At the 2021 Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards in Sydney on Thursday night, seven-time surfing world champion Layne Beachley was inducted into the Women’s Agenda Hall of Fame in recognition of her leadership legacy and fight for gender equality in surfing.
Layne Beachley is one of the greatest surfers of all time, and while her achievements in the water – including seven world titles – cannot be understated, it’s also her determination to improve standards for all women in the surfing world that is a hallmark of her success. Throughout her career in the professional surfing, she truly blazed a trail for equality, helping to transform surfing into a sport that values women.
Speaking to Women’s Agenda’s Editor-in-Chief Tarla Lambert prior to the event, Layne spoke about the years she’s spent fighting for equality for women in surfing, including pushing for equal pay and sponsorship deals, and greater respect for women in the waves.
Sharing details about her early years, Layne said she recognised the world of surfing was unequal from a very young age, basically from the time she started surfing as a four-year-old girl at Manly beach.
“I started surfing when I was four and that was when the fight really started. I grew up surfing at Manly beach and I was the only girl in the water,” she said.
“There were very few female mentors or female role models.”
When Layne joined the pro tour in 1990, she saw the inequality, ridicule and disrespect women were facing in the surfing industry. It was from that point, right at the beginning, that she decided to commit to the fight for equality and respect.
She had a grand vision for surfing; that it could be as equal for women as men as professional tennis was. She wanted it to be able to stand on its own two feet, and be valued.
“When I joined the pro tour in 1990, fresh faced out of high school, I felt like we’d lost the benefit of gender because the industry, the governing body, and our male counterparts really devalued us. We were in a place of disrespect and it was an environment that wasn’t really encouraged for women to enter,” she said.
“I saw the levels of disparity for support and encouragement and sponsorship and events and opportunities, there was no equality.” There was no such thing and I really wanted to make a difference to that.”
And so, Layne fought tooth and nail everyday at the beach and in the boardroom, and where ever else she possibly could, sharing the stories and plight of women’s surfing. Her intention was to make a positive difference for women and leave the sport in a better place than where she found it.
“From being the women’s director of the tour and constantly battling the boys at the beach for quality conditions and then having to stand up and fight against them when they protested when they waves became too good for us. Dealing with the disparity in sponsorship and encountering the level of sexism and chauvinism that we experienced both at the beach and in our relationships with industry sponsors.”
Now, in 2021, years after Layne’s retirement from the sport, surfing is one of the most gender equal professional sports in the world, having achieved equal pay for women in 2019. Women’s surfing now benefits from a multi-million dollar sponsorship industry, and women like Tyler Wright are surfing iconic breaks like Pipeline.
Layne is now continuing her legacy of leadership through her new venture, the Awake Academy, an online learning platform helping people to detach from fear and take control of their lives.