Layne Beachley isn’t just a World Champion surfer; she’s also a savvy businesswoman, motivational speaker and someone who’s campaigned hard for pay equality in women’s sports.
10 years on from claiming her seventh world title at 36 years old, when she was earning around $300,000 a year in combined sponsorship dollars and winnings, Layne thinks the surfing industry is in a bit of pain and can always be doing more for women.
Today the current six time women’s world champion and fellow Aussie Stephanie Gilmore is earning an estimated $2-million a year, and that’s a figure that Layne’s success has had a lot to do with.
“Upon reflection, I know I have played a significant role in the earning potential of today’s female professional surfers.”
But compared to the men, that $2-million is about half of the current men’s number one rated male surfer in John John Florence.
While Layne successfully negotiated and butted heads with the ASP board (now the World Surf League) for 15 years over women’s pay and conditions she’s proud of what’s she’s been able to achieve.
But the sexist attitudes are still around especially when it comes to the quality of surf for women in competition.
“The common thought is if the surf turns to shit then send the girls out.
“Unfortunately comments like that tend to shock the girls because they don’t say anything in their defense, it is ridiculous and it’s unacceptable behaviour.”
Layne’s push for better pay for female surfers has not just come about through her world title wins, but through her entrepreneurial pursuits – one of which is the creation and success of the world’s richest women’s surf contest the Beachley Classic.
“For the first four years I offered $40,000 more in overall prize money, than any of the other industry sponsored events.”
She did this by turning outside the surfing scene for sponsors and secured Commonwealth Bank, Havaianas and National Australia Bank. The event ran for seven years and established itself as one of most prestigious events to win.
Layne’s business smarts and desire to help others has also seen her create the Aim for the Stars Foundation which provides financial and moral support to young women across a broad range of pursuits – sports, music, science and technology, business, arts and community.
“In the past 13 years we’ve given over 450 grants worth $900,000 in total,” says Layne, adding that she wants to continue increasing that amount in the future.
Layne’s ambitious nature has always been there. When she left high school on Sydney’s northern beaches, she was determined to become a world surfing champion, and for the first seven years of competition she self-funded her tours by working multiple jobs.
It certainly hasn’t been easy. Indeed her first competition at Burleigh Heads on the Gold Coast, Layne recalls being almost sexually assaulted by a bus driver and having to couch surf because she couldn’t afford accommodation.
She was so rattled by the experience that she came second last in that event, but taking part in the event allowed her to mix with surfing legends like Tom Carroll, Barton Lynch, Wendy Botha and Pam Burridge – who has long championed for equal pay in women’s surfing.
“I had already seen these champions around the northern beaches surf scene, and during the Coke Classic at Manly I mingled with them so I relished in the opportunity to hang out with them and compete against the world’s best. The poor result fuelled my fire to work harder!”
Layne’s first win came three years later and netted her $US8,000 in prize money.
Five years later she fulfilled her ambition of becoming a world champion while earning $A35,000 a year from her sponsor– which is less than most up-and-coming teenagers get these days from eager sponsors!
“If a teenager shows any signs of potential they are swept up by the industry and paid phenomenal dollars – I reckon there are 12 year old’s earning more today than I was when I won my first world title.”
“I was very frugal back then, I have never lived outside my means, and I have never felt the need to have the latest gadgets or biggest cars, or the latest shiny thing.
“I had the benefit of growing up at a time when the intrinsic value of money was ingrained in me. Every time I had the desire to buy anything, the onus was back on me to save for it and usually by the time I could afford it, I no longer wanted it.
“I am now very fortunate having attained so much success,” she admits, adding that these days she gets given a lot of stuff and even has her car provided to her by Toyota.
While winning created a lot of value for Layne, for some female sports stars there is still the urge to opt for a modeling career to try and boost their careers.
But Layne reckons this in unsustainable.
“I think about how successful I was despite the fact that I was not a golden pin up girl.
“When I think about Lisa Anderson – former US four time world champion and today’s current golden girl Stephanie Gilmore I certain don’t possess the same beauty as those girls.
“I had to find a different way to stand out, surfing big waves, through my ability to connect with others, sharing my story, and letting people know exactly what I stand for and never compromising on my values.
“It’s the story I tell everybody irrespective of where they are in their life.
“If you don’t stand for something then you will fall for anything. It’s about establishing a deep personal understanding of what drives you, starting with your personal values.
Today the surfing industry is experiencing it’s own wave of financial stress and that’s limiting the opportunities for young guns.
Big name brand Quiksilver came close to filling for bankruptcy, and Billabong’s share price has plummeted since the global financial crisis.
“What that means for sportspeople is opportunities are a little more finite so you really have to be strong in your brand positioning and values.
“You also have to be collaborative and respectful of opportunities.
She says the biggest mistake she sees young sports stars make is arrogance.
“If you have a chip on your shoulder, or think you have to be as beautiful as Steph Gilmore then you are limiting your future success. Comparison always leads to a sense of inadequacy.”
“There are still opportunities out there to make money, to earn sufficient sponsorship dollars and earn a great living, but you have got to make it worth the company’s while.”
Today Layne’s ultimate goal, in all that she does from mentoring young women to running businesses, is to always live a life that she loves and to empower others to do the same.
“I love disrupting the status quo, challenging people’s perspectives, exploring and discovering new ways to design reality in order to create an unbeatable life. It’s choice not chance that determines your destiny.”