The WSL Heritage Series will bring you monthly features on notable women in surf -- trailblazers, record breakers and vanguard activists that have paved the way.
With help from Matt Warshaw at the Encyclopedia of Surfing, we're proud to share the stories of these outstanding women who have broken down barriers to shape a new norm. Pioneering a sport is never easy, and in 1993 Pauline Menczer won a World Title -- to become one of the greatest underdog stories the sport has seen.
These are the shoulders we stand on.
Australian pro surfer from Bondi Beach, Sydney; 1993 World Champion, and described by surf journalist Jodie Young as "the epitome of the Aussie battler." Menczer was born (1970) in Sydney, and came into hardship at age five when her taxi driver father and milkman grandfather were killed in separate car accidents, leaving her mother to take care of four children and a parent on a monthly welfare check. She began surfing at age 14, after she was given one-half of her brother's recently broken surfboard; four years later she won the 1988 World Amateur Surfing Championships, quickly joined up with the pro tour, and finished the year ranked #5.
The diminutive Menczer (5'2", 105 pounds) was an attacking surfer, with only a passing interest in flow and finesse, but ready at all times to place herself into critical positions on a wave-bigger waves included. She was a regular world tour event winner (finishing third overall in 1989, sixth in 1990, second in 1991, and sixth in 1992), while fending off crippling bouts of rheumatoid arthritis.
Menczer's 1993 championship remains one of the sport's great underdog stories. Sponsorless and forced to spend $25,000 of the $30,000 she earned that year in prize money just to get from contest to contest, Menczer won three of the first 11 events, and had a slender ratings lead going into the 12th and final contest in Hawaii. Two weeks before the event started, the 23-year-old Menczer had an arthritis attack that put her temporarily in a wheelchair; seven days later she began paddling her surfboard in a pool as a warm-up; on the day of the contest-held in windblown eight-foot surf at Sunset Beach-she scraped into the finals, and won the title. "I couldn't even brush my own hair," she said of her pre-title attack. "My body just shut down."
The following year brought the first of Florida-raised Lisa Andersen's four world championships. As the freckled and tomboy-ish Menczer put it, "I don't have sponsors, because I don't have blonde hair and blue eyes." At the end of 1995, with the popularity of women's surfing shooting up in large part due to a massive pretty-surfer-girl marketing campaign, Menczer decorated one of her surfboards with a hand-drawn surfing "bushpig" (Australian slang for an unattractive woman), in mordant celebration.
Menczer continued to be a top-ranked world tour performer for another four years, finishing fifth in 1995, second in 1996, sixth in 1997, and seventh in 1998, before slipping out of the top eight, having won a total of 20 world tour events, with one added in 2001 for good measure. "I think I deserve a lot more than I got," she said with a philosophical shrug. "But I've still got a lot more than I ever thought I'd have."
In 2002, the 32-year-old focused on second-tier pro events, and won both the World Qualifying Series tour, and the Foster's Pro Surfing Tour. At the end of 2006 she retired from competition. "I won contests because I had to," Menczer said. "Nobody was paying me. The good part is, I get to look back now and say 'Wow, I did it alone. No help.'"
Menczer was the top vote-getter in Australia's Surfing Life Magazine's 1993 Peer Poll. She's appeared in about 15 surf movies and videos, including Surfers: The Movie (1990), Tropical Madness (2002), and Surfabout: Down Under (2004), and is featured in Girl in the Curl (2000), an illustrated history of women's surfing.