Girls Can’t Surf offers a personal glimpse into the lives of some of surfing legends like Jodie Cooper, Pam Burridge, Pauline Menczer, Wendy Botha, Lisa Andersen and Layne Beachley.
This documentary shows us surfing history through the eyes of these inspiring women who beat all the odds to come out on top. It explores the challenges, disadvantages and struggles that these women faced, including the deep sexism of surfing culture at the time.
These inspirational women surfers never made any money. But because of their resilience and passion for their sport, they changed the face of surfing not only in Australia but around the world.
Sexism; gender inequality; body image; male chauvinism; domestic abuse; alcoholism; anorexia; chronic illness; poverty; homosexuality; adoption; identity
Girls Can’t Surf has some violence. For example:
- One surfer jokingly says that the only way to beat her competition is with a large piece of wood.
- There are some images of surfers fighting in the surf.
Girls Can’t Surf has some sexual references. For example:
- Two surfers reveal that they’re lesbians.
- There’s a shot of an article with the heading, ‘How surfing compares to sex’.
- Both male and female spectators say they come to the beach and the surf competitions to look at the opposite sex.
Alcohol, drugs and other substances
Girls Can’t Surf shows some use of substances. For example:
- Some of the girls confess that they loved to party.
- There are many shots of surfers drinking and smoking.
- Spectators drink on the beaches while watching the surf competitions.
- Pam Burridge claims that drinking is what kept her alive while she was starving herself.
- Champagne is sprayed over surfing champions as they hold up their trophies.
Nudity and sexual activity
Girls Can’t Surf has some nudity and sexual activity. For example:
- A man grabs his crotch and thrusts his pelvis toward the camera.
- There are many shots of women in bikinis and shirtless men on the beach or in the water.
- There are magazine images of sexy women in small bikinis. There are also images of women in G-strings posing in the water. One advertisement says, ‘A great pair’.
- There are close-ups of people’s bottoms on surfboards.
- Lisa Andersen gets pregnant and has her baby while on the surfing tour.
- There is one shot of Lisa Andersen breastfeeding her baby.
- The female surfers all talk about having to wear swimsuits cut so high that one girl asked, ‘Does anyone need a razor?’
- Paddling out to the waves, one girl had to keep pulling up the straps on her swimsuit so her breasts wouldn’t fall out.
- Wendy Botha poses naked for Australian Playboy.
- The women talk about how they felt they had to accept unwanted or unwelcome sexual advances, simply to prove that they weren’t lesbians.
Girls Can’t Surf has some product placement. For example, many surf and swimwear brands and products are mentioned or displayed, including Ocean Pacific Swimwear, Piping Hot, Rip Curl, Hawaiian Style, Reef, Roxy, Billabong, Quiksilver, O’Neill, Maui Pro, Surf Ranch, Surfing Life Magazine, and Tracks Magazine.
Other products and brands mentioned include Dodge, Coors, Dragon Sunglasses, Kalua, Pepsi, Swatch, Red Bull, Samsung Galaxy, Corona, Jeep, Hurley, 7Up, Target, Akubra and Instinct.
There’s also a Sunkist photo shoot featuring one of the surfers and a Coca-Cola commercial.
Girls Can’t Surf has some coarse language.
Ideas to discuss with your children
Girls Can’t Surf is a documentary that shines a light on a dark time in women’s surfing. Archival footage and photos are interwoven with personal interviews with professional female surfers, and a powerful story of passion, resilience, determination and triumph is the result.
This movie is best suited to older audiences because of its language and adult themes.
These are the main messages from Girls Can’t Surf:
- It isn’t what happens to you that makes you – it’s how you respond that matters most.
- If you give women an opportunity, they’ll make the world a better place.
Values in Girls Can’t Surf that you could reinforce with your children include dedication, solidarity, helpfulness, determination, passion, resilience and self-belief.
Girls Can’t Surf could also give you the chance to talk with your children about real-life issues of sexism, disrespect towards women and gender inequality. For example, the movie looks at:
- gendered ideas about women’s abilities and roles, including how men thought that the women weren’t as good as men, so they should just ‘look attractive and dress well’. You could contrast this to Jodie Cooper’s achievement of taking on a wave that no man would go near
- pay inequality and how female surfers are only now being awarded equal pay for taking on the same tasks and risks as men. You could talk about how this happens in many industries and workplaces
- consent and how the female surfers felt they had to accept sexual advances even though they were uncomfortable with them
- battles with body image and how these affected female surfers
- judgments about people based on how their appearance, sexual preferences or gender.