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Female surfing legends reveal struggles for success in the early days of the male-dominated sport

Icons of Australian female surfing have revealed their early struggles for success in the aggressive male-dominated sport in a new book.

Pam Burridge, Layne Beachley and Phyllis O’Donnell have spoken out on their tough surfing upbringing in hostile beach breaks around the country as they found their feet in the sport.

The trio spoke with author Sean Doherty for the book ‘Golden Daze’, which takes insight from a significant year in each surfer’s life, with each recalling their upbringing in the Australian surfing scene. 

Burridge was world champion in 1990 and endured hardship for respect and waves in Sydney’s beaches, even after having success in her youth.

‘It wasn’t a place for any kind of weakness especially if you were female,’ she says in the book.

‘The blokes got the best waves. The women got what was left. The women got s**tty surf and no billing.’

Her experience was mirrored by O’Donnell, who recalled physically pushing guys off of her waves in Coolangatta on Queensland’s Gold Coast after she was crowned world champion in 1964.

Seven-time world champion Beachley found as her ability progressed in the water so did the level of animosity towards her in the lineup. 

‘A lot of guys started giving me s**t when I started surfing better than them,’ she said.

‘When I eventually became someone recognisable in the industry they started respecting me but before that they sort of resented the fact that I overtook them and they never went anywhere.’

Mr Doherty found this competitive attitude to be a common theme in the female surfers in the book, especially from the 1970’s through to the mid-2000s.

‘I don’t think a lot of it was specifically directed towards women surfers, but the general environment,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.

‘It was so competitive with everyone and the lineup during the 1970’s to 1990s was probably 95 percent male. It was an extremely blokey environment.’

The veteran surf journalist said the aggressive lineups drove each surfer to become the strong characters they are today.

‘They developed a real kind of forcefulness about getting to where they want to go because they had to have that just to get waves at their local beaches,’ he said.

‘Layne takes a lot of personal pride in beating guys, and Pam too. They both grew up in Manly and measured themselves less against other women and more against the guys.’ 

Mr Doherty credits the rise of seven-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore as a turning point that brought a change to the aggressive dynamic of Australian lineups.

‘Steph really marked a point where things changed,’ he said. ‘And society was evolving, a lot of the older values the older women had to push through had mellowed out a bit.’

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