Debilitating struggle behind Aussie surfing champ's greatest triumph

·Sports Editor
·3-min read
Pauline Menczer, pictured here before the Roxy Pro in Hawaii.
Pauline Menczer practices before the Roxy Pro in Hawaii. (Photo by Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Aussie surfing champion Pauline Menczer has opened up about the personal struggles she was forced to endure at the height of her career.

Menczer famously won the world title in 1993, but the 51-year-old was battling some serious demons while doing so.

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The Surfing Australia Hall of Famer was suffering through crippling arthritis, couldn't get any sponsorships because she was female, and was forced to hide her sexuality.

"I think my arthritis really made me a strong, persistent person," she told Yahoo Sport Australia in a sit-down interview for the 'Mind Games' series.

"The pain is like doing a marathon and not training at all, or a sprained ankle or getting your hand slammed in a car door - and it was all of those at once.

"Walking was the worst - I'd do 10 steps and just fall in a heap on the floor."

Menczer's arthrities "came back with a vengeance" ahead of her incredible triumph in Hawaii in 1993.

"I think because I spent so much time trying to get my body normal, it took away that anxiety of 'how am I going to surf?'," she said.

"All of these pro surfers were going out and having a surf before the heat but I never did because I couldn't.

"As soon as the hooter went to start the heat I surfed like there was absolutely nothing wrong with me.

"I just had such a big desire to want to win. The adrenaline was going so much that I don't remember feeling anything.

"I was hopeful but I had no idea I was going to surf as well as I did."

Pauline Menczer, pictured here with Jacqueline Silva, Layne Beachley and Heather Clark after the Billabong Pro in 2002.
Pauline Menczer (L), Jacqueline Silva, Layne Beachley and Heather Clark after the Billabong Pro in 2002. (Photo by Pierre Tostee/Getty Images)

As well as the debilitating arthritis, Menczer was also forced to hide her sexuality.

She even went to the lengths of telling everyone that her partner at the time was her coach.

"I was gay on tour and couldn't come out, especially at that time," she said.

"It was well and truly not accepted within the surfing industry.

"At that time I was telling everyone that my 'coach' was with me but it was my partner.

"To hide who you are for so many years of your life was tough."

Pauline Menczer's struggles in male-dominated industry

Menczer says she wasn't even accepted as a female athlete, let alone a gay one.

"The surfing industry back then was very male-orientated so it was a constant struggle just to be accepted as athletes," she said.

"I didn't have any sponsors. I'd have $100 in my bank account and then turn around and win the next event. So I seemed to do really well under pressure.

"I was lucky enough that I had people that I knew in each country that I stayed with.

"They all knew that I didn't have sponsors so they'd be really helpful and had people that wanted to buy stuff I brought with me.

"To get to each country I'd do things like buy 30 pairs of Levi jeans in America and sell them for 30 times the price in France.

"Those friends were my sponsors."

Pauline Menczer, pictured here with Keala Kennelly, Felina Spires, Layne Beachley, Rochelle Ballard, Serena Brooke, Kate Skarrat and Megan Abubo in 2000.
Pauline Menczer (second from left), with Keala Kennelly, Felina Spires, Layne Beachley, Rochelle Ballard, Serena Brooke, Kate Skarrat and Megan Abubo in 2000. (Credit: Pierre Tostee/ALLSPORT)

As well as the 1993 world title, Menczer won the women's amateur world title in 1988.

She won a total of 20 World Tour events throughout her career - a record only bettered by fellow Aussie great Layne Beachley.

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