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November 28, 2010

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Riding the crest of a wave

THE expression "that which does not kill us makes us stronger" applies to Layne Beachley, one of the biggest names in women's surfing.

Her journey to become a seven-time world champion has been long and difficult. The emotional struggles of the early discovery of her adoption combined with the death of her adoptive mother drove the Australian to be resilient, tenacious, ambitious and determined from a young age.

Throughout a surfing career that has spanned two decades and having experienced numerous struggles in both her professional and private life, the women's surfing pioneer has proved to be an ultimate competitor and a role model.

Beachley's success has had a great impact on women's surfing and inspired a generation of women surfers to pick up a board and experience this spectacular sport. Her message to girls is clear: You can be anything you want to be if you put your mind to it.

In an email interview with Shanghai Daily, Beachley shares with us her believes in life.

Q: How did you first get involved in surfing?

A: Growing up on the northern beaches of Sydney gives me a huge advantage because we have the best beaches in the world. My dad Neil was a surfer and my older brother Jason is also a surfer so it was just a matter of time before I picked up a surfboard. I started skateboarding when I was three and surfing when I was four years old.

Q: How did you deal with finding out you were adopted? Did the early death of your adoptive mother and the discovery of your adoption change you at all?

A: Being told I was adopted affected me in ways I didn't understand. I felt abandoned and confused so I isolated myself and went into survivor mode, refusing to share my thoughts or emotions with anyone. It took me a long time to learn to open up again. Of course, that, combined with the death of my adoptive mother when I was six had a profound impact on my personality and the character I am today. I was already very independent but those experiences made me more resilient, tenacious and ambitious. I wanted to make something of myself and I'm certain that being adopted is what ultimately drove me to become a world champion. My determination to be the best of the best is responsible for me becoming a seven-time world champion.

Q: When did you realize your passion for surfing and what motivated you to turn pro in a sport dominated by men?

A: My passion for surfing was realized the first time I paddled out at the age of four. I attempted to compete in many other sports but surfing was the one I always loved doing and committed more time to. I wasn't intimidated by all of the boys in the water, if anything I actually considered myself to be one of them so it was a place of comfort and solace for me. All the boys I grew up surfing with were like my extended family.

Q: How did you find the courage to ride big waves all over the world?

A: I have always been a thrill seeker and a lover of adrenalin so big waves were an instant attraction. It took years of preparation, hard work, training and horrible wipeouts for me to become comfortable in big waves. The euphoria of overcoming a fear, combined with the thrill of flying down a 50 foot face of water is exhilarating!

It's been a long and difficult journey for you to get where you are. What kept you going since there were difficult moments that you almost quit the sport? What has enabled you to have such a long and successful career on tour?

There are always going to be challenges in life. I experienced many moments of dissatisfaction, frustration and disappointment but two things prevented me from quitting. One is my never-say-die attitude. Losing is temporary, quitting makes it permanent. My goal to become world champion allowed me to overcome some of the most challenging periods of my life. The other level of support came from friends and family. Without their love, encouragement and belief in me, I never would have achieved all that I have.

Q: What was the most memorable moment during your two decades on tour? Is there any one title that stands out over the others?

A: 20 years on tour is a long time and impossible to reduce to just one particular highlight. Of course winning all of my seven world titles was incredible, traveling the world for a living and meeting amazing people and experiencing rich and diverse cultures made it very special. If there is one special moment, it would have to be the recognition I received from my peers and their appreciation of the legacy I created at the ASP World Champions Crowning this year, where they awarded my retirement with a Life Time achievement award.

Q: What did it feel like to finally end your pro surfing career last year after achieving so many accomplishments? Will you miss competition?

A: It was hard to commit to retiring as I felt like I had lost my identity and was walking away from the only life I had ever known. I struggled for a few months but managed to find my feet eventually. I'm fortunate that I'm so busy with all the things I have created outside of surfing. I certainly don't miss the competitive side of surfing at all and I still surf every day to stay fit and because I love to surf!

Q: The tour life was pretty hectic. How about life now? What projects are you currently involved in? What are your plans and what will be your priority?

A: The tour life was a holiday compared to my life now! I am busier in "retirement" than I have ever been. My main projects include the launch of my new kids and women's surf wear brand called Blue Kiss by Layne Beachley, which is sold across Australia (

I also stage the richest women's surfing event in the world called the Commonwealth Bank Beachley Classic and I have my own charity called the Aim For The Stars Foundation, which provides financial and moral support for girls and women to help them achieve their dreams in all pursuits such as music, science, culture, arts and sport (,au).

Q: What motivated you to start the Beachley Classic?

A: My desire to create this event came from sitting on the board of directors of the ASP and feeling a lack of respect and support for the women and wanting to change that attitude. There are many girls on tour, rated in the top 17 of their chosen profession who don't make enough money to cover basic expenses so I requested a prize money increase to help support them. It was refused based on poor reasoning so I decided to take it upon myself to lead the way. I'm sure they expected me to just do it once and then go away. But after five consecutive years, it is the only event on the ASP Women's World Tour that is sponsored and staged by a surfer. It is something I am very proud of.

Q: What advice would you give girls who want to succeed?

A: Be prepared to work hard, be willing to learn and make mistakes as they are valuable learning opportunities and ask for help when the need arises. Also, set clear and achievable goals and never give up.


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