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How a ‘Gender Outlaw’ bodysurfer found courage and self-acceptance in the sea

Tyler Wilde has always felt at home in the ocean.

But for much of his life, he couldn’t say the same for his own body.

Wilde was bullied as a child. Into adulthood, he felt like a caricature of his true self. Slipping into a wetsuit was, for years, the best reprieve from the costume he wore through life.

Wilde, a competitive bodysurfer and physical education teacher, is a man who was born biologically female.

The dissonance of his life, his self-identity, took years to solve. It battered him, threatened to pull him under like a riptide. It even, for a time, expelled him from the ocean entirely.

Until recently.

After years of struggling, Wilde has reconnected with the water, the waves and the sea spray, and become part of a special brotherhood of surfers – all of which helped him as he ditched his costume for his real self.

Wilde now lives openly as a transgender man and is, in his words, a “cohesive human.”

The currents of Wilde’s life are the subject of “Gender Outlaw,” a short documentary that will be screened on Friday, June 24, at The Stanton, during the opening night of the second annual Hermosa Pride Parade and Festival.

“The amount of happiness that is unlocked when you can actually be yourself and confident and proud of who you are,” Wilde said, “I hope everybody gets to experience that.”


“The core of the story is about finding your tribe and finding your community.”

— Peter Williams, director of “Gender Outlaw”


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Wilde was a child of beach culture.

He was born in 1984 and spent most of his early years in Irvine. But he also grew up riding the iconic waves along Orange County’s coast.

Wilde also played basketball.

Those typical California activities, however, belied a tumultuous childhood and an inner turmoil he wasn’t fully aware of – at least at the time.

“I was bullied for being gay, basically,” Wilde said, adding that he often came home with black eyes. “I had short hair. I cut it off when I was in fifth-grade and no one could tell if I was a boy or girl.”

Later on, he read through journals he kept as a child. He didn’t realize then, Wilde said, how much he was suffering.

“There’s a point in time,” Wilde said, “where I basically said, ‘I wish I was never born.’”

The turmoil continued into adulthood.

Wilde graduated from Irvine’s Woodbridge High School in 2002. He then moved to Salem, Oregon, boasting a basketball scholarship to attend Willamette University, a small liberal arts school.

The move, though, separated him from the warm Southern California waters.

Salem is about 70 miles from the coast. While he was farther from the ocean than when he lived in Orange County, Wilde was close enough that he did try surfing while at college.

But, Wilde said, he felt like a “Popsicle” in the cold Northern waters. He was a “broke college kid,” Wilde said, so he couldn’t afford a heavy-duty wetsuit.

Still, he had a basketball scholarship and focused on that.

After graduating from Willamette in 2006, Wilde moved back to Southern California.

But he decided against returning to Orange County.

“I didn’t feel comfortable just being myself walking the streets of Orange County,” Wilde said, “and there was no community there for me.”

(Orange County, in general, has traditionally been socially conservative, though that dynamic has begun changing in recent years.)

Instead, Wilde moved to Manhattan Beach.

He then moved to El Segundo and has since lived all over the South Bay.

Even after his return to warmer waters, though, he didn’t really surf. He was dealing, Wilde said, “with a lot of changes.”

Wilde was floundering, he said, and he was working as a personal trainer and strength coach in 2008 when the Great Recession hit. He turned away from the beach entirely.

He sought answers, Wilde said, in booze and “other vices.”

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Circumstances eventually lured him back to the ocean.

About 10 years ago, Wilde said, he dated someone from Wisconsin – who wanted to learn how to surf.

“I was like, ‘I can teach you,’” Wilde recalled.

So Wilde took his partner to El Porto, in Manhattan Beach. The few waves he caught while bodysurfing, Wilde said, were restorative.

“It was like a whole renewed sense of joy, a whole renewed sense of purpose,” Wilde said. “It just felt really good.”

He was hooked again and started looking for spots to bodysurf.

In 2017, Wilde met a crew at the Manhattan Beach Pier who were part of the Gillis Beach Bodysurfing Association.

“They just became my bodysurfing family,” Wilde said, “and we surf together almost every day.”

Yet, despite that found family, Wilde was still working to shed his costume – to realize his true self.

Wilde – who teaches PE and strength conditioning at the independent Marlboro School, in the Hancock Park area of Los Angeles – never had an “aha” moment. Rather, it took years of thought and deliberation before he decided to transition.

“I was really deliberate,” Wilde said, “and made sure that everything felt right as I was doing it.”

Wilde first had to fight with his own demons and what he called “a lot of internalized transphobia.” He needed to release guilt and shame, Wilde said.

“I had a lot of work to do to break down some of the implicit biases that I held to see my blind spots,” Wilde said, “and to not carry shame about who I was.

“I had done that work and developed more of a sense of pride,” he added. “That’s when I decided I was ready, I was ready to start socially transitioning,”

In early 2019, at 35 years old, Wilde began socially transitioning by changing his pronouns. He uses either the he/him/his or they/them/their pronouns.

In March 2019, he had a surgical procedure known as “top surgery,” which removed his breasts and masculinized his chest. Eventually, he started taking testosterone, also known as HRT.

A social testing of the waters came shortly after, via the Gillis Beach Bodysurfing Association.

Many of its members are accomplished lifeguards and are highly respected people in the beach communities. It’s also an exclusive group: To formally join, every current member has to vote yes.

Wilde faced that vote in summer 2019.

It was unanimous – in his favor.


“It was like a whole renewed sense of joy, a whole renewed sense of purpose. It just felt really good.”

— Tyler Wilde


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In July 2020, with the pandemic fully underway, Wilde changed his name publicly. The next year, he made the change legally.

