Back in the ’90s, Pauline was a formidable competitor on the World Tour but it came at a price. Photo: Paul Cohen

Pauline Menzcer has released a new autobiography documenting her underdog story on the World Tour as she overcame sexism, homophobia and rheumatoid arthritis to become World Surfing Champion. Pauline’s mission is to share her whole story and inspire those who are dealing with or who have dealt with these issues in their lives.

Surf culture in the 80s and 90s was exceedingly toxic — particularly for women. Ignored by sponsors, underpaid (if paid at all), underestimated and insulted, female surfers had to overcome countless hurdles to make it on the professional surfing circuit. ‘Surf Like A Woman’ is Pauline Menczer’s inspirational story of a true underdog battler.

Pauline grew up and developed a love for surfing at Bondi Beach. Four decades later, she is still the only surfer from Bondi to win a World Title and has been memorialised by a mural on the beach’s promenade. Waverley Council is also set to erect a bronze statue at South Bondi in her honour. Despite her incredible World Title win in 1993, Pauline never received any prize money – all funds went to the men’s champion. Even in other tournaments when she placed or won, men got the bulk of the prize money; Pauline and her fellow female surfers had to scrape by with minimal income to cover everything from travel around the world to compete and their equipment to food and doctor’s appointments, often barely breaking even. ‘Surf Like A Woman’ chronicles the highs and lows of her surfing journey, including her battle with debilitating rheumatoid arthritis and need to hide her same-sex relationship while on tour, for fear of judges discriminating against her in competitions.

Women’s sport continues to skyrocket and dominate the headlines, with Australian Molly Picklum recently achieving a perfect score at Hawaii’s Pipe Pro, making history as the first woman to ever do so. It’s noteworthy that women were not even permitted to surf at Pipeline until 2020. Following the event, Picklum stated that she is “so inspired by the women before [her] time who charged and pushed the limits”. Pauline Menczer is undoubtedly one such trailblazer, and following her pro surfing career she continues to fight sexism and misogyny in the sport, as well as raising awareness for sportswomen like herself who suffer from autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. She recently starred in the documentary ‘Girls Can’t Surf’ alongside other surfing legends including Jodie Cooper, Stephanie Gilmore and Layne Beachley, as they challenged the male-dominated nature of surfing culture.

‘Surf Like A Woman’ is both the sports memoir of a surfing icon, and a rousing feminist manifesto celebrating the resilience, strength and power of women in sport.

Pauline was a trail blazer for today’s female surfers. Photo: Bill Morris

We caught up with Pauline to find out more.

Pauline, what motivated you to write your autobiography now and how do you want readers to take away from your story?
The time just felt so right, especially after the movie ‘Girls Can’t Surf’. I was sent amazing private messages from people who felt inspired and empowered by my story. This made me realise it’s so important to share more of my life story…The good, the bad, and the ugly!  I want to show people they are not alone in their struggles and that we can get through it. I also wanted more historical surfing stories to be documented for future generations to learn from. We all need to learn from the past and see where we have come from.

How important has the significance of the ‘Girls Can’t Surf’ movie been to you?  
Wow, where do I start. It’s been this amazing recognition that I never really received before; I feel like I have won the world title now.  I also love how the younger generation all know who I am and understand my true journey. They didn’t all know before the movie.

What was the process like putting your life story together, was it hard or a therapeutic experience for you?
My ghost writer and now good mate Luke Benedictus is such a kind, patient and gentle person. I didn’t have any problem sharing my story openly with him. We had a lot of laughs when we first met as he’s this posh, straight Englishman who’s never stood on a surfboard, and he’s writing the life story of a gay, Aussie woman surfer. Sometimes I’d forget it’s going to print and when I’d have to proofread, I’d be like, ‘Oh, should I put that in the book?’ We could probably do a whole other book of naughty stories, but some stuff is best left in the vault…well for now, anyway. 

What did you think of the Tahiti Pro at Teahupo’o recently? How impressed are you with the young surfers coming through and who’s the stand out for you?
To me Tahiti is a platform that shows the world what female surfers can do under pressure and how brave and fearless they are… well I know they’re probably all shitting themselves as that’s just natural at Tahiti and fear is what keeps you safe.  It’s the ultimate mental and physical challenge with severe consequences.  I got a nice scar on my back where I left some flesh on that reef!

To be fair the women have always charged and surfed gnarly waves -(just google Keala at Tahiti) it’s just now it’s documented and filmed way more. The technical performance aspect is what has really improved lately, and I feel that’s because the women are getting all the support and investment that they deserve.  I can’t really pick a favourite as all the women did amazing. I guess being a local though does have a huge advantage in such a unique wave – so Vahine will be a tough one to beat at the Olympics.

I must admit that I do get excited whenever I see either Caity Simmers or Molly Picklum paddle out for a heat, as you just never know what new trick they’re going to pull off. Pipeline this year was absolutely epic and I loved how Caity, this little freckle faced teenager with attitude said “Pipeline is for the fucking girls”. I cried tears of pride and joy and started jumping around fist pumping!


Readers outside Australia and New Zealand can purchase Surf Like a Woman via Readings bookshop who offer international shipping.

Follow Pauline on instagram @naughty_pauls