Review | ‘Girls Can’t Surf’ expertly highlights fight for equality in sport

Girls Can’t Surf | Dir: Christopher Nelius | ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ 

Well, girls and women can surf but that wasn’t the generally held belief in the early 1980s when a group of women decided to take on the male-dominated professional surfing world after being allowed to compete since 1976. Theirs was a fight for inclusion, recognition and equality … a fight that would last until 2019.

This little known chapter in sporting history features a group of brave, pissed-off women from Australia, North America and South Africa who fought to compete in the world surfing championships. Unfortunately they were given substandard accommodation and had to wear impractical bathers.

They were expected to complete during the lunch break of the men’s competition or when the conditions were unfavourable and earned a tenth the prize money. One year, when funds were tight, it was decided to cancel the women’s surfing competition, but keep the bikini competition.

Although this fantastic documentary is about a few women battling inequality, it really captures how difficult it has been for all women, all around the world. Without the sponsorship that the male surfers had, these young women had to battle the weight of entrenched male entitlement (and downright hostility), look sexy and hide their sexuality, while dealing with their own personal battles.

Many of the women gave up their dreams, but a new generation surged forward and a breakthrough came in 1993 when Quicksilver noticed that girls were buying boys’ boardshorts and their Roxy brand of surf wear for women took off. The sport took off as well but it would take another 26 years for equality in women’s surfing.

Told through the personal recollections from pioneering female surfers such as Jodie Cooper, Frieda Zamba, Pauline Menczer, Lisa Andersen, Pam Burridge, Wendy Botha and Layne Beachley, the film documents a 40 year battle against sexism and discrimination in sport.

Girls Can’t Surf screens at Somerville as part of the Perth Festival from Monday 11 January to Sunday 17 January before opening in cinemas 11 March. 

Lezly Herbert

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