Celebrating the achievements of Pauline Menczer was well overdue when, on Tuesday evening, she became the 40th inductee into the Hall of Fame at the Australian Surfing Awards on the Gold Coast.
Having grown up in Sydney, Pauline started surfing at Bondi at a young age, moving to Byron at 22.
In 1993 she became the World Pro Champion and has won 28 major tournaments including three at Bells Beach.
‘Bell’s Beach has really good waves and you can really show what you can do there,’ said Pauline.
But this success didn’t come without a huge amount of dedication, hard work and training along with the commitment of her coach Steve Foreman.
’Twenty years on, the world tour back then had its challenges,’ she said ruefully.
‘Financially it was difficult and women weren’t treated equally at all! The guys would always get put out in the better surf conditions and their prize money was about five times more than the women would get for the same competitions.’
Not interested in fitting into the classic bikini magazine stereotype that was required by major sponsors, from a young age Pauline found ways to support herself as she strove to achieve her dream.
‘When I first started surfing I collected cans on Bondi Beach to make some money. Then at about 14 I sold cakes and toffees at the school and they would let us have mufti days (free dress) at school and I raised money that way.’
When Pauline was on tour she would take a tent to sleep in friends’ gardens and buy things to sell in the countries she was visiting as a way to fund her trip.
‘I would stay with friends and they would help me sell stuff, so that was how I raised the money.
‘It was all the little guys that were helping me and without that family of people helping me, without that I wouldn’t have been able to do it. That’s why I always want to help the little guys.’
Pauline emphasises what ‘awesome inspiring people’ she met on her journeys around the world.
‘I feel so lucky and grateful to have been able to have a career doing something I absolutely love – being so close to nature and experiencing all the beauty and magic our oceans have to offer.’
Heading to Portugal
Pauline has just announced that she is one of five surfers who have been invited to the Azores masters pro in Portugal this September.
After a lifetime of living with rheumatoid arthritis she is currently recovering from a hip replacement but is looking forward to being able to get back out and train soon – with the doctors’ permission.
Though there was rumour that now Pauline has been recognised for her contribution to surfing her coach Steve Foreman would be retiring, she has ‘asked Steve to be my coach again’ and is hoping that he will come on board.
Now she is getting back on her board and competing, Pauline is currently looking for sponsorship for her trip to Portugal.
‘I was down at the Billindgel pub the other day and they said they would chip in – Kenny, he’s awesome,’ she said with a smile.
Encouraging kids into the sport
These days Pauline is a local bus driver as well as surfer and really enjoys the positive impact she is able to have on local kids.
‘I really try and encourage kids to surf as it’s such a positive, healthy activity.
‘I loved working with Steve Foreman and the local Burra Jurra kids. When you see a little grommet catch their first wave the stoke and joy on their faces is just priceless. My advice to all the kids out there (and the adults learning) is don’t give up, just keep practising.
‘It’s a really tricky sport to learn and no wave is ever the same, so you’ve got to persevere but also just remember to enjoy it too.
Highlighting the benefits of surfing for kids’ mental health, Pauline also pointed out the appreciation it gives them of ‘Mother Nature.’
‘Hopefully surfing will inspire them to respect and care for our environment and marine conservation. You get to see dolphins and turtles in their natural environment which is pretty special.
‘Once my hips heal I plan on getting in the water and volunteer-coaching some of the kids,’
Advice from a pro
Pauline also highlighted the challenges for female surfers commenting that ‘Today’s female surfers get a huge amount of media attention and have a really important responsibility to be strong, empowering role models to the new generation. Tyler Wright is doing an awesome job of that.’.
‘Let your surfing talent define you and don’t be influenced by the media images of wearing g-strings up your butt – it won’t help your surfing technique I promise you,’ she said with a laugh.
‘The best part of surfing is anyone can have a go regardless of gender, age or class; I love seeing so many older women in their 50s and 60s out there catching waves at Lennox and The Pass. That inspires me.’