“I think there’s something really empowering,” WIlde said, “about picking your own name.”

The pandemic, for Wilde, had a positive aspect, he said: He was able to get through much of the transition while stay-at-home orders were in effect.

Then, Wilde said, he got to “really come out almost like a butterfly or a caterpillar (from) a cocoon.”

“I got to emerge as Tyler,” Wilde said. “Once everything opened back up, I went back to teaching in person, I just went back with a new name.”

His colleagues and the administration supported him, Wilde said. The school also hired someone to run its Diversity, Equity and Inclusion program and internally changed his email and name even before Wilde had done so legally.

Today, Wilde looks and acts much like the beach kid he’s always been. He has mid-length blond hair and a shoulder tattoo. He’s laid back.

But Wilde is also confident – because he knows who he is.

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Transgender bodysurfer Tyler Wilde is featured in the documentary 'Gender Outlaw,' directed by Peter Williams, which will screen Friday, June 24, the opening night of the second annual Hermosa Pride Parade and Festival. (photo courtesy of Sye Williams)
Bodysurfer Tyler Wilde, who is transgender, is featured in the documentary ‘Gender Outlaw,’ directed by Peter Williams, which will screen Friday, June 24, the opening night of the second annual Hermosa Pride Parade and Festival. (Photo courtesy of Sye Williams)

Wilde’s journey will take center stage later this week.

“Gender Outlaw,” which had its premiere earlier this month at the Hermosa Beach Museum, will help open the Hermosa Pride Parade and Festival.

Peter Williams, who grew up on the Palos Verdes Peninsula and now lives in Hawthorne, directed the documentary short.

He met Wilde while bodysurfing one day in Redondo Beach. They became friends and Wilde started to share the story of his transformation.

Williams knew the surfing world; at one time, he was director of content at the World Surf League. But, the director said, he didn’t know much about what people in the LGBTQ community go through.

“Seeing someone like Tyler and the adversity that he’s overcome, and the group that he’s a part of,” Williams said, “just seemed really profound to me.”

“Gender Outlaw,” though, isn’t solely about Wilde’s transition.

Wilde being transgender, in fact, is just one layer to the story the film tells, Williams said. At its core, “Gender Outlaw” is really just about bodysurfing.

“The core of the story is about finding your tribe and finding your community, and that’s in its purest form,” Williams said. “So we really celebrate that by showing a lot of surf in the film and a lot of waves, which I think is fantastic.”

Wilde, after all, has always felt comfortable in the ocean. And he continued bodysurfing throughout his transition.

Wilde’s most competitive bodysurfing year was actually in 2019, after he had already begun transitioning.

Even though he had already had the top surgery, Wilde said, he still competed in the women’s division.

He finished third in the California Bodysurfing Tour and third at the World Bodysurfing Championship in his age group.

He just wasn’t ready to compete against men, he said.

“I am non-binary and was not on hormone therapy yet so there wasn’t really a place for me,” Wilde said. “It just felt safer to compete against people I already knew and had personal relationships and friendships with.”

Wilde’s first competition after the top surgery was the Slyde Fest in June 2019.

Now, Wilde said, he is more comfortable competing in the men’s division “even though I’m a shrimp compared to many of them.”

“The bodysurfing community has always been very welcoming to me,” Wilde said, “even though they might not truly understand what I was going through.”


“It’s something that is inspiring and a beautiful film. I really hope that a lot of people, trans and otherwise, get to see it. It’s really relatable. Everybody can have empathy for this film.”

— Tyler Wilde


That’s not the case everywhere, however.

Transgender athletes have come under scrutiny of late.

The International Swimming Federation, which oversees rules and regulations for water sports worldwide, including the Olympics, recently voted to ban transgender swimmers from competition unless they transitioned before the age of 12.

That decision came amid a wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation being introduced and enacted nationwide.

There had already been more than 300 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced across the country this year as of March, according to the Human Rights Campaign. The HRC also reported that 2021 was the deadliest year on record for transgender and gender non-conforming people since the organization began tracking fatal violence in 2013.

“It’s really scary, to be honest,” Wilde said.

“There’ve been amendments to these bills that would help alleviate some of the insidiousness of them, the maliciousness of them, but even those amendments have been shut down,” Wilde added. “So the true color of these bills is not to protect kids at all.”

With all the negativity toward LGBTQ people in the country now, Wilde said, “Gender Outlaw” has created a “positive spin.”

“It’s something that is inspiring and a beautiful film,” Wilde said. “I really hope that a lot of people, trans and otherwise, get to see it. It’s really relatable. Everybody can have empathy for this film.”

The film could also make Wilde even more of a role model than he already is – even if that’s not his goal.

Wilde, who is openly transgender at his school, said he is happy to be a role model and a mentor for his students, though he has not set out to be a poster child for transgender individuals.

“I’m somebody who’s visible,” Wilde said, “and visibility matters.

“Their mental and emotional stability, sanity, their access to just life-saving health care is at risk,” Wilde said of LGBTQ youth, “and I’m really scared to see what’s going to come of this.”

Williams, for his part, said “Gender Outlaw” is for “anyone who might not feel welcome.”

For anybody who, like Wilde before his transition, may feel at home in the water – but nowhere else.

If you go

What: Opening of the Hermosa Pride Parade and Festival

When: 7 p.m. Friday, June 24; the festival runs until Sunday, June 26

Where: The Stanton, 844 Hermosa Ave., Hermosa Beach

Information: Hermosa Pride Instagram page, bit.ly/3Oylpgl

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Source: Orange County Register

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