Girls Can't Surf
By Jennifer Green,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Engaging docu details past sexism, discrimination; language.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Women can and should be treated and paid equally in sports. Excelling in a sport takes hard work and dedication.
Positive Role Models
Women surfers describe the work it takes to make it in the world of surfing, particularly at a time when women were actively discriminated against. Women banded together to fight inequality and, despite competitiveness, also supported each other. Older women feel they've passed down a legacy to younger women coming up in a more egalitarian sport now.
Most but not all athletes interviewed are White. They largely come from the U.S., Australia, and South Africa. One woman describes not getting as much media attention or sponsorships because she wasn't blonde-haired and blue-eyed. Feminist messages. One scene shows a protest on behalf of gay rights.
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Violence & Scariness
A woman says her dad was murdered when she was a kid. Big waves can be dangerous -- surfers are pulled out of the water by helicopter or ambulance. A woman ruptures discs in her back while surfing, another has arthritis, another describes suffering anorexia as a result of media telling women surfers they needed to be thinner. A woman says she ran away from an unhappy home where her dad was addicted to alcohol. Another says she felt unwanted when she learned she was adopted. Two gay women recall being shunned by their peers or else feeling they had to hide their sexuality, describing a "hostile" environment.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Women surfers were treated as sexual objects by the media, fans, and the male surfing community. One posed for nude photos in Playboy. Others knew their bathing suit-clad bodies were always on display. A female surfer got pregnant, had to give up surfing temporarily at six months until after birth. A man grabs his private parts on camera. Women describe unwanted advances from men. A man says women should just "look attractive"; another says they should take sponsorships only from products like perfumes and make-up. Mention of shaving the bikini line, keeping a breast covered, getting an "enema" of seawater, menstruation. A headline asks "how surfing compares to sex."
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"F--k," "fricking," "s--t," "bulls--t," "hellhole," "sucker," "boob," "dykes."
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Products & Purchases
Loads of brands seen on bathing suits, clothes, surfboards, tournaments, sponsorships, media outlets, cars, and more.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A woman describes having had a drinking problem. Another woman says her dad was addicted to alcohol and made home life unhappy. A third describes heavy partying. Images show a man smoking and people drinking alcohol in bars and elsewhere.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Girls Can't Surf examines the decades-long struggle by female surfers to be treated equally in their sporting world. The film does a great job conveying the message that women can and should be treated and paid equally in sports, and that excelling in any sport regardless of your gender takes hard work and dedication. Interviewees describe some difficult periods in the past, including alcohol use, anorexia, illness, injury, the loss of loved ones, unwanted sexual advances, sexist treatment, and homophobia. Language includes "f--k," "fricking," "s--t," "bulls--t," "hellhole," "sucker," "boob," and "dykes."
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Where to Watch
Videos and Photos
Girls Can't Surf
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What's the Story?
GIRLS CAN'T SURF combines historical footage and interviews with professional surfers from the 1970s onward. Past world champions and others describe the evolution of women's surfing and the discrimination women faced in the professional world and on the waves. They persisted out of love for the sport, pushing for inclusion and equal treatment.
Is It Any Good?
This isn't the first documentary about sexist treatment of female athletes, but the world of surf culture gives it an entirely unique feel. That's underscored right from the opening title sequence of Girls Can't Surf set to fun, neon-stroked text graphics and female punk rock. As one interviewee in the film describes it, there's always been a certain mystique around the surf community, encapsulated in blonde-streaked, bikini-clad "demi-gods" and golden-hued sunsets on the beach. The film capitalizes on its gorgeous cast of characters and settings with tons of archive footage from the 1970s on.
The veterans interviewed mostly still surf today in their middle to late-middle age, and it's inspiring to see how far their sport has come in their wake and what role they each played in breaking down barriers. They open up not just with tales about surfing, but also personal backstories about family strife, coming out of the closet (or actually being pushed out and then ostracized), opting to pose nude in a magazine, suffering from anorexia or alcohol problems, dealing with an unexpected pregnancy, and more. The film captures and reflects on an era in a way that brings it to vivid and engaging life.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about why women faced such discrimination in the surfing world, as seen in Girls Can't Surf. Have times changed? How and why?
Can you think of other sports where women are treated with less respect or earn less than their male counterparts?
How would you compare the different decades covered in this film? What differences and similarities did the film highlight?
What did you think of the balance between interviews and archive footage in the film? Would you have liked more or less of one or the other?
- On DVD or streaming: April 19, 2022
- Cast: Lisa Anderson, Rochelle Ballard, Layne Beachley
- Director: Christopher Nelius
- Studio: Gravitas Ventures
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Activism, Sports and Martial Arts, Great Girl Role Models, History
- Run time: 108 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: April 14, 2023
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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