Tenacious Pauline is a Genuine World Champion
A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since American Margo Oberg became the first women’s world professional surfing champion in 1975. In those days women’s surfing was regarded as unimportant and a novelty compared to the men’s events.
Women fought for recognition through the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, and virtually had to pay their own way in hope of attracting decent sponsorship, and it wasn’t until the mid-‘80s that the girls were given their own stand-alone contest – the Agree Pro at Maroubra Beach.
As a haircare company, Agree promoted the contest by giving some of the top surfers a full makeover and used them in a series of advertisements.
At that time, South African Wendy Botha was the world champion. She had the looks as well as the ability, which was the ideal marketing tool.
Pauline Menczer became Bondi’s only world champion in 1993 after finally beating her nemesis Botha, but the accolades of being a world champ went unrecognised as she had no sponsors and received only a broken trophy for her efforts.
She was regarded as sort of an “ugly duckling” with her freckly face, dark hair and impish grin among a flock of blonde-haired, blue-eyed competitors.
But she remains philosophical about the fact she never received recognition from the sponsors or her peers.
“I’m not sure why I didn’t, maybe because I was never a groupie,” she told The Beast.
“I basically would surf my heats and then go, and I did miss out on sponsorship dollars.”
“A lot of people think it was because I didn’t have the look that the surfing community wanted – the blonde hair, etc. I was this dark-haired, freckle-faced kid.”
Menczer is no stranger to adversity, suffering from crippling rheumatoid arthritis since she was 14. But that never stopped her from winning the world amateur title as an 18-year-old in 1988 and the professional world title in 1993, after being runner-up in ‘91 and ‘92.
“I had friends pushing me around in shopping trolleys because I had trouble walking. I couldn’t even free-surf the year I was going for the title, but then as soon as I put the contest jersey on and went out in the water, the adrenaline was amazing and the pain would disappear,” she explained.
Overall, Menczer won 20 World Championship Tour events and eight World Qualifying Tour contests, a record only bettered by seven-time world champion Layne Beachley.
More recently, Pauline has suffered from a rare autoimmune disease. For two years now her body has been wracked with painful blisters that resemble burns, and she has been on high doses of steroids.
“This has been horrendous both mentally and physically because my body has felt like it’s been burnt in a fire.”
Bondi filmmaker Chris Nelius recently released Girls Can’t Surf, a documentary featuring a group of “renegade” women surfers fighting for recognition in the male-dominated sport during the ‘80s.
Pauline’s plight is featured in the film and, as a result, a GoFundMe page has already raised over $40,000 for the treatment of the disease.
“Originally we were hoping to raise $25,000, but the response has been amazing and now we can give the extra money to other charities,” she said.
“I have been in touch with a man in the Philippines who has the same potentially fatal disease and hopefully we can provide funds for him to get the proper treatment.”
Nelius has since approached Waverley Council in an effort to get a statue of Pauline erected at Bondi Beach. And why not? Bondi has been recognised as a National Surfing Reserve and who better to represent that recognition than Bondi’s first and only world professional champion?