Girls Can't Surf

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Short takes

Not suitable under 12; parental guidance to 15 (themes, language, sexual objectification of women)

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This topic contains:

  • overall comments and recommendations
  • details of classification and consumer advice lines for Girls Can't Surf
  • a review of Girls Can't Surf completed by the Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) on 11 March 2021.

Overall comments and recommendations

Children under 12 Not suitable due to themes, language and the sexual objectification of women.
Children aged 12–15 Parental guidance recommended due to themes, language and the sexual objectification of women.
Children aged 16 and over Ok for this age group.

About the movie

This section contains details about the movie, including its classification by the Australian Government Classification Board and the associated consumer advice lines. Other classification advice (OC) is provided where the Australian film classification is not available.

Name of movie: Girls Can't Surf
Classification: M
Consumer advice lines: Coarse Language
Length: 108 minutes

ACCM review

This review of the movie contains the following information:

A synopsis of the story

Girls Can’t Surf lifts the veil on a dark period of surfing history. It follows a band of female pioneers who chose to listen to the voice inside instead of the male dominated mantras echoing from every direction, telling them they would never measure up or be as good as the men who were riding the same waves that they were. The documentary gives viewers a personal glimpse into the lives of some of the best surfers to ever grace the sport, legends like Jodie Cooper, Pam Burridge, Pauline Menczer, Wendy Botha, Lisa Andersen and Layne Beachley, to name but a few. It takes audiences behind the scenes and allows them to see things through the eyes of these inspiring women who beat all the odds to come out on top. Audiences will learn about the personal challenges, disadvantages and struggles that these women faced and how they were dealt with and overcome. They will, hopefully, wince at the male mentality of the surfing culture during that time and will applaud the passion and resilience of these inspirational women that never made any money but who made an incredible difference and who changed the face of surfing not only in this country but all around the world.


Children and adolescents may react adversely at different ages to themes of crime, suicide, drug and alcohol dependence, death, serious illness, family breakdown, death or separation from a parent, animal distress or cruelty to animals, children as victims, natural disasters and racism. Occasionally reviews may also signal themes that some parents may simply wish to know about.

Sexism; Gender inequality; Body image; Male chauvinism. Along with some lesser themes dealt with by individuals such as domestic abuse and alcoholism; anorexia and chronic illness; as well as poverty, homosexuality, adoption and finding your identity.

Use of violenceinfo

Research shows that children are at risk of learning that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution when violence is glamourised, performed by an attractive hero, successful, has few real life consequences, is set in a comic context and / or is mostly perpetrated by male characters with female victims, or by one race against another.

Repeated exposure to violent content can reinforce the message that violence is an acceptable means of conflict resolution. Repeated exposure also increases the risks that children will become desensitised to the use of violence in real life or develop an exaggerated view about the prevalence and likelihood of violence in their own world.

There is some violence in this movie, including:

  • One surfer jokingly says that the only way to beat her competition is with a large piece of wood.
  • Images are shown of some surfers fighting in the surf.

Material that may scare or disturb children

Under fiveinfo

Children under five are most likely to be frightened by scary visual images, such as monsters, physical transformations.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children under the age of five, including the following:

  • It is unlikely that children in this age group would be frightened by this film.

Aged five to eightinfo

Children aged five to eight will also be frightened by scary visual images and will also be disturbed by depictions of the death of a parent, a child abandoned or separated from parents, children or animals being hurt or threatened and / or natural disasters.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes and scary visual images, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged five to eight, including the following:

  • It is unlikely that children in this age group would be frightened by this film.

Aged eight to thirteeninfo

Children aged eight to thirteen are most likely to be frightened by realistic threats and dangers, violence or threat of violence and / or stories in which children are hurt or threatened.

In addition to the above-mentioned violent scenes, there are some scenes in this movie that could scare or disturb children aged eight to thirteen, including the following:

  • It is unlikely that children over the age of eight would be frightened by this film.

