As a young girl learning to surf off the beaches of
all-too-aptly-named Manly, Australia, Layne Beachley learned that
the ocean was a man's world. Male surfers tried to intimidate her
(by paddling and kicking water around her), forced her out of the
lineup for waves and yelled at her to go watch from the beach.
Says Beachley, "It was threatening to be a woman in the water who
was confident and very determined."
Beachley, 31, is now the undisputed queen of surfing. She has 25
world championship tour victories and in December won her sixth
consecutive world title, becoming the first woman to do so. In
2001 she set the record for the largest wave ever ridden by a
woman, a 30-foot monster with a 60-foot face off the North Shore
But Beachley's next challenge could be her toughest. This weekend
she will become the first woman to compete in a world-class men's
pro surfing event, at the EnergyAustralia Open at Newcastle
Beach. After winning the season-ending Billabong Pro in Maui in
December, Beachley returned to her home in North Curl Curl, on
the southeastern coast of Australia, feeling that she needed new
motivation. "When I came home," she says, "I announced I would
love to compete against the guys."
In February, Beachley was offered a wild-card entry in the 64-man
field that includes the world's top 16. She will face the
ultimate battle of the sexes in the first heat when she takes on
the No. 1 seed, six-time world champ Kelly Slater. "My friends
might make fun of me [if I lose]. But it might be good for
surfing," Slater told The Sunday Mail.
Much like Annika Sorenstam's explaining her decision last year to
compete on the PGA Tour, Beachley says she wants to use this
experience to help her to stay competitive with up-and-coming
women surfers. To have any chance of winning at Newcastle Beach
she will need to rely on technique rather than power. "I'll
probably be chasing Kelly around," she says. Beachley will be
allotted 25 minutes and a maximum of 12 waves to beat Slater.
Says Beachley, "I have to speed my surfing up. I need to be
savvy, to do faster turns in a smaller radius."
So far, the men have been supportive. "If anyone can do it, she
can," says three-time world champ Tom Curren. "She has a
competitive knowledge that a lot of men don't have."
TWO COLOR PHOTOS: PHOTORUSSI.COM (2) MAKING WAVES In Australia, Beachley first surfed with guys as achild, but they harassed her.