something that came from him being so open."
Alongside Mr Elliott's support, Sasha also received support from a professional female surfer who had competed during the time she was in the male division.
"She had so many positive comments and said 'Sasha you need to be competing still, what you bring to the sport, we can't lose that' - and that was the start, I knew I had to do this."
In 2021, Surfing Australia worked through getting a policy in place and passed the policy with a unanimous vote.
Surfing Australia chief executive Chris Mater called Sasha personally to let her know that they had also suggested to all the states to adopt a similar policy.
Surfing WA chief executive Mark Lane and surfers representative Georgia Young were also instrumental in pushing hard for the rights of trans women in surfing, and Sasha said with this support team at her side she felt ready to re-enter the surfing world - this time as her authentic self.
Sasha said she felt a huge amount of support from fellow surfers and the entire surfing community when she made her return to surfing, competing as a woman.
She was able to, for the first time in her life, be able to compete in her dream sport as herself.
If I can put something in place, the next girl will see someone older and visible like me in the community and it might be easier on her.
But despite this support system, mainstream media outlets across the world and a few outliers in the community decided they didn't support Sasha competing, citing "unfairness" for her to be competing against cisgender women.
News articles attacking Sasha and using vulgar language to describe her were published on large platforms, and she felt herself feeling not only disappointed but unsafe, and with a great deal of anxiety.
Sasha said she also found it frustrating that her wins were used as an argument to diminish her achievements, and the coverage was always selective.
"When I was up against the best women in Australia and the world in Noosa and I dropped out in the quarter finals coming in ninth or tenth - where were those people then?
"I was just another girl and I was with an equal talent pool - I had this news organisation following me around trying to make a story and then they realised I wasn't even the best one there.
"It's only as soon as a girl like me is successful that they start jumping up and down."
Despite the naysayers, Sasha said the majority of the surfing community and the women she was "honoured" to surf alongside were extremely supportive, and her return to Avalon was everything she had dreamed of.
She said that while her Avalon competitors were tough, and kept her on her toes, she was proud of the way she surfed and was thrilled to take the win.
"Georgie Young and Emm Gibs put up some amazing surfing and were beautiful to surf with and compete against. I have so much respect for these amazing women. We all surfed our little hearts out," Sasha said.
"To actually make a final and then just go out and be free enough to express myself through surfing was just amazing and liberating. It meant so much to me.
"The conversation and awareness to the diverse community whether it be trans women or queer folk - it makes me happy that people who are worried and scared to get involved might feel safe enough to go out and do it now."
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