Surf’s up at Rivian’s South Coast Theater: Premiere of ‘Girls Can’t Surf’ makes waves 

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By Jackie Connor, Special to the Independent

 This past Saturday, Laguna Beach’s newly revamped South Coast Theater, which also serves as electric car maker Rivian’s largest flagship location in Southern California, saw a full house of the beachiest of surf fans for the premiere of “Girls Can’t Surf,” a fluorescent look into the real-life stories of some of surfing’s top female talent fighting through primarily male dominant surf culture during the 1980s.  

Pro surfers Tess Booth, Alisa Schwarzstein-Cairns, Andersen, Jorja Smith Harmon, Jolene Smith and Jericho Poppler at the Girls Can’t Surf premiere on Saturday, March 23. Photo/Jim Collins

“I think it’s terrific what Rivian’s done for this public space–it’s brought the community together,” said Jean Billyou, a Laguna Beach resident. “I’ve wanted to see this movie for about three years and am over the moon to be able to see and hear from the panel of star surfers I’ve followed for 40 years.” 

The film follows the impactful journeys of professional surfers Jodie Cooper, Frieda Zamba, Pauline Menczer, Lisa Andersen, Pam Burridge, and Wendy Botha as they faced difficulties finding sponsorship, pay disparities, discrimination and more while pursuing their true passion for surfing. The film also talks about the surf industry’s evolution to the present day, highlighting the World Surf League’s decision to implement equal pay for athletes in September 2019.  

Pro surfers Tess Booth, Alisa Schwarzstein-Cairns, Andersen, Jorja Smith Harmon, Jolene Smith and Jericho Poppler answer questions after Girls Can’t Surf premiere on Saturday, March 23. Photo/Jim Collins

After the show, Tess Booth, Laguna Beach local and daughter of professional surfer Jeff Booth, hosted a panel that included Alisa Schwarzstein-Cairns, Andersen, Jorja Smith Harmon, Jolene Smith and Jericho Poppler. Each reflected on the emotional connection with the film, travel experiences, the evolution of surf culture and the future of women’s surfing amidst the current ever-changing industry.  

“It really is a different time to look at all the new technologies that are going into surfing, like wetsuits, bathing suits…, and boardshorts,” Booth said during the discussion. But it is easier to be a surfer now when you think about it…I do think there is some opportunity for surfing, and especially for women’s surfing… there’s room for improvement.” 

The Girls Can’t Surf premiere on Saturday, March 23 saw pro surfers host a panel discussion after the film. Photo/Jim Collins

In their discussion, Booth also highlighted a pivotal time when the production of women’s boardshorts opened doors for functionality in the surf, which helped women feel more confident in pursuing more radical maneuvers and, according to Andersen, who paved the way in women’s boardshorts, offered a sense of empowerment alongside their male counterparts. Andersen shared pressure to perform, the need for acceptance and women’s board shorts allowing women to discover their identities beyond bikinis. 

“It served its purpose, it…opened up [opportunities] for another generation to feel comfortable in their skin, to kind of take that leap into surfing…with their own level of certainty, their own identity in the surf,” said Andersen.  

During the audience Q&A, Andersen and Smith touched on the changes within the industry, with Smith noting her experience of having her brothers and a sister who challenged each other’s surfing skills. Andersen shared that women are more marketable than ever despite the divide between the industry and professional surfing. 

“It’s just going to keep getting better and better… they’re all fabulous young ladies who have so much talent, not just surfing,” said Andersen. “Girls are showing up everywhere. I think there’s a lot of advantages for the girls in the industry right now.” 

The audience, which consisted of young women surfers curious about how to manage the pressures of social media, looked to the panel for insights into navigating this digital world. In response, Andersen compared the pressure of earning a print surf photo advertisement to posting photos on today’s social media platforms encouraging everyone to stay focused while avoiding comparison, sharing that the best reaction is “not to react.” 

“Choose your own path, do your own thing, don’t read the comments,” said Andersen in response to social media’s pressures. “You have the power to control that by not engaging.” 

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