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"Girls can't SURF!"


…and don’t take a bite of it on the way or you’re dropped!”

By Ian Browne Shamrock News

I’ve never been one of those blokes that thought that chicks should stay on the sand, deterred from taking on the barrels. I grew up in the waves of Cronulla and I can’t remember any of the guys complaining either. When the infamous line spoken above arrived in Puberty Blues, I was still in primary school. For those not in the know it took place during a scene in Greenhills Cronulla, when a chauvinistic boyfriend verbally slanders his girlfriend on the beach for not watching him surf, the young lady instead preferring to socialise with pals during a sunbaking session. He then orders her to buy him a chiko roll, and hence the line above is demanded. The girls get revenge and to the boys’ horror, also take to the waves with their spritely short boards.

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During high school two girls I knew, Rachel Brown and Sarah Goodhew, didn’t seem to worry what the boys thought and sat out the back waiting for the best waves. Very few girls I knew surfed back then though. For those that did partake in the salty pleasures of the Pacific, perhaps things became a bit more open-minded during the early-mid-eighties when I was a grommet? Well, it may have seemed like that, but if you watch this interesting documentary directed by Christopher Nelius, you will travel back to the 84 Beaurepairs contest at Cronulla where, and like many contests of the time - women were expected to ride the slosh - leaving the tide and better swell to the lads.

I also remember the huge crowds rolling up to Cronulla’s Elouera beach, with a sand fight ta boot. It was during the realm of Tom Carrol and Frieda Zamba, and it was also the first ever surf contest to be held under lights, where surf boats and jet skis patrolled the back of the line up - keeping the sharks at bay. I recall the women’s heats were changed due to the 10-feet swell, asked to paddle out in smaller conditions. Well now that changed when the gals began to surf suckie reef breaks such as Cloudbreak and Teahupo’o - didn’t it - and any notion that being ‘female’ meant you couldn’t hold the line on the ultra-gnarly leviathans. Layne Beachly won Teahupo’o in 2001. In the early 90s my brother and I were over in Hawaii watching the Billabong Pro at Sunset Beach. Out front of us on the beach not far from the shoreline at Pipeline, a few women not much younger than me paddled out in the 7 to 9-feet swell. And though it was smooth and ‘makeable’, it was still bigger than what I was accustomed to. ‘According to the memoirs of Marau Taaroa, Last Queen of Tahiti, printed in 1893, the first surfer at Teahupoo was actually a woman from Raiatea named Vehiatua’ (Rode 2020). Apparently, the local chief then killed her in hope of spiritually inheriting her fine surfing abilities! In 2006 the women’s Teahupo’o event was taken off the calendar due to safety fears but returned once again in 2021.

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This film shows just how staunch a group of American & Aussie girls were in battling to improve the pay and profile of women in this sport. The camaraderie, the competitive tittle-tattle on one another, is very entertaining. Also on show is the vile sexism that continues to this day, where once again a woman’s body is more important than her creative/physical ability. What also surprised me was that I had actually met one of the surfers. Back in the day I knew who Pauline Menczer was, but I ran into her later in life in the Northern Rivers of New South Wales, and I didn’t twig that it was her until I watched this film. Pauline was so young when it all started for her, and she is charismatic; definitely stole my heart during the film with all those freckles & tomboy Bondi grit! I loved how the film showed how Pauline went on to mentor other women on the scene, demanding that they too stick up for their rights, refusing to ride in the tiny swell that slopped over rocks in J Bay, South Africa. After all, the men’s heats were stalled to allow for the tide to lift and improve the swell. Hmmm…

Teaching on the Gold Coast nowadays, I am surprised that more girls don’t surf. A lot do, but most teens I know there don’t. Quite a few women begin the art when they leave school. Many women visiting from overseas, try their luck in places like Byron Bay, or the Town of 1770. Sometimes I swim or paddle out at the Pass in Byron and ladies from all over the globe are happy to chat to me. It’s a friendly place, and a paradise. I even covered a photo story on a German lady who surfed a long board there and at Lennox.

As the films announces things are improving for women in surfing, and the way that was paved by a group of gutsy Aussie & American gals, should never be forgotten.

I will leave you with this splendid moment, Stephanie Gilmore, a fine ambassador for women’s surfing and sport in general

Pam Burridge sourced via


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