From Tomboys to Trailblazers: Women's Empowerment on the Water with Changing Tides Foundation

From Tomboys to Trailblazers: Women's Empowerment on the Water with Changing Tides Foundation

Meet Becky Mendoza-Baker, co-founder of Changing Tides Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to empowering women and promoting gender equity, social justice, and ocean health. In this interview, we dive into her journey from an action-sports-loving tomboy at ease hanging with the boys to an advocate for women's empowerment.

Tell us a little about yourself. Where are you from and what do you like to do for fun?

I am from Miami originally; my parents both emigrated here from Cuba, and Spanish is my first language. I am an attorney and founder of Action Sports Law Group, and work with the best action sports athletes in the world, helping them get visas to the US and with their contracts. I moved to Encinitas, CA, first in 2004 and then again in 2008, to be at the center of the action sports industry.

I love surfing, snowboarding, skateboarding, hiking, gardening, cooking, playing the guitar, and getting people gathered together in the community.

Changing Tides Foundation founders

How did you and the other co-founders of Changing Tides Foundation originally come together?

I first met Anna Santoro in San Diego through a mutual friend who wanted to get us together for a surf. She and I clicked instantly. Around the same time, I traveled to Oahu for the surf season and met Leah Dawson, who is a professional surfer and film maker. I slowly developed friendships with each of them, separate from one another.

A few years later, Anna moved to Oahu and moved in with a swimmer and prone-paddle boarder and all-around water woman, Leane Darling Horton. While I was visiting Oahu, I stayed with them and Leah was looking for a new place to rent so I invited her over to meet the ladies, and we all connected on a deep level. After a rainy few days, we coined the house the Hen House and Leah ended up moving in. After that, the ladies met Jianca Lazarus, an incredible South African photographer and waterwoman who had moved to Oahu from New York and they all connected.

For years, we played in the ocean together and dreamed up big dreams. One day, I had a vision for us to do something bigger than ourselves and create a way for us to give back, I envisioned all 5 of us creating it together, and when I called the other ladies to discuss, Changing Tides Foundation was born. We brought in our dear friends Captain Liz Clark and Sam Bennett and created our Board of Directors, and we’ve been doing this beautiful work ever since. So really, you could say it was all born in the Hen House, an A-frame beach shack on Rocky Lefts on the North Shore.

Changing Tides Foundation founders

What was the response from the surf community, which is traditionally male dominated, when you established Changing Tides Foundation with a focus on women’s empowerment?

Honestly we have been so well received. I think the surf industry was ready for a more feminine touch. There are so many awesome organizations doing such beautiful work but when we looked around, it was all being done by dudes in flannels and we just really wanted to give women a voice in this space.

When we started, our focus wasn’t on female empowerment, it was more about giving back while traveling, however we organically evolved into the female empowerment space and we love it. Using the ocean to show girls and women that we are connected to one another through the sea and that we can accomplish anything when we support one another and that together we are better.

Our intention has never been to exclude men, we instead want to invite more men to see that we all benefit when more women are empowered and become stakeholders and decision makers.

Changing Tides Foundation Women in Water: Peru

How have diversity and inclusion shaped the work of Changing Tides Foundation?

We have always worked with underserved girls in our programs internationally, and usually the ones most underserved are the BIPOC population. It wasn’t really until the social justice movement of the summer of 2020 that our eyes were opened to the disparities and issues with accessibility and inclusivity in the ocean that exist right here in our own backyard.

In 2022, we launched our Women’s Outreach Mentorship Program (WOMP), a surf and mentorship program that uses the ocean and surfing as tools for empowerment, self-confidence building, leadership skills development, and environmental education for underserved teenage girls in North County San Diego. Through WOMP, we aim to create a community that connects us all to our humanity, our kindness, our planet, and each other.

 Paddleboarding event with Changing Tides Foundation

What’s something unexpected you’ve learned while leading this organization?

Something unexpected I learned was the power of coming together in community, especially with women. I was always a tomboy, I grew up with an older brother and 8 male cousins. I always played sports and was always friends with the guys. I had close girlfriends but there were parts of my life, the sports and activities, that I couldn’t share with them. Even when I started surfing, I surfed mostly with guys.

It wasn’t really until my early 30s when I met the co-founders of Changing Tides Foundation, before we founded the organization, that I felt the connections that went beyond just being social. Having similar interests, sharing similar views, the way we look at the ocean, the planet, social issues, and our desire to give back and especially the way we support one another, it is so empowering.

I learned that the importance of women supporting women, and that more women being stakeholders and decision-makers and offering different perspectives will benefit the entire population.

Digging project with CTF

How can people support you or get involved?

First and foremost, people can donate to the Changing Tides Foundation so that we can continue to do the work we do and grow the organization so that we can maximize our impact. 

Another way people can get involved from anywhere is by joining our challenges that are meant to raise awareness of our personal behaviors and how they affect the planet, like the Plastic Swear Jar Challenge and the Plant-Based March Challenge.

And of course, follow along on social media @changingtidesfoundation and share our programs for events and cleanups or volunteering to support, document or be a mentor for the Women’s Outreach Mentorship Program.

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