The rich history of women’s surfing in Australia has been celebrated at a glamorous dinner at the Manly Pacific Novotel, hosted by the Sally Fitzgibbons Foundation.
From the sport’s pioneers, to its grassroots heroes, to its triumphant World Champions, the Garnier Celebration of Women in Surf honoured those that have made Australian surfing the great success it is today.
The Celebration was the brainchild of Sally Fitzgibbons, born out of her desire to recognise those that made her career in surfing possible.
“Our stories should be preserved and used for generations to come,” Fitzgibbons said.
“This will help the past, present and future stay connected and feel a part of something bigger, even when the days in the competition jersey are well and truly over.
“This event will inspire the generation of incredible young women that will take our place in driving the sport to a bigger and brighter future. It is a time to look back and see how far the sport they are so passionate about has come, and to share the room with legends of the past who paved the way for them.”
Five of the eight Australian female World Champions were present at the event, sharing their memories with the crowd.
Phyllis O’Donnell won the sport’s first ever World Title just across the road on Manly Beach back in 1964. O’Donnell, who was welcomed by a standing ovation, was joined on stage by seven-time World Champion Layne Beachley and the sport’s newest champion Tyler Wright – in a true representation of how dominant Australian women have been in the sport over the last 60 years.
“My motivation has always been to make a true difference and leave the sport in a better place than when I found it,” Beachley said.
“I had the passion and the desire and I will continue to challenge the status quo. I am so grateful that our sport has Sally, Tyler and Steph
Wright was truly humbled by the legends in her presence and what she had learned throughout the night.
“Someone in my generation really doesn’t know what the older generations did for us,” she said.
“I have listened to their stories tonight and I just can’t believe it. We have it so easy, I’m such a brat! Tonight has been a great insight for me to begin to understand what came before to make it so easy for us today.”
Four-time World Champion Wendy Botha was one of two women honoured in a special presentation during the night. Botha was the first Australian to win multiple World Titles, broke ground at a time when women’s surfing got no recognition around the world. Botha set the standard for not only outstanding achievement in the sport, but also for raising the profile of the women’s surfing in the public and in the media.
“There is so much inspiration to be found when looking back at the triumphs and tribulations, the barriers that had to be overcome,” Fitzgibbons said.
“The strength and courage to stand up and fight for our sport, to earn respect from an industry that wasn’t always seeing the women’s side of the story, proving wrong the thought process that our sport didn’t have a bright future ahead.”
An institution in surfing since the 1960s, Sandra English was recognised for her contribution to the sport at a grassroots level. Herself a winner of over 60 surfing titles, English has also made her mark on the sport in coaching. As well as running a surf school on the Central Coast for 18 years, she has coached countless juniors to great success, including Sally Fitzgibbons, Stephanie Gilmore and Tyler Wright.
“I am amazed actually at what I have done when I look back at what I have done,” English said.
“I just love what I do and I am glad the results have come. The smile on the kids’ faces every time is what keeps bringing me back. When they get that first wave and they smile and throw their hands above their head – that’s what keeps me going.”
Whilst championing the women in surf, the night also focused on the Sally Fitzgibbons Foundation, established to inspire the next generation of Aussie kids to live active and healthy lives.
“My broader love of sport and passion for health and fitness was what gave me the drive and desire to want to create momentum and motivation for the next generation of kids to be their ‘best selves’ by keeping fit and healthy,” Fitzgibbons said.
“I wanted to give back and do my small bit in helping. I chose seeing a brighter future for the next generation of kids.”
All proceeds from the evening went to the Sally Fitzgibbons Foundation – www.sallyfitzgibbons.com/foundation
Fitzgibbons will now turn her attention to the inaugural International Beach Festival taking place from 3 – 6 November in Cronulla. The event will bring sport, health, fitness and community together with the WSL sanctioned Sydney International Women’s Pro, Ironwoman Invitational, an ocean swim, run, yoga, fitness sessions and more. Go to www.internationalbeachfestival.com.au for more information.