It’s not easy being a world champion. It pretty much means putting everything else in your life on hold until that goal is achieved. There are always a lot of sacrifices along the way, a lot of things you could have done, but didn’t, in the pursuit of one goal.
That’s why there aren’t many of them. You could probably count the world champions living in the Byron Shire on one hand. Maybe even one finger.
A Byron Shire lass for over 20 years and now based in Bruns, Pauline Menczer has won 28 major surfing tournament’s – she has three Bells’ bells, has won Hawaii three times, as well as wins in Brazil, France, Japan and Portugal, to name a few.
She also has three world titles – World Amateur 1988, World Pro in 1993 and World Qualifying Series in 2002. You could safely say Pauline’s a pretty good surfer.
Not only has Pauline won a swathe of competitions and awards, nationally and internationally she has been recognised for her efforts with appearances in movies and magazines, in books and innumerable news items and though retired from competitive surfing, Pauline is still on the A list for surfing events and galas across the globe in recognition for her mighty efforts and incredible contribution to the sport.
But wait, you also get an elite athlete who for her entire competitive career has has to manage the debilitating effects of rheumatoid arthritis (which has now turned into osteoarthritis). RA is a disease which sees many sufferers unable to get out of bed let alone draw on a wetsuit and beat the world’s best – if anyone on this planet was a roll model for working hard, overcoming adversity and for all young surfers, Menczer is that person.
An honour roll commemorating great local surfers on a ‘Surf Alley’ wall in Byron Bay, has somehow managed to omit Pauline’s name from the list.
Pauline, who moved to the area before winning her world championship in ’93, says the first she heard of the mural was when a very upset friend of hers rang to say that there was an honour roll for local surfers in Byron Bay and that her name wasn’t among those listed.
‘For myself, I wasn’t really worried, but there are a lot of local kids who know I am a world champion surfer and the idea of trying to change that “old school” attitude toward women surfers made me want to speak up.’
This issue is not just about teaching young girls by showing them strong roll models, this is also about teaching boys that women also deserve acknowledgement for their achievements in not only surfing but all areas – and the fact that there are very few people who are the best in the world at something shouldn’t go unnoticed.
Menczer says that the honour roll has caused a lot of dissension within the local surfing community even before recent media attention highlighted the issue. ‘A lot of people are upset about the Honour Roll. I’m not the only one whose name the artists left out. They have missed out a lot of people. My coach Steve Foreman should be on it. It doesn’t sound like it’s been researched well enough. It’s not a big deal to add some names.’
Menczer who now drives a local school bus is all too aware of the influences media has over young children and how important it is that we encourage all children to achieve. ‘It’s not sending a nice message at all. If you have a champion women’s surfer from the area not on the list, and only two women’s names and 15 of the local guys on the list, it’s not honouring the people who deserve to be honoured. It’s not sending the right message. It’s saying “These guys are cool. They’re in with the right crowd”. It’s just not a good message.’
Pauline says that the pro-touring is hard and the champions of the past did a lot to raise the profile of female surfers as athletes, but there is a real danger of a backslide. ‘When I was on tour, we fought really hard to try and make it even. Equal. It’s becoming a lot better in free surfing but I have noticed that a lot of the top pro-girls have gone back to selling themselves. Their bodies. It’s going backwards, back to the old school.’
Pauline does put her surfboard when her mouth is. She often volunteers her time and energy to local surfing – she is a coach with the Indigenous Burra Jurra kids and is a member of the Lennox All Girl Surfriders.
Pauline says a recent radio appearance was heard by some of the kids who ride her bus. ‘They couldn’t believe I wasn’t on the honour roll. One young girl who is a surfer didn’t understand, she said, “You’re a world champion. I think you’re amazing. Why aren’t you on there?” and I said I don’t know.
‘I mean, what do you tell them?’