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Ruby of the Month: Layne Beachley, August 2013
08 August 2013
It’s a cool winter’s afternoon when Layne Beachley and I meet at her home overlooking Freshwater beach.
When Layne goes surfing in the morning, she tells me the water is at least 10 degrees warmer than the outside air temperature. I am happy for her to have the experience.
Layne offers me coffee, beer, wine, tea. I pick tea, adding, “I’m on Dry July”.
Layne says she’s planning to do Octoberrest.
I wonder, out loud, how many non-drinking months are there in a year?
Tea made, we start with where Layne’s up to at the moment.
She’s just launched her own website: laynebeachley.com
She’s planning a road trip with her husband Kirk Pengilly, driving from Broome to Darwin, capturing the whole journey on camera and in words. (“I like writing,” she tells me.)
She’s been delivering motivational speaking workshops and playing her role as ambassador for Wyndham Vacation Resorts Asia Pacific, a company which markets and sells vacation ownership interests.
She’s also just finished a project with young kids in care for the Create Foundation. The kids, who are either in care or have been in care, are interviewing people who have also experienced being in care, taking their photo and preparing the whole story for exhibit in Canberra, later this year.
Layne, who has always been very open about her own background, was in care for some of her own childhood.
Layne’s own foundation, Aim for the Stars (AFTS) marks its 10th anniversary this year. The foundation has awarded more than 270 women and girls grants of between $1500 and $3000 to be used to further their expertise in their chosen endeavours.
“The foundation’s existence is based on my experience,” says Layne. “When you start out you need a little bit of cash, a little bit of financial security; someone who believes in you; support and empathy. They’re all the things that are missing at the beginning of a career when you need them the most, and they’re what they throw at you when you’re ‘on top’ and really don’t need them as much.
“AFTS is not claiming to be enduring life support. However, we are a pillar of support and belief.”
Layne Beachley’s turn at being ‘on top’ remains unbeaten: seven surfing world titles (six of them in a row).
In 2008, she hung up her Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) contest rashie. Along with her other trophy wins, the ASP World Champion Cups are truly impressive. But it’s Layne’s unbeaten record and her continuing work in promoting and developing women’s surfing that mark her as a trailblazer. Her actions have increased the quantity and depth of talent in the sport to such a degree it’s hard for competitors on the circuit to get the same amount of wins Layne has under her belt, let alone do it in a row.
The Beachley Classic, which Layne began in 2006 and which she ran until this year (it was scrapped because no major sponsor could be found), was expressly set up to develop female talent.
The richest event on the ASP Women's World Championship tour, offering a prize purse of $140,000 in 2012, the Beachley Classic aimed to raise the profile of women's surfing as well as provide competitors with the level of financial remuneration needed to make a professional surfing a reasonable career option.
Australia’s Tyler Wright won the event in 2008 as a 14-year-old wildcard entrant. Wright, now 19, is currently ranked number two in the world, but is sitting in the number one position on the 2013 ASP Women’s Tour.
“I sat on the ASP board for 15 years,” begins Layne.
“When I approached them to increase the prize money for women from $80,000 to match the guys $100,000, so the girls at least had enough to pursue the sport at the level world competition requires, the board said to me, ‘Why? It’s not worth it, and if we pay you more, we’ll have to pay the guys more.’
“It was obvious to me, because I’d experienced not having the financial resources – I’d been number two in the world and was unsponsored – to be able to focus on the sport to meet the level of competition required, you need money.
“I’d had to work a 60 hour week to get the cash I needed to compete. It didn’t leave very much time to surf,” says Layne, indicating the importance of having reasonable prize money levels to ensure competitors have the ‘space’ to train, develop, compete, live.
“The industry didn’t see it that way, so I went off and found the sponsors and did it myself. The Beachley Classic set a new benchmark in prize money, which the ASP eventually matched. They had to or explain why not,” explains Layne.
“I’m impetuous and a control freak. I’m a Gemini,” says Layne using the traits of her star sign to explain her behaviour.
“Gemini’s,” she continues, “have short attention spans. They’re always off on the new exciting project over there, the shiny object that’s caught their eye…
“If I have a vision and there are obstacles, my tendency is to push them aside with ‘S___w-you. I’m-doing-it’. Being this way works for me in surfing but I’ve learnt it doesn’t always in life. I’ve had my share of going off to do it alone and found myself on the other side of failure. I’ve learned the need to sell an idea and get people on board.
“To get the ASP to increase the prize money for women surfers, what I needed to do was to give them a reason. It’s what leadership is about – having influence, knowing how to use it and selling the dream. I tend to want things done now and my way and that’s not the process if you want greater by-in,” admits Layne.
Her impetuous nature has led her to some less than satisfactory outcomes in business as well. The establishment of her clothing label, which she proclaims “ended a dismal failure”, because she didn’t have the skills that were necessary to successfully complete the venture and didn’t surround herself with people who did, marks such an occasion.
“Honesty, authenticity and integrity are values that are really important to me,’ says Layne. It’s why she happily talks about both failure and success and what she’s learned through them.
“I set up AFTS because a friend who sat on other sport foundation boards suggested it would be a good idea because no other surfer had done one before,” says Layne about the foundation’s beginnings.
“Being the first appealed to the pioneer in me. When we began, the board was made up of friends and people I knew. Having more experience of boards now, I understand the importance of having structure and the correct skill sets around me to make it function and ensure it works whether I am there or not.
“I hadn’t realised the value a board can bring to driving direction and taking business forward. We’re also looking at establishing our alumni presence more solidly. Inspiring them and the people they know to want to give back to the community - through AFTS for example,” explains Layne.
Layne has always been excited about the difference AFTS can make.
(Thirteen girls at The Olympics in London, where Layne was an official, were grant recipients at some time in their career.)
The foundation doesn’t just award sporting grants. One of the AFTS winners, Shannon La-vey, with whom Layne deeply empathises, especially around perseverance in the face of adversity, has received grants to continue her studies.
“Shannon was in a cult begun by her grandfather,” explains Layne. “She escaped with her mother’s help (also a member who tried to get away), only to be dragged back to suffer years of abuse and torture. It is Shannon’s lifelong mission to work to abolish such cults.”
To that end, AFTS has awarded Shannon a grant two years in a row to support her with her studies in Human Rights Law and Social Work.
The foundation acknowledges recipients more than once and encourages those who may not have succeeded the first time to try again.
“It’s important to back yourself and trust your instincts. They are life lessons surfing’s taught me. In fact, I’d say surfing and competing have taught me all my life lessons.
“Surfing brings me clarity. From the moment I glimpse the ocean I feel content. Walking outside and smelling it makes me feel alive. Putting on my wetsuit and waxing my board fills me with excitement. Immersing my feet in the sand, I feel reconnected, and then when I dive in the ocean I feel rinsed. I get in that water and I think I’m so glad I did this.”
September 6, 2013 at the Ivy in Sydney is the AFTS major fundraiser dinner. Applications for 2014 AFTS grants close November 2013.