The making of the women's pro surfing story, 'Girls Can't Surf'

March 2, 2021
Inset: Girls Can't Surf film maker, Chris Nelius

Chris Nelius, the director of Girls Can’t Surf, likes to surf daily at his local beach, Bondi, in Sydney.

Over the past 20 years, he says, he has noticed a demographic change in the people happily running into the waves with their boards.

“There are more girls than ever. On many days now there are more females in the water than guys.”

Observing that “brought out the film producer” in him.

“I wondered about the history of women in surfing and I thought those girls might be interested in it,” he told me.

So, together with the film’s co-producer, Michaela Perske, he began cold calling some of the greats of women’s pro-surfing, like Pam Burridge, Wendy Botha, Pauline Menczer and Jody Cooper.

“They weren’t expecting that anybody would be interested in them,” he said. “But they are such cool people. They were so open with me about such personal stuff.”

There was also a “mountain to climb” in locating footage from all around the world of the women competing. It came in a motley variety of formats.

 Nelius found making the film a learning experience.

“I didn’t realise at first that this was going to be a feminist film,” he said. “It was sort of like what it was for these women when they got into pro-surfing.”

“They didn’t set out to be feminists, they just wanted to have fun and compete. But they found themselves completely disrespected as women.”

“They were mistreated and sidelined and they realised that nobody was going to do anything about it. The only people who were going to change things was them.”

“So, they had to be competitors in the waves and unify on the sand.”

Girls Can’t Surf has had a few preview screenings before going into cinemas on March 11. Those showings “have been packed with women and girls,” Nelius said. “They loved it.

[Green Left's review of Girls Can’t Surf can be read here.]

[An ABC Radio National interview with Jodie Cooper and Pauline Menczer can be heard here.]

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