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June 20, 2024

Better late than never – local surfing legend finally gets some financial recognition

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Paul Bibby

The call came completely out of the blue, like a head-high barrel at The Pass when everything else has been two-foot slop.

And like the champion surfer she is, Brunswick Heads resident Pauline Menczer was up for the ride.

On the other end of phone were Mimi LaMontagne from Madman Films and Rip Curl’s Sophie Marshall.

Local surfing legend Pauline Menczer is set to receive some long-overdue financial recognition for her many achievements, including her 1993 world title. Image: Tree Faerie

Inspired by the 50-year-old’s appearance in the upcoming documentary Girls Can’t Surf, the duo were offering to set up a Go Fund Me page to help her get some long overdue financial recognition.

It was recognition for the World Title Pauline secured in 1993, despite suffering from crippling arthritis, and the fact that, even then, she was forced to sell raffle tickets on the streets of Byron just to stay on the world tour.

‘It was for the world titles [she also won the amateur world title in 1988], but it’s everything… basically not being supported my whole career,’ Pauline says.

The festival is screening Girls Can’t Surf with special guests Pauline Menczer

Despite being an incredibly talented surfer who showed incredible guts to compete with a serious health condition, Pauline barely secured a cent of sponsorship money during her two-decade career.

‘I did the rounds of the surf companies after I won the world title,’ she says.

‘I thought I’d get sponsored for sure, but it never happened.’

In the end it was the local businesses of Byron – from clothing stores to supermarkets – that helped keep the dream alive.

‘I went around to the shops in Byron and they gave me 300 awesome prizes and I had a massive raffle so I could stay on the tour’, she says.

‘But it was still me walking around Byron selling the tickets – self-funding myself again.’

It was a continuation of a way-of-life Pauline was all-to-familiar with.

Having grown up as one of four siblings in a family that did its best to get by after the children’s father was murdered, Pauline was used to finding a way to make ends meet.

‘There were a few times when I was close to quitting the world tour, but somehow I would win the next event and get enough prize money to keep going – it seemed to spur me on.’

It wasn’t until years after she retired that Pauline got the first whiff of proper recognition when she was inducted into the Australian surfing hall of fame.

But plaques and pictures don’t put food on the table, so Pauline has continued to ply her trade as a much-loved local bus driver, while continuing to experience severe arthritis and, more recently, an auto-immune disease called Pemphigus vulgaris.

The idea with the GoFundMe campaign was to give Pauline some long-overdue payment for her 1993 world title success.

LaMontagne and Marshall figured that $25,000 was a good starting point.

Then the head-high barrel turned into a 10-foot Maui monster wave.

As news of the campaign spread, the dollars started pouring in from all over the world.

Within a week or so, the target was reached and breached, and at last count had exceeded $42,000.

Local Pauline Menczer brings the magic in good waves at Sao Miguel in the Azores Islands. Photo Marsurel/WSL

After decades of financial difficulty, Pauline could have been forgiven for keeping it all for herself.

Instead, she has pledged to give every cent over $25,000 to charities and charitable causes.

This includes helping a man with the same immune condition that Pauline has, who cannot afford the costly treatment of steroids and antibody infusions.

‘I met a lady through one of the Facebook discussion groups for the condition and she told me about her husband, and sent me some pictures and I just thought, “I know how much I’m suffering and he’s way worse off than I am’,” Pauline says.

‘It’s gonna be great to be able to help him get some basic medical treatment.’

The remainder of the funds will go to the Disabled Surfing Association, and an autoimmune disease charity.

As the money has flowed in, so has the plaudits and praise – support that was pretty thin on the ground back in ’93.

Pauline is now fielding calls from TV stations, The Washington Post, and a host of current and former surfing champions.

There are also moves afoot to build a statue of Pauline at Bondi Beach, where she learned to ride.

And the interest may even increase this week with the March 11 opening of Girls Can’t Surf  – a documentary about the evolution of women’s surfing in which Pauline features in prominently.

‘I’d love it if my story could inspire people a bit,’ she says.

‘I’m living proof that you can still be the best in the world, even with disability, and that you can do it while being yourself.

‘We’ve got the #MeToo movement, I want to start the #BeYou movement.

‘I look at Instagram and I see people being something that they’re not – being products.

‘I might not have been sponsored, but I was the people’s person… I was always true to myself and I did things my way.’

To donate to Pauline’s GoFundMe campaign go to support her.

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  1. Regarding autoimmune diseases, especially rheumatoid arthritis, Australian Clint Paddison has done research and has a protocol which gives results of less or no pain and more ability, flexibility. Worth investigating.

  2. The movie is very inspiring .. I think Pauline would be everyone’s favourite of all the surfers featured – what a woman. A call needs to go out to all those sponsors who ignored her and the competition organiser who didn’t even provide prize money that year to step up and pay her now.


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