Product placement

The following products are displayed or used in this movie:

  • Numerous surf and swimwear products were mentioned or displayed throughout the film including but not limited to: Ocean Pacific Swimwear, Dodge, Piping Hot, Rip Curl, Hawaiian Style, Reef, Roxy, Billabong, Quick Silver, O’Neill, Coors, Dragon Sunglasses, Kalua, Pepsi, Swatch, Red Bull, Samsung Galaxy, Corona, Jeep, Hurley, 7Up, Maui Pro, Target, Surf Ranch, Akubra, Instinct, Surfing Life Magazine, and Tracks Magazine.
  • A Sunkist photo shoot featuring one of the surfers.
  • A Coca-Cola commercial.

Sexual references

There are some sexual references in this movie, including:

  • Two surfers reveal that they are lesbian.
  • An article is showcased with the heading: How Surfing Compares to Sex.
  • Both male and female spectators say they come to the beach and the surf competitions to look at the opposite sex.

Nudity and sexual activity

There is some nudity and sexual activity in this movie, including:

  • A random guy grabs his crotch and thrusts his pelvis toward the camera.
  • There are numerous shots of bikini clad women and shirtless men on the beach or in the water.
  • There are images of sexy, very skimpily clad women in bikinis posing in magazines or in G-strings posing in the water. One advert reads: “A great pair”, referring to a woman’s breasts.
  • There are close ups of butt cheeks paddling out on the waves.
  • Lisa gets pregnant and has her baby while on surfing tour.
  • There is one shot of Lisa breastfeeding her baby.
  • The female surfers all talk about having to wear a swimsuit cut so high that one girl was asking: “Does anyone need a razor?”
  • Paddling out to the waves, one girl in particular had to keep pulling up the straps on her swimsuit so her boobs wouldn’t fall out.
  • Wendy Botha poses naked for Australian Playboy.
  • The girls talk about how they felt they had to accept unwanted or unwelcome sexual advances, simply to prove that they weren’t lesbian.

Use of substances

There is some use of substances in this movie, including:

  • Some of the girls confessed that they loved to party.
  • There are numerous shots of some surfers drinking and smoking.
  • Spectators drink on the beaches while watching the surf competitions.
  • Pam claims that drinking is what kept her alive while she was starving herself.
  • Champagne is sprayed over champions as they hold their trophies aloft.

Coarse language

There is some coarse language in this movie, including:

  • Frequent use of the word “Shit”.
  • “Crap”, “Fuck”, “Frickin”, “Bullshit”, “Damn”, “Dumb ass chauvinistic pigs” and “Hell” are also heard throughout the film, although with less frequency.
  • Occasionally people are given 'the rude finger'.

In a nutshell

Girls Can’t Surf is a documentary that shines a light on a dark time in women’s surfing. Archival footage and photos are interwoven with personal interviews from many of the professional surfers, and a powerful story of passion, resilience, determination and triumph is the ultimate result. The film is best suited to older audiences and will be heartily appreciated by females and surfing fans.

The main messages from this movie are that it is not what happens to you that makes you, it is how you respond that matters most and that if you give women an opportunity they will make the world a far better place.

Values in this movie that parents may wish to reinforce with their children include:

  • Dedication
  • Solidarity
  • Helpfulness
  • Determination
  • Passion
  • Resilience
  • Believing in yourself.

This movie could also give parents the opportunity to discuss with their children attitudes and behaviours, and their real-life consequences, such as:

  • Rampant sexism and disrespect towards women.
  • The notion that women are not as good as men, that men will always be better and that women should just ‘look attractive and dress well’. Parents may like to reference Jodie Cooper and the fact that she took on a wave that none of the guys would touch and did so with grace, courage and total control.
  • Battles with body image, how they are fought and how they are overcome.
  • Judging people by the way they look, their sexual preference or which gender they are.
  • How female surfers are only just being awarded equal pay for taking on the same tasks and same risks as a man and how in many other areas women are still only paid a fraction of what men receive for doing the same work.
  • Being made to feel that you should accept a sexual advance even if you were uncomfortable.
  • How to combat and navigate the minefield of mixed messages, double standards, and the injustice of gender inequality.