Layne Beachley: From Storyteller to Superstar

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Confidence, self-belief and the drive to work several jobs sustained Layne Beachley’s early surf career. Now, in her mid-40s, she recently took home her eighth world surfing title, and her achievements don’t stop there.

For years, Layne, along with other iconic advocates, have been making waves for women’s equality in sport. No doubt significantly contributing to this year’s decision by the World Surfing League (WSL) to provide equal pay for female surfers. 

For more than a decade, she has also made a significant contribution to supporting women and girls achieve dreams across a variety of disciplines through her own charitable foundation.

We recently chatted with Layne during a break at one of her corporate surfing events.

Congratulations Layne on your World Grand Masters win and eighth world surfing title. You remain one of the most successful and influential female pro surfers of all time. How long do you intend to compete for?

Thank you. I am claiming that eighth one! I’ll compete for as long as they hold events and I’ve still got the physical capacity to do so.

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You’ve been a long-time advocate for women’s equality in surfing. You must be thrilled with the recent WSL decision. The tide is certainly changing for female athletes competing in all sporting professions.

I’m extremely proud that WSL have jumped on the front foot and really set the standard, and the bar high, for the rest of the sporting world to follow. I didn’t expect to see it in my lifetime, to see the impact that it’s had, and to see how much the surfers respect and appreciate it. I’m extremely excited by it.

In 2015 you became Chair of Surfing Australia and became the first female world champion to be appointed chairperson of a national sporting body. Can you tell us a bit about the role and how you got there? 

It really evolved from being on the board of directors for the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) for 15 years. Back in the early 90s, I took an avid interest in how the tour was being treated, directed and supported. I felt quite dissatisfied by how we were regarded by the governing bodies and so I took a proactive role in joining the board of directors. My mentor at the time was Pam Burridge and she also sat on the board. I naturally looked to see what she was doing because I also wanted to be a world champion.

I didn’t have any sponsors in the early days and so I had to become a storyteller to generate some publicity and that’s how it all started.
— Layne Beachley

The majority of my time served on the ASP board was while I was winning world titles. It was extremely demanding and quite exhausting. It was all about time management, but I was pretty poor at that which is how I ended up with chronic fatigue syndrome.

After I won my fifth world title, I established the Layne Beachley Foundation and took on a directorship role. When I retired, I was asked to join a couple of other boards and this led to my appointment to the Surfing Australia board in 2009. I was elevated to Chair in 2015 which took me by surprise! 

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Sounds like you have a lot of responsibility. You must put a lot of time and effort into making good decisions? 

I’m really enjoying it, more than any other executive or directorship role I’ve had because I feel it’s best practise. I’m learning a lot about business and strategy, financial acumen, relationships and governance. It’s been a very rewarding role and I’ll be disappointed when my tenure comes to an end.

There’s been a fair bit of talk about sharks and surfing, but over your life you’ve never had an encounter. Feels like we know what you’ll say to the shark question!

[laughing] Yes, next question. Actually, I have no fear of them. I understand they are out there, I’m conscious of that fact, but I’m not overly concerned about them.

What are your thoughts on Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch?

I love the Ranch. I’ve had the great honour of being invited to go and surf it. It was an amazing experience. It’s a phenomenal piece of technology. It’s certainly set the standard for wave pools and I would love to see the Olympics held in it one day because it’s an incredible wave to ride. It’s a lot more challenging than it looks too.

Surfing at the Olympics will kick off in 2020 in Tokyo, Japan. What does this mean for the sport?

It signals we are professionals. It’s an opportunity for us to expose our sport, our athleticism and our enviable lifestyle to a much broader, global audience such as people who are landlocked and who may never have seen the sport.  It increases the level of support and interest in participation. 

The event is run by the International Surfing Association (ISA). Will that run simultaneously with the WSL tour?

The best surfers in the world are on the WSL tour so the WSL will have to release the surfers to compete in the ISA events. Qualification is based on the top 10 surfers in WSL and then a performance in the ISA world games. It’s a cross pollinated qualification process and quite exciting.

Which Australian female surfing athletes should we keep our eye on? You currently have Steph Gilmore chasing you for her seventh world title!

