Girls Can’t Surf
Pam Burridge, Pauline Menczer, Wendy Botha, Lisa Andersen, Frieda Zamba
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…a definitive documentary for female empowerment, while providing a satisfying narrative arc that vindicates the many sacrifices the film’s subjects had to make.
Girls Can’t Surf powerfully reconstructs history by showcasing the personal and professional challenges overcome by women participating in the sport of surfing.
The documentary winds the clock back to the 1980s, whereby highly-skilled female surfers began to emerge through competitions, yet faced even greater struggles in piercing through the misogyny of a male-dominated sport.
An inspiring line-up of female surfing luminaries recall internal and external pressures in their careers, which provides a captivating immediacy when accompanied by archival footage. Chiefly, female surfing was not taken seriously, as male surfers were idolised as “flashy young demi-gods” on “neon surfboards”, while women were forced to surf on inferior “scum-pit of the ocean” shore-line waves. Not only this, the funding and sponsorship for women events were frequently diverted to their male counterparts, providing little incentive for females to participate. This historical perspective establishes a glass ceiling that is smashed by women, whose burning desire to be the best surfers in the world paved the pathway for current pay equality.
Although featuring predominately Australian figures, international surfers such as Wendy Botha (South Africa), Lisa Andersen and Frieda Zamba from the U.S.A, among others, instil a self-deprecating and lively humour with brutally honest accounts of their individual experiences. This is where director Christopher Nelius elevates the material beyond the sport of surfing, as the film tackles deeply personal but universal issues, revealing the insurmountable odds that females encountered.
For example, Australian Pam Burridge suffered from anorexia due to persistent hectoring that she needed to lose weight in order to look feminine, and therefore sell the sport. Meanwhile, Pauline Menczer was forced to live out of her van as prize money was stripped entirely from the women’s competitions the year that she won. Finally, sexual orientation fuelled controversy in the late ‘80s, as some women surfers that did not live up to feminine ideals were “tarred with a big brush – you’re gay”, and ostracised from the sport. Here, the documentary is highly charged with emotion, but also, these act as watershed moments in advancing female surfing to where it is today.
Girls Can’t Surf is a definitive documentary for female empowerment, while providing a satisfying narrative arc that vindicates the many sacrifices the film’s subjects had to make.