Riding the wave of support for women's athletics generated by the World Cup soccer final, the women of surfing are hoping to draw attention to their sport at the U.S. Open of Surfing, beginning today in Huntington Beach.
Australian Layne Beachley earned the title of world surfing champion by defeating the well-respected, four-time world surfing champion, Lisa Andersen, in 1998. At 27, Beachley is one of the anchors for the 1999 Billabong Girls' Team Riders, along with surfer-model Malia Jones. She holds the title of five event victories in a season of 11 tournaments and took home the greatest contest earnings ever for a single women's season: $75,000.
No other woman has conquered the sport of big-wave surfing like she has. Beachley broke new ground last season in Hawaii by being the first woman to join some of the elite men who take on the huge outer-reef waves by way of tow-in surfing, a method in which a motorized watercraft vehicle tows a surfer into waves of 30 feet or more.
We sat down with Beachley for a few minutes last week to talk about what it's like to be the world's hippest surfer chick.
Question: How did you become interested in surfing and when?
Answer: My dad and brother surfed, and with a name like Beachley, I was drawn to the beach. I started skateboarding at age 2, so the balance for surfing kind of transferred. I began surfing at age 5 or 6, and at age 15, I entered my first scholastic regional competition and won. I knew I wanted to make it my profession. Before then, I had my sights set on being a stockbroker.
Q: What do you think of all the hoopla surrounding the Women's World Cup soccer tournament?
A: It's great. Any attention on female sports whatsoever is positive.
Q: Has enthusiasm for women's surfing reached the same fevered pitch?
A: No, because we have not made heroes out of our athletes like we have in soccer and basketball. There are not many people who wouldn't know Mia Hamm, but I'm the world champion of surfing, and a lot of people don't know me.
Q: Are you a role model?
A: Yes, I am reminded of it every day when young girls run up to me and ask for my autograph. I find it flattering, but I have to be aware of the image I portray at all times.
Q: Do you think it's easier for women today to become involved with the sport of surfing than it was in your day?
A: Definitely. Now we have the industry supporting us, all these companies making women's surf clothing, women's surfing magazines that support young surfers, and junior development programs at the clothing companies. I was reading something recently that the top female surfing money earner in 1987 was Kim Mearig, who made $10,650. Last year, I made $75,000. So there's definitely a future in women's surfing.
Q: What is the hardest thing about surfing professionally?
A: The amount of travel, and the foreign environments we live in every week. It's a very unstable, uncommitting lifestyle.
Q: Describe the thrill of riding a big wave.
A: The adrenaline creates an emotion. In some, that emotion is fear. In others, it's pure excitement. In me, it's a combination of both. I like to confront and overcome my fears. That way the excitement increases. Adrenaline is a scary thing, but good.