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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
In a time where women were side-lined to tiny bikinis and arm-candy, this disparate group of women from around the world dreamt of becoming world champions. Fiercely individual, competitive and ambitious, these women came up against a male-dominated million-dollar industry and culture that wasn't ready for them. Girls Can't Surf dives into the world of professional surfing: a circus of fluoro colors, peroxide hair and radical male egos.
This documentary winds back the clock to the 1980s, a time when highly-skilled female surfers began to emerge through competitions, yet faced even greater struggles in breaking through the glass ceiling of a male-dominated sport.
An inspiring line-up of female surfing luminaries recall internal and external pressures in their careers, which provides a captivating immediacy given that it is accompanied by archival footage. Female surfing was not taken seriously, as male surfers were idolised as “flashy young demi-gods”, while women were forced to surf on inferior “scum-pit of the ocean” shore-line waves. Not only this, the funding and sponsorship for women’s events were frequently diverted to their male counterparts, providing little incentive for females to even participate. This historical perspective shines a light on the pioneering women surfers whose burning desire to be the best in the world paved the pathway for current pay equality.
Although featuring predominately Australian figures, international surfers such as Wendy Botha (South Africa), Lisa Andersen and Frieda Zamba from the USA, among others, impart a self-deprecating and lively humour with brutally honest accounts of their individual experiences. The film is a great tribute to all of these athletes and a timely reminder of everything that led up to the decision to raise the women’s prize money to parity with the men’s just two years ago. This is a definitive documentary for female empowerment – it providing a satisfying narrative arc that vindicates the many sacrifices the film’s subjects had to make and for which the future generations owe them a debt of gratitude.