World Champion surfer, Mollymook’s Pam Burridge, will host a Q and A session after the screening of Girl Can’t Surf at Arcadia Cinema in Ulladulla on March 5.
Burridge will join movie goers for her home-town premiere as part of the three-day Sydney Travelling Film Festival.
Starring Burridge and a group of fellow women’s surfing pioneers, Girls Can’t Surf is the untold true story of how a ragtag bunch of renegade girls overcame adversity to achieve equality and turn women’s surfing into the multi-billion-dollar industry it is today
In the 1980s, the rebellious female surfers took on the male-dominated professional surfing world in a fight for inclusion, recognition and equality.
Featuring other surfing greats including Jodie Cooper, Frieda Zamba, Pauline Menczer, Lisa Andersen, Wendy Botha and Layne Beachley, the film offers a wild ride of clashing personalities, sexism, adventure and heartbreak, with each woman fighting against the odds to make their dreams of competing a reality.
It’s the 1980s and the world of professional surfing is a circus of fluoro colours, peroxide hair and radical male egos.
A sport that up until that point had been epitomised by the hippie counterculture of the 70s, and the Beach Boy scene of the 60s, was now going pro.
From the coasts of Australia to the beaches of California, Hawaii, France and Brazil, surf culture is now the hottest thing on the planet and male surfers the main event – golden gods in mainstream magazines and television.
In the middle of this came a disparate group of women who dreamt of becoming world champions, and having their very own taste of the stardom and glory.
Fiercely individual, competitive, ambitious and opinionated, these women came up against a male-dominated surf industry and culture that wasn’t ready for them.
Forced to wear impractical bathing suits and share dorm rooms with no hot running water just to make their dreams of competing a reality.
Earning a tenth of the prize money and being relegated to holding contests during the men’s lunch breaks when the wind came on-shore and the bikini competitions started, the group had to fight convention, compete against each other and band together to realise their dream of a professional tour.
Director Christopher Nelius says the idea came to him slowly over time.
“I would see more and more girls joining my local surfing line-up over the years, and it wasn’t always like that.
“It made me wonder if they knew the stories of the women who’d come before them. The women who’d made it possible.”
Nelius first reached out to the Australian-based surfers including Burridge, who was enthusiastic and supportive of the film and continues to be.
“It felt a little like tracking down a superhero 20 years after they’ve retired,” he recalls.
“Initially, I just wanted to have a chat over a video call, to get a feel for them as people and their stories and see if there was a film in it.
“When Pam told me about how she went to the Australian Open in Manly recently and wondered whether the young female surfers would know who she was, and when Pauline told me she was a school bus driver, I had an inkling there was not just a history that deserved to be told here but also something really human and dramatic.”
The filmmaking process provided a trip down memory lane for Burridge, who fondly recalls taking that first call with Nelius from her home in Mollymook, “We ended up chatting for ages. I’ve done heaps of interviews before, but this was flowing and going deeper.”
Burridge, who toured from 1980 until 1998, says getting women’s voices heard on the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP), felt like “a battlefield”.
With only two spots on the board, the girls realised they would have to become more united to be represented and have a voice.
“We were trying to be a part of it, but we did see that we were a small voice,” she added.
“We were actively having to try and firm up numbers when votes were coming up at board meetings that might affect us or limit us completely from competition.”
In the 1990s, the girls’ vote was reduced from two to one.
“We got voted out,” explains Burridge.
“I remember getting really angry and threatening to sue everyone and they were all laughing at me.”
Described by Surfer Magazine as the “Mother Superior of women’s surfing”, Burridge began surfing in 1975 at the age of 10.
She won the Australian National Titles at 15 and instantly turned pro.
But the quest for a world title proved somewhat elusive for much of her 15 years on tour.
Despite being touted as a perennial favourite year in and year out, the World Champion title eluded her for much of her early career.
She finished her rookie season rated fifth, then came in second the following year behind California’s Debbie Beacham.
From 1983 through 1986 she finished third, third, third and second, then dropped to seventh in 1987 before jumping back to the runner-up spot the next two years.
By now, the entire world (including Burridge herself) was anxiously waiting to see her atop the rankings where she belonged.
By the end of 1989, she was living with now-husband Mark Rabbidge, a top-ranked longboarder and surfboard shaper.
Going into the 1990 season, Rabbidge helped Burridge with surfboards, heat strategy and technique.
That extra boost paid off as Burridge entered the final event of the season with a slim ratings lead.
She paddled out at 12-foot Sunset Beach, seemingly inspired by the challenge at hand, and convincingly won both the contest and the world title.
She now lives in Mollymook and runs a surf school to keep the aloha flowing to the next generation of up-and-coming surfers.
Main Photo supplied.
Pam Burridge having fun in the waves with local school students at Mollymook. Photo Katrina Condie