Layne Beachley - one of the boys?

Layne Beachley's latest stunt surfing at Cape Solander or Ours or whatever you like to call it, has got a lot of media attention - some of that would have occurred on it's own but a lot of it was generated by Layne's pre and post-session media briefings.

A brief search engine wander revealed almost every established surf site (and then some) had reported the story, with most of them apparently using an exact, unaltered copy of (what seems to be) a Coastalwatch brief. The consensus is that Layne rips, she is gutsy and whether towed in or not, that wave is impressive. (see Tracks, SurfersVillage, RealSurf, The Australian... and even Stab had a go at being supportive!)

However, there is something about the whole ongoing Layne-is-hardcore thing that makes me feel a little, well, uncomfortable...

Layne Beachley is an impressive surfer, competitor and woman. She has worked hard, been incredibly focused and has not shied away from promoting herself, which although annoying, grating and repetitive at times, has ultimately served to promote both her and competitive women's surfing quite well.

To do this she has created the kind of wave-riding images that will allow photos of a woman surfing to be published in mainstream surfing magazines and websites, and to be sensational enough to flow into broader media and news. To me, Layne's need for acceptance in this shiny, globalised and commercialised world of surfing, and recognition for her personal role in that world, requires her to buy into the dominant ideas and approaches that exist. The thing is, women already know that women can surf (and so do the men that I choose to know) so who and what exactly is she challenging?

Buying into the 'Ours' thing is meant to impress - and it seems to be working - but by putting such a premium on recognition from the guys that surf there, Layne just reaffirms their dominance in deciding who is a good, great and better surfer. Layne's apparently constant quest to be 'one of the boys' by aligning herself with certain types of wave-riding and the associated people (in this particular case the Bra Boys) validates them and their ideas and gives them more and more currency, and even means she places herself at the mercy of their acceptance.

For a woman who has achieved so much, isn't that a terrible position to have to put yourself in!

And I wish that she didn't feel that she had to because her achievements and her experiences stand alone. Of course, once more, we have to take into consideration money, exposure, employment and recognition which at least provides an explanation for all this - it's about doing things that the established surfing media can grab onto and admire.

Unfortunately, competitive women's surfing still needs to be promoted to men so that it can exist, because in that world guys remain the ones who have all the hand. And that seems to explain part of Layne's constant need for validation, recognition and acknowledgement from men and her constant self-promotion to that end. But doesn't there have to be an end to that in sight? Doesn't there have to be a point where women's surfing can just be surfing rather than high profile barrier pushing all the time, just to get exposure?

Because the times when I have seen or heard Layne spoken about in the best terms, are when someone is talking about her surfing at their local break and that she's really nice or that she ripped it up. Because when she just shuts up and surfs, the people seem to like her.


  1. Thought provoking. And yes, I can see where you are coming from - this still needing 'validation' thing from the men seems to drive her.
    Ultimately I reckon it comes down to individuals and what lives in their psyches. Like all of us, Layne has some 'issues' (I refer to her childhood/adoption stuff), and needing acceptance possibly feeds on that. In the end it's about being content with yourself, which is so hard in the competitive culture we live in. There is always someone younger, smarter, more beautiful, braver so it's a bit pointless and very unsatisfying to live this way.

  2. My Favorite Surfer and Lisa Anderson, Good week =D

  3. bec, I just wanted to drop by here and say thanks for this piece. I read it at Kurungabaa and really appreciated it.

    I was also interested in the different ways Stab and Coastalwatch reported Layne's big day out.

    Never a dull moment

  4. Never a dull moment indeed, Mark...

    Or maybe they've all become so dull and predictable that we don't even notice anymore - that we've learned to feign surprise?

    Thank the proverbial heavens for all those wonderful independent websites, blogs, zines and exhibtions that we can explore to instead of relying on the industry fuelled ones!

  5. Anonymous4:30 PM

    seriously. she won 7 world titles people.
    who really cares?
    pretty sure she doesn't need "validation". you've all got way too much time on your hands if you're analysing stupid stuff like this.
    jealousy seems to be rearing it's ugly head....

  6. Well thank God Anonymous has finally pointed out the futility our lives to us!

    Otherwise we all could have gone on for YEARS asking questions, looking at things from other perspectives and trying to see when things are more complicated and problematic than they first appear.

    Imagine the savings of time we'll log from the hours of conversations, arguments and insights we have all been spared by your succinct and effective beration.

    Now that I can stop thinking, I'll have time to build that boat I've always dreamed of! Or bake. I could learn to bake...

  7. Anonymous11:33 AM

    it's about paddling out and surfing. nothing else.
    you shouldn't even be surfing if you want to delve into all this other stuff.
    absolutely pointless.


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