There's no age limit on enjoying the ocean. Winner of our 2023 IWD Film Grant, Leah Rustomjee's short film the Granny Grommets proves just that. Ahead of the full release, Leah gave us a peek behind the scenes of creating the film and the story that inspired her to make it.
Introducing The Granny Grommets
3 min read
Words, film & imagery
by Leah Rustomjee
A grommet, in surf lexicon, stands for a surfing newbie, usually a younger person. The Granny Grommets, however, are claiming the term for themselves, ignoring the looming threats of sharks and concerns of their worried offspring to embrace the waves, with bodyboards in tow. The group, based in the coastal town of Albany in Western Australia, was formed in 1999 and has been growing from strength to strength ever since.
To date there are nearly 90 members taking to the waves every Friday morning, come rain or shine.
The group began after one of the grandmothers went to pick up their daughter at a ‘Mother and Daughter’ surf class that Kim Buttfield, a Sports Consultant and co-founder of the Granny Grommets was running, and asked ‘what about the grandmothers?’ In response to this, Kim and Tony Harrison, a surf instructor and former professional surfer, set-up a three week introductory class for older women which has evolved into the Granny Grommets.
Today, there are three rules to join the group:
- Be over the age of 50
- Take the introductory ocean awareness and bodyboarding course
- Have fun!
The introductory ocean awareness and bodyboarding course helps the women to understand the safety aspects of being out in the ocean and having to be responsible for themselves. As Kim stresses, “With the Granny Grommets, what we also tried to instil in them was a little bit about surf culture and understanding that you don't just get your wetsuit on and go straight into the water.”
More technical details include teaching the women how to understand rips, surf sets, the board and bodyboarding technique. At Middleton beach in Albany, the lookout is also used ahead of their morning sessions to analyse the swell and also watch out for any whales. “You're really just assessing the situation, but you're also just taking in the most beautiful environment that we're so appreciative of, being able to go out and have a surf there, often on our own - there's no one else out there except the mad Granny Grommets!”
Classes take place every Friday at 8:30am, supervised by their volunteer coach and mentor, Tony Harrison who warns the group of any dangerous rips to look out for. More than just their coach, he gives the women a sense of security and safety and is also a good friend. As Sandra, the Grommets' coordinator, states, “our group would not be the same without Tony. He's the glue that sticks us together.” He even comes along to their yearly group outing, or annual pilgrimage as some like to call it, to Bremer Bay.
Sandra, recalls a particularly special moment when Tony took one of the Granny Grommets, Agnes, out to the back of the sea, “all of a sudden her beautiful head came out with her black hair streaming back and she came skirting down into the shore. I always get goosebumps thinking about it because it was such a treat for her and for us to watch her do it.”
United by their love of the ocean, this group serves as much more than simply a weekly exercise class. For some, it’s pure entertainment and for others an escape from their daily caring responsibilities, but unanimously they all agree it’s a place to make new connections and feel a sense of community. As one of the Granny Grommets, Bev, states, “I've met some amazing women. Some have had easy lives and some have had real challenges. The sea is a great equalizer.”
Many of the women have come into Albany in retirement or semi retirement, from farming backgrounds with minimal exposure to the ocean. Couple this with the fact that it wasn’t the norm for women to pick up surfboards in their heyday, makes what they are doing an even more impressive feat!