Layne Beachley shocked the world of professional surfing recently by declaring she will compete in the men’s division of the Energy Australia Open, held in Newcastle Beach, Australia, from March 22nd-28th. For Beachley, the six-time and current Women’s World champion, the entry is viewed as a good opportunity to train for a seventh world title. In reality, her entry is a historic milestone for women in a sport dominated by testosterone.
Beachley will square off against many of the world’s elite male surfers. Past event champions include such greats as Tom Carroll, Tom Curren, Mark Occhilupo, Damien Hardman, and Mick Fanning. Hardman, past world and event champion, understands the importance of Layne’s presence in the event. “Women’s surfing has certainly come a long way in recent years,” says Hardman in an event press release, “and I think a lot of this can be attributed to Layne. She’s always looking for more challenges and ways to improve. That’s why she has six world titles to her credit.” Energy Australia Open contest director Warren Smith is thrilled about Layne’s presence in the event. “Layne is not only a great Australian ambassador,” said Smith, “she is also an extremely talented sportsperson and has contributed so much to women’s surfing, taking the sport to a new professional level.”
Beachley says competing against guys has always been part of her surfing routine. “When I started surfing, there weren’t many girls taking up the sport,” said Beachley. “I surfed with the boys. We would pretend to have surfing competitions, and have a lot of fun.” While Beachley relishes in the opportunity to improve her competitive attack against the world’s top men but shys away from a prediction. “I really need to improve my competitive side,” said Beachley in a press release for the event. “This experience will certainly help me competitively.”
Is Layne taking the spot of a more deserving male surfer?
Do Layne’s six world championships and big wave bravado give her more than enough credibility to surf against the boys?
The Energy Australia Open, a 4-star WQS event with a $100,000 prize pool, is part of the Australian stretch of the World Championship Tour. Beachley’s first heat is slated for March 26. Her status as a wildcard means that she will automatically progress into the final round of competitors, featuring some of the World’s top 64 men. “While I’m almost certain my competitive nature will get the better of me,” added Beachley, “I am looking forward to being out in the water and enjoying the moment.”
Yeah, but will she get out of her first heat, or is this simply a publicity stunt by event organizers, in the same vein as recent gender crossover events in the sport of golf? Either way, ecstatic event organizers are already expecting massive media coverage due to Beachley’s participation. As has been proven in the recent past, these gender crossover events always interest the viewing public and generate mainstream media attention–and this will be especially true in a sport hungry and overtly chauvinistic Australian culture.