Catching up with Jodie Cooper on the Girls Can’t Surf Movie

With ‘Girls Can’t Surf’ recently released across the UK, we take a look at the groundbreaking surf documentary before catching up with ocean maverick, Jodie Cooper, in our latest Drop In Sessions podcast.

“A smart group of surfers reveal the sewage-grade misogyny prevalent in the sport in the 80s and 90s,” was the byline for the Guardian’s 4-star review of Girls Can’t Surf. The documentary follows a band of renegade surfers who took on the male-dominated professional surfing world to achieve equality and change the sport forever. 

The film is currently screening in select UK cinemas and features Frieda Zamba, Pauline Menczer, Lisa Andersen, Pam Burridge, Wendy Botha, Layne Beachley, and Jodie Cooper. It perfectly chronicles a circus of fluro colours, peroxide hair, and radical male egos.

“Look, we weren’t all a band of sisters fighting some cause,” Jodie Cooper, the 1985 World No. 2, told Wavelength. “I mean, we hated each other at times because we were so competitive. I remember wanting to kick Wendy Botha’s arse so much. We were such different species, but together we made a difference.” 

Pam Burridge, in France, in the 80s.

The timing for the film in many ways couldn’t be better. It concludes with the 2018 WSL’s announcement that equal prize money would apply for men and women across elite tour events in 2019 and beyond. And while it took a photo going viral that year that showed the two winners of a junior championship holding cheques – the boy’s double the amount of the girl’s, it was still a massive breakthrough. 

Back in 1985 world number two, Layne Beachley, held down four jobs, working 60-hour weeks to fund her surfing. Pauline Menczer never received the prize money she earned in her 1990 World Title year. 

“Last year, Steph Gilmore came up to me after she had seen the film and said, ‘wow, we had no idea of what it was like back then,’” recalled Cooper. “I was shocked! I was like, dude, the platform for your career didn’t just happen. We had to make a lot of sacrifices, but it was great to hear the penny drop.” 

One of the catchphrases of the movie is “send the chicks out.” That was the call made by the male pro surfers when conditions were deemed too terrible for them to compete. It completely summed up the attitude that the women’s events were, at very best, a sideshow.

Frieda Zamba, Jodie Cooper and Pam Burridge with eyes on the prize.

“Look, the guys often got a raw deal too. We traveled to some crap places, and we travelled to some great places, but at the wrong time for waves,” said Cooper. “We’d go to France in August, or Bondi in summer. But the guys would get the best of the worst, and we would get the worst of the worst. We were always bottom of the totem pole.” 

The extent of the constant, “sewer-grade misogyny” and the surfers’ attempts to combat it is the running thread of the documentary. When the surf industry boomed, the women got little from it, but when the surf industry suffered, the first cuts were to the women’s tour. Even when the surf industry finally cracked the code with women’s surfing and made hundreds of millions from Roxy and co in the early 2000s, little trickled down to the women’s tour.

“We used to tell the big wig blokes in the surf industry that if you nurture and back women surfing, you’ve got this whole untapped market,” said Cooper. “None of us had a business degree and were just high school dropout surfers, but it was so obvious. Yet they couldn’t believe a woman or women could change surfing.” 

This heartwarming, often hilarious, and important film blatantly proves just how wrong they were. 

Drop In Sessions: Jodie Cooper

The Drop In Sessions podcast in association with cocktail connoisseurs, Mermaid Gin, celebrates inspirational women of the waves. Our latest episode sees host Sophie Everard sit down with female surf pioneer, Jodie Cooper, to discuss the ongoing fight for equality within the sport and how the movie ‘Girls Can’t Surf’ finally came to fruition.

This captivating episode will be released on Friday 2nd September – a perfect weekend coffee-break escape!