PATTI PANICCIA On: Being Asked By A Journalist, ‘Have You Ever Surfed Naked?’


Story by Fiona Mullen

The Surfing Heritage and Culture Center (SHACC) last week launched a new exhibit and gala, Women Making Waves. The exhibit has been created to honour four significant women in surfing’s history – Joyce Hoffman, Rell Sunn, Lisa Anderson and Stephanie Gilmore. It highlights the lives of the women that have helped develop, advance and break down barriers in surfing through drive and passion to get where we are today.

One of the keynote speakers was Patti Paniccia. She greeted the room full of surf royalty and thanked and showed appreciation for the event and exhibition. She was part of the first women’s surfing pro tour in 1976, which then consisted of only six women; Patti Paniccia, Jericho Poppler, Rell Sun, Becky Benson, Sally Prang & Claudia Kravitz.

Now an author, law professor, and advocate in women’s surfing, Patti has a great deal to share about the challenges women faced in surfing. She spent years bringing women’s surfing to the public eye, pioneering the competitive surfing we see today.

In the video above, recorded on the night, Patti makes some inspiring opening remarks in front of a crowd of surfing legends in San Clemente, California and some of the stories of the tribulations and challenges they women faced will blow your mind.

Patti opens her speech with an astonishing story about prize money being withdrawn from their first event at the Chapstick Pro in South Africa, just two days out from the start of the event. “The sponsors called a meeting with us announcing they had no money for a prize,” She said. “So they wanted to hold a nation-wide raffle and the winner would have a date with one of the six of us, the ‘women of his desire.” Obviously, they were outraged at such a derogatory proposal, so took it upon themselves to raise the $1000 to meet the IPS (International Professional Surfers organisation) minimum to run the event.

In Patti’s day, there were no organizations to honour women’s surfing. She talks about the challenges she faced in the ’70s and ’80s, right there at the beginning as surfing moved from a hobby to amateur and then to an internationally recognised professional sport.

Today, we’re fighting for equality in prize money and conditions, although Patti talks about the constant battles for inclusion, and how the increasing group of female surfers were constantly having to stand up for themselves to media, contest organizers, and sponsors. Their actual surfing was rarely taken seriously. Patti recalls being tediously interviewed about how she looked, receiving ludicrous comments about returning to her household duties. The press even going so far as refusing to photograph the women surfing in the event, using all their film on portraits and beach shots. The magazines wouldn’t purchase photos of women surfing, so the photographers refused to spend film money and time shooting them.

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Patti shares some of her least favourite headlines during the birth of pro surfing. She particularly recalls a journalist’s opening question to the women during one interview; “Have you ever surfed naked?” The women replied with fast, smart wit and sarcasm, showing that they would not put up with that kind of treatment. If they didn’t stand up for themselves, women’s surfing would be ignored or portrayed in a very shallow light.

Decades later, women’s professional surfing finally began to be taken seriously. Prize money began to be awarded and sponsorships were given, shedding a more positive light on the best water women around the world. They were small wins and great momentum, but there was still so much work to be done.

Patti challenges that surfing was portrayed internationally from just the male gender perspective; it’s one that she maintains is still constant today.

Although no longer competing and surfing like she used to, Patti still has an incredibly active role in sharing the stories from the days when surfing first emerged as a competitive sport and flourished around the world.

There is no valid reason for women to not be included in the birth and history of surfing, and the launch of this exhibition is a beautiful way to inspire, educate and remind us of the perseverance and challenges faced by these founding heroes, and the distance that we’ve come because of what they stood for.

As water women of the world today, we still have so much work to do to ensure we are recognised as equals in the sport and in the water. We are after all equals, aren’t we? Despite seeing an enormous increase in representation of women and girls out in the lineups around the world, there is still room for greater appreciation, respect, and serious treatment of the sport in both the media and surf industry.

Patti asks the women of surfing today to use their voices on whatever platform they may choose, to give women in surfing a new and better perspective.

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