Steph is pretty phenomenal. Tyler Wright is one. Sally Fitzgibbons has just won a gold medal at the ISA world games so she would be in a good position if she does that again next year. Then there are the younger girls like Macy Callaghan, Bronte Macaulay and Nikki Van Dijk. The great thing is I am not worried about the women. We have tremendous depth in the female side of the sport. It’s the men I’m worried about. They just don’t seem to have the same level of hunger or drive that the girls do.

Your foundation and Aim for the Stars scholarship program has spent the last 15 years mentoring and supporting 500 girls (and not just surfers). Can you tell us a little more about what you’ve achieved and why you’re winding up next year?

A few years ago, we introduced an aggressive strategy for growth of the foundation. The objective was to free up my time, make the foundation more self-sustaining and allow me to step out. However, the strategy in the short term requires a lot more time than I can give it. I don’t do things by halves, so I had to make a decision. It was at a crucial point where it was either invest wholeheartedly and allow this thing to grow or reflect on the success we’ve had over the last 15 years and be satisfied. I realise I have now reached that point of satisfaction. It’s time to move on, and I feel extremely proud of what we’ve achieved.

Are there any particularly rewarding moments that stand out for you?

There were so many! It’s like asking a mother who’s your favourite child. An extraordinary number of community-minded women came through the program. I think I am most proud of the legacy and the impact I’ve had on the lives of so many girls, giving them self-confidence and belief in themselves. To dare them to dream and pursue an audacious goal and then find a like-minded community of women who support them and stay connected for the rest of their lives. This isn’t just a fleeting moment where we hand them a few thousand dollars and say thanks for coming. We stay connected with them forever. 

I’m really proud of that legacy, the relationships we’ve built in this charity and many success stories whether it’s Stacey Copas, Caroline Buchanan, Carly Findlay or Daisy Cox. I mean, there are just so many talented girls!

As a motivational speaker and coach you help others to achieve professional and personal goals. What’s next for Layne?

Very good question. I want to write another book and help people become champions in their own life. I want to do this on a global scale and so I need to be really strategic and clear about what that looks like and how I wish to achieve it. As a speaker, a workshop facilitator, and an executive mentor, I know I have the ability to positively influence and impact people’s lives and I generate a lot of satisfaction and reward from doing that. You know, travelling the world, sharing my life stories and inspiring people.

That sounds rough, a bit like your own dream tour!

Yeah, pretty rough isn’t it? I kinda fell into the role. People ask me “How did you become a speaker?” and I reflect on my career and think: you know what, I didn’t have any sponsors in the early days and so I had to become a storyteller to generate some publicity and that’s how it all started. It’s taken some time and I’m still evolving.

Your husband is musician Kirk Pengilly so we have to ask…what’s your favourite INXS song? 

Don’t Change along with Johnson’s Aeroplane.

Lastly, what is the one thing that helps you to be the happiest you can be every day? That one thing you’d prefer not live without? 

This is an easy one: my board for surfing! I can’t live without surfing daily. It certainly keeps me happy, gives me energy, balances my body, mind and soul, keeps life in perspective, and provides me with a dose daily bliss. In the event I am away from surf or the ocean, I must immerse myself in nature such as sitting in the sun, turning my face up to the rain, or walking barefoot in the grass. Taking time out for me makes me happy.


Layne Beachley Keynote Speaker, Author, Facilitator

In retirement, Layne spends her time travelling nationally and internationally as a motivational keynote speaker, trainer and facilitator, igniting potential in everyone she works with. Layne is an Officer of the Order of Australia.

Layne Beachley Foundation

Formed to encourage, motivate and provide for all aspiring women. The Aim for the Stars scholarshp program supported diverse dreams including sport, music, arts, science, sustainability, business and leadership. Superstar achievers include:

  • 25 olympians and paralympians

  • 14 world champions

  • 3 individuals nominated for Young Australian of the Year 

  • 5 United Nations presenters

Surfing Australia

Surfing Australia is the representative body on the International Surfing Association (ISA) of which there are 86-member countries. It is recognised by the Australian Sports Commission, the Australian Olympic Committee and is a member of the Water Safety Council of Australia.

Surfing underpins an important part of the Australian coastal fabric. It forms part of a lifestyle in which millions participate with a mystique in which millions more have a documented interest.

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