The Influence & Inspiration Of One Person
Story originally published on Coastalwatch for Canon
Brooke Farris. She’s not a former World Championship Tour surfer you thought you’d never heard of; despite charging a lineup of the best waves on the planet, being at nearly every World Title presentation in ten years and looking after the likes of superstars, Tyler, Steph, Alana and Bethany on mind-blowing surf trips.
She’s one, if not the most dynamic and powerful woman in the surf industry today. She has travelled and worked hard to achieve, what many would observe as the ‘dream run’ of positions in a successful career, from Layne Beachley’s PA to World Tour Manager and now as General Manager of Digital at Rip Curl.
The current generation of professional surfers know her well, most of them launched their professional careers in the same year she moved into her position with the then ASP; Steph, Coco, Sally, (and the historic event when Tyler won the Beachley Classic as a wildcard and the youngest ever CT event winner). They were the new blood ready to make their mark in the world after the likes of Melanie Redman-Carr, Keala Kennelly and Megan Abubo exited the scene. Brooke stepped in at just the right time.
But looking back, she’s made every time the right time for herself and the people around her. Not only has she been a mover, shaker, influencer and diplomat in her roles, she’s laid a solid foundation to which the women’s world tour is now set.
Farris grew up in Perth and began competing in surf events which included following the Qualifying Series to Huntington Beach, California. There she stayed with Jodie Nelson and Layne Beachley but little did she know an unexpected swell chasing trip a trip to Mexico with both Nelson and Beachley the next week would be the start of a flourishing and incredible friendship and career with the seven-times World Champ.
After arriving back in Australia Farris and Beachley kept in contact. Just after Beachley brought home her third World Title she gave 21-year-old Farris a call and offered her a position as her personal assistant; being Layne Beachley’s PA wasn’t just fielding calls, writing emails and deciphering MYOB. It was a role that showcased her versatility in so many areas and gave her the exposure to every facet of the industry.
All of a sudden, Beachley’s profile and brand was making waves, her status as an athlete and brand were accelerating and she required someone to manage her business on land to allow her to focus on her world title dominance. She claimed a further four World Titles with Farris by her side.
“Layne has always aspired to do bigger and better things.” Said Farris, “So we started her foundation, Aim For The Stars, then she said, ‘I want to run the richest women’s event on the world tour, how do you feel about running an event?’ I got to do so many different things and meet so many different people across every channel.”
“I think she’s lead the way for what a sportswoman career can look like. Creating a personal brand and business is a lot to take on, on it’s own let alone having to split your focus with performing at your best in world tour events. I have no doubt that Layne has been a role model for Sally Fitzgibbons and the way she’s moving forward with her business.”
After just over five years with Beachley, Farris was approached by the ASP and taken on as the women’s world tour manager to strengthen and develop the sport. “I was conscious strengthening what existed and making a plan for the future. It was challenging because we were a non-profit governing body relying on sponsorship and brands to throw their money into women’s surfing. My tenure began off the back of the global financial crisis so that in itself provided some hurdles.”
Farris’ goals throughout her time as tour manager were reiterated as she became the spokesperson for the new wave of talented and powerful female surfers. She wanted to increase the events from seven up to ten as well as close the pay gap and increase the marketability and respect of these women to the world.
“I really wanted to lay a solid foundation and ensure the brands, both endemic and non-endemic, saw value across both men’s and women’s tours. I was a big fan of their events being held together, it made sense economically and as a way to grow the audience. I was conscious of marketing the individuality of each of the athletes, together they were awesome and then as individuals, there was something for fans all over the world to connect to, and cheer for.”
When Farris began working on the world tour the TOTAL prize purse was US$100k. Today, in 2017 the WSL has moved to a prize parity structure so essentially the men and women are paid in the same percentage based on the number of competitors. The winner of each event in 2017 receives US$60,000 over ten events throughout the year, many of which are held alongside the men’s events. They are on the same broadcast and are marketed by the WSL the same as the men. The WSL and it’s program accommodates the women like never before.
Farris instigated and managed a number of firsts as women’s tour manager including holding an event in Peru which she says is one of her greatest achievements; pushing the limitations of what was possible. “It felt like we were at the end of the world, but at the time Sofia Mulanovich had won a World Title and she was treated like a hero. If you knew Sofia, every door in Peru would open for you so because of her, surfing had a profile and the sponsors willing to back it.”
The Movistar Peru Classic was first held in 2007 in a small town called Mancora. It was an event just for the women and that year, was won by Steph Gilmore. It lasted four years as a WCT event stop under Farris’s reign.
After successfully facilitating the upward progression and much-needed recognition of the world’s top professional surfers she was approached by Rip Curl. It was an offer that allowed her to transition to the other side of the fence as International Events & Girls Team Manager. “I wanted to learn what life was like as ‘the industry’. In my first week, I was on a boat with Steph, Tyler, Bethany and Alana on a Search trip.”
Other than being able to coordinate and facilitate some of the biggest events in the surf world, Farris has the capability as a leader and mentor, to support and develop athletes to their potential in the water and on land. “My fulfillment has come from watching others achieve their goals and grow as people. Having the ability to promote who these athletes really are. From working with Layne, to the tour manager role and then with the girls at Rip Curl.”
Farris continues to support the Rip Curl women’s team as well as head up Digital. Among her achievements with the iconic brand, she admits she’s immensely proud of running The Search events in Puerto Rico and San Francisco as well as the 50 Years of the Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach. “It was such an honour to run that event that year. We got pumping waves, it was just incredible to be there part of history.”
Now in her mid-thirties, she’s reflecting on a road that’s provided adulation and influence on not only individual athletes but women’s surfing as a movement. She genuinely aspires to create the best, most supportive and prosperous opportunities for women and girls in surf which is encouraging as move closer to total equality in sport.
This interview is part of Canon’s Women In Surf video series. A roundtable discussion with Pro Surfer Sally Fitzgibbons, World Junior Champion Macy Callaghan, Professional Longboarder Belinda Baggs, pro photographer Fran Miller and Ripcurl GM Digital Brooke Farris. The women breakdown the incredible changes and progressions with women’s surfing, where it’s going and the beautiful imagery that’s been its lifeblood along the way. View the complete series here.