Surfing is a sporting, cultural and communal phenomenon that has captivated and inspired the world for generations.
Serving as a platform for creativity, exploration and progression, some of the most interesting and innovative people on the planet have gravitated towards surfing's unmatched arena of freedom - iconoclasts, heroes, icons, culture-shifters, freethinkers, designers, and artists.
As part of the WSL Heritage Series, we're proud to begin sharing these stories with help from Matt Warshaw at the Encyclopedia of Surfing.
Pioneer Layne Beachley
A lively, hard-charging Australian regularfoot surfer from Dee Why, Sydney; winner of seven world championship titles, including six consecutive from 1998-2003 (her seventh came in 2006), and regarded as one of the sport's greatest female big-wave riders.
"She trains, focuses, paddles out with a pleasant smile and fillets the opposition with roughly the compassion of a shark," surf journalist Nick Carroll said of Beachley in 1999. "And the best thing about her is that she'd laugh her guts out at this description and then cheerfully agree with it."
Beachley's life got off to a rough start. She was born (1972) Tania Maris Gardner in Sydney; as an infant she was adopted and renamed by Neil and Valerie Beachley; Valerie died when Layne was six.
Beachley began surfing at age four, but wasn't fervent about it until 16. "I was the only girl that hung around at the beach," she later said. "I had to be one of the guys. I had to surf as good as the guys, give as much sh-t as the guys, and to take as much as they could give me."
Beachley had no amateur contest to speak of when she turned pro in 1989. She didn't win a world tour event until 1993, then placed herself firmly near the top of the ratings, finishing fourth in 1994, second in 1995, third in 1996, and second in 1997.
Beachley began the 1998 circuit accompanied by veteran Hawaiian big-wave surfer Ken Bradshaw, 19 years her senior, who had recently become her boyfriend, coach, boardmaker, and big-wave mentor. She dominated the schedule, winning five of 11 events, on her way to an easy world title victory.
Hobbled somewhat by a knee injury in 1999 season, she nonetheless won four of the season's 14 events, and after winning her second title was described by Surfer magazine as "simply the most powerful woman in surfing today."
For her 2000 title she won four of nine contests, then won one of the three events in the abbreviated 2001 season. She won just one of six contests in 2002 but it was enough to earn the title and make her the only five-time women's tour champion. "I'm a competitive beast," she said at the time, smiling as usual. "I play to win and I play to win world titles."
2003 saw her win two of five events and the championship. Beachley finished fourth in 2004 and fifth in 2005, before capping off her championship run with the title in 2006. She retired from full-time competition in 2010, then coasted to a win in the ISA World Masters Surf Championship in 2011, a contest for surfers over 35 years of age.
Beachley's competitive success was paralleled by her development as a big-wave rider.
She'd performed well in the powerful Hawaiian surf through the early and mid-'90s, but in late 1997, as her relationship with Bradshaw took off, she surpassed all the female big-wave benchmarks set years earlier by the likes of Hawaii's Margo Oberg and Australian Jodie Cooper. On December 22, 1997, with Bradshaw driving the jetski, Beachley was catapulted into a handful of 20-foot waves at a North Shore break called Phantoms.
Sarah Gerhardt of California had earlier become the first woman tow-in surfer, but Beachley (5' 5", 125 pounds) was the first woman to master the art. She later towed in to 25-footers at Hawaii's Outside Log Cabins in Hawaii and Todos Santos in Baja California, and was the first woman to ride in terrifying slab barrels at Ours, in Sydney.
Outside magazine in 1998 published a profile on Beachley titled "I'm Going Big. Anyone Care to Follow?"
Beachley won Hawaii's Triple Crown of Surfing in 1997 and 1998. As of 2012, she was the all-time women's surfing prize money leader, having won just over $650,000.
Beachley appeared in a number of surfing videos, including Empress (1999), Tropical Madness (2001), and 7 Girls (2002). She was the top vote-getter in Australia's Surfing Life magazine's Peer Poll in 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001, and won the Surfer Magazine Poll Awards in 2003 and 2004.
Beachley was inducted into the Huntington Beach Surfing Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Australian Sports Hall of Fame in 2011; she was named #22 on Surfer's 2002 list of the 25 "Most Powerful People in Surfing"; she was also the only woman to be named to Surfer's 2009 list of the "50 Greatest Surfers of All Time" (#48).
The Commonwealth Bank Layne Beachley Classic, a WCT world tour event, has been held at beaches in and around Sydney since 2006. In 2009, Beachley, glammed-up and with her surfer-blonde hair dyed chestnut brown, lasted three rounds in the Australian version of Dancing with the Stars.
In her 2008 biography, Layne Beachley: Beneath the Waves, she talks about meeting her birth mother, who explained that Layne was conceived from a rape; Beachley also confesses that, at age 24, just before launching her world title streak, had had liposuction on her thighs. Beachley married INXS guitarist/saxophonist Kirk Pengilly in 2010.