Pam Burridge

A much loved and respected icon of Australian surfing – Pam Burridge, the 1990 World Champion, shares her wit and wisdom on a number of topics, accrued from a life spent in the ocean (an article compiled by Sophie Hardcastle for “Surfing World” magazine).

  Pam Burridge at home on the NSW South Coast.

The Calling
“My surfing is a calling. I can’t shake it. What drew me in was some kind of destiny because I’ve got a father that doesn’t swim and a mother who’s not a surfer but I did have a certain amount of exposure to the ocean pool at Freshwater through family friends who had young boys and surfboards. I had a slim chance of trying it as a little 10-year-old in 1975 and I’ve been drawn to it ever since. As a kid I was quiet and not that fussed about having people around so that time in the waves was good for me. Now as I near 50, I still love to surf and that’s because it makes me feel like the person I should be.”

The Line-up
“When I started I was 10 and the guys in the line-up didn’t know I was a girl. I had short hair, and I wore boardshorts or a wetsuit, so I looked like your average grommet. By the time it became obvious I was a girl, I’d already established myself a bit. The line-up at Manly was so brutal but it was the only one I knew. You just had to keep your head down, get your waves when you could and not give an inch. If you were dropped in on, you didn’t fall off, you had to ride right up behind them and show that you could surf. It definitely wasn’t warm and fuzzy. That was back in the day when you could punch someone in the head and not go to court. And it happened a lot.”

Inspiration and Imitation
“I wanted to be Cheyne Horan when I was kid because he was a bit older than me, the new pro and he was a gorgeous Bondi boy. He was my idol. I didn’t really try and surf like him because he had such a different style but there were elements of his technique I kept in my mind when I paddled into a wave. We didn’t have access to video coaching in those days and as a result there were things in my style that were ingrained and hard to break. I wasn’t quite dynamic enough and I had to challenge myself because of that. I was never going to surf like a guy in that sense. Once you start to think more technically though you can improve to your full capacity because strength underpins all technique. Often Steph looks like that, she looks really in control and flowing and radical and complete. The other girls seem to have moments where they are at that level, but sometimes they are trying to force a manoeuvre they might have seen Taj do, only it looks so weird. You have to be careful not to become a parody. Good surfing is what looks really easy but is actually really radical.”

Self Image
“I went from getting a few stories in the local papers to getting a lot of press very quickly. Graham Cassidy who was the Director of the ASP was also a Sports Editor for the Sydney Morning Herald and he had a lot of clout. If there was a story on surfing it was often on me. About that time I also got a modeling contract with Crystal Cylinders which was a huge surf brand in the 70s. My face was everywhere. I was pretty shy, and I probably didn’t have the skills to cope with it too well. There was big cinema advertising, TV and poster campaigns so I got instant recognition. But my mental disposition wasn’t prepared for that at all and as a result I suffered from anorexia. In a way, I was one of the lucky ones. I got really underweight and people were worried but I didn’t reach that really low weight where my brain switched off. There was this body image pressure but there was also this attitude of trying to avoid any partying and just being super clean in the way that I lived my life because wanted to succeed in surfing. The problem for me, and for a lot of other people, is that kind of restriction can lead to having nothing to look forward to and that in turn leads to depression.”

“To be so young and to have depression… it was a really painful time in my life. I was bitterly unhappy and that mental state is so tortuous. I started partying again and that got out of control and so I had to address that too. I medicated myself out of it but then I had to get off that medication. I didn’t really get cured in as much as I just normalised from all those extreme ways of thinking. I haven’t had a drink or a drug now since I was 22; life is very normal. It’s healthy and that’s what works for me.”

Defeat As Motivation
“It’s funny, I was at a Surfing Australia event recently and they ran through Joel Parkinson’s stats and they’re almost exactly the same as mine. Tour for 10 years, runner-up four times before a Title. It refreshed my memory and reminded me what it was like. Ten years is a long time to keep trying, but I was really driven to be World Champ. There were probably lots of girls who were as good as I was, but they just weren’t as driven and so they didn’t keep flogging the dead horse. I did. It goes to show, when you really want something and stay hungry, you will get it.”

The Peak Moment
“It was the last event of the year at Sunset Beach and it was down to myself and Wendy Botha for the World Title. I had the ratings lead and was in the second semi-final and Wendy was in the first semi already out in the water. Just to get to the line-up at Sunset is a really long paddle so you get out there very early for your heats. I was out the back while Wendy’s semi was still in the water and I could hardly hear the PA. She was in third place and needed a score that was nothing too radical, and as I’m sitting there she takes off and pulls in to this big west peak and I see her catch it and I’m like, “Ohhhh no!” And I remember saying to a caddie, “Did she get barrelled?” But she got caught behind the section and didn’t get the score. Pauline Menczer was yelling at me, “You won! You won!” and I was yelling, “What? What?” I was freaking out. It was so cool. I went on to win my semi and the final and I remember at the end of the day thinking, “Oh wow, it can happen.” If you keep pushing things will eventually fall your way. If you give up too early you’ll never know.”

Selling Women’s Surfing
“If the only path to a successful career in women’s surfing is to paddle out in a Brazilian bikini and be eye candy, well, that really sucks. I don’t want my daughter to think that’s what she has to do to be a surfer. It’s fine if the person doing it is completely okay with it and they are empowered by it, but as soon as it becomes the norm and everyone feels that’s the only way, then it’s really dangerous. The coolest thing about Roxy was when they brought out boardshorts for women in 1991. They looked cute and they covered your arse! You didn’t worry about having every bit of hair waxed off you. You could just surf. It was a big step in the right direction.”

“Wendy Botha was the best surfer in the world when she did the Playboy thing in 1992. It certainly offended a lot of women, but she’s a tough woman and she probably thought, “Yeah, I can do that.” There was an attitude towards women’s surfing at that time that was very homophobic. It was almost as if all women surfers were gay or turning gay and there was this unspoken pressure to prove which camp you were in sexually. I mean, what does it matter? I wouldn’t be surprised if the girls still feel they have to prove that they are fully heterosexual and hot today. The comment that came from within Quiksilver after that Stephanie Roxy ad gener- ated such an uproar – about the girls on Tour in the past being bull dykes in army boots – proves that stigma is still out there. You can kind of see Wendy’s decision to be in Playboy at that time as a reaction to that whole attitude.”

Becoming A Mother
“It empowered me and pushed me into the real world. As a self-indulgent little surfer, with no one to answer to, my perspectives were quite shallow. Having a family gave everything more depth. As a mother, the ocean has shaped who I am, so anything I teach to my kids is going to come a lot from that background. Hopefully it’s made me a better person.”

Valuable Advice
“Don’t catch the first wave of the set. And don’t do it all yourself. I was running my own race and I think I just blocked it all out and surfed, so the negatives didn’t come in, but the good, helpful feedback didn’t come in either. Embrace your positives as well as your negatives, we’ve all got failings. Sometimes you can turn them into strengths. Try and be true to your own goals and not be led astray by lots of different influences, as difficult as that may be.”






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