Girls Can’t Surf Review

Girls Can't Surf
In 2018, a photo revealing the huge gender pay gap in a junior surfing competition goes viral on social media. This documentary goes back to Bondi Beach in the 1980s — when pioneering female surfers had it even worse, yet blazed a trail for the next generations of girls to follow.

by Weiting Liu |
Published on
Release Date:

19 Aug 2022

Original Title:

Girls Can’t Surf

Flitting between archive footage and modern-day interviews, Australian filmmaker Christopher Nelius’ sports documentary is a sobering tale of historical and systemic sexism and homophobia in the surfing community. It is a chilling exposé, but Nelius allows the female surfers’ passion for the sport, and their eternal zest for life, to shine through.

From the outset, the film’s title evokes a pungent sense of irony, which most male surfers in the 1980s unironically hailed as the truth. Interweaving a variety of visuals, Nelius juxtaposes this false accusation with the female surfers’ painstaking retellings of the abuses and persecutions that they combatted on all fronts. Intrinsically driven by their fragile egos and hysterical insecurity, the male surfers, sponsors and judges’ insidious schemes to undermine female surfers come to the fore.

With heart-wrenching vulnerability, renowned female surfers who were on tour at the time, including Pam Burridge, Wendy Botha, Jodie Cooper and Pauline Menczer, share their personal tales of woe: the development of life-threatening anorexia as a tragic result of the sponsors’ commercial exploitation of their body image; the forcible outing of their queer identity and subsequent ostracism of queer women from the sport; the internalised misogyny they had to battle in the absence of any financial and psychological support.

But what they did have, and what ultimately empowered them to triumph over all odds against them, was their undying love for surfing and for each other — a passion that has lasted until the present day. It is a bittersweet documentary, and while at times formulaic in its filmmaking techniques, the way it tells the women’s inspiring stories is first-hand, empathetic and worthy of praise_._

A simultaneous celebration and subversion of popular surfing culture, Girls Can’t Surf makes for a dynamic cinematic experience, celebrating the real badasses and unsung heroes of the sport: women.
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