Hey All,

None of you called me out for this, but the recent Rick Rasmussen post kind of gets caught in its own trap. The point was made that most surfers (me, for sure) have a high tolerance for what I not-so-delicately referred to as "our biggest fuck-ups," because our own "transgressions in the name of surfing are trivial by comparison but not consequence-free"—meaning we cut a lot of slack to deeply flawed characters because we ourselves wish to be cut some slack. There's more to it than that, but close enough.

The corollary that I forgot to bring up is that we under-index heavily on surfers who don't set themselves on fire, and if I'd been more on my game two weeks ago I'd have directed your gaze a few inches to the right of Rasmussen, in the 1974 Hatteras shot you see above, because the tall skinny guy in the white jersey, about to battle Rick for the United States men's division title, is Jim Cartland from Cocoa Beach—the beige Yin to Rick's fluorescent Yang, a mostly forgotten figure by comparison because he didn't look like Thor, didn't drive a cherried-out '41 Cadillac, and didn't die young and spectacularly, the way Rick did. Cartland looked and acted like a nice super-bright kid from homeroom who got along with everybody, jocks, stoners, nerds, teachers, parents. Rick stomped on the gas in one direction. Jim went the other way, surfed around his class schedule, took a Masters in theoretical math, spent five years in aerospace, went to med school, and that gets us to where we find him today—Dr. James Cartland, diagnostic radiology specialist, 70 years old and possibly in the office but also possibly paddling around you to the top of the reef at Cloudbreak on a 6' 9" Rusty step-up. 

rick rasmussen, jim cartland, cape hatteras, north carolina, 1974

But let's go back to 1974 for a moment because the Cartland-Rasmussen USSC duel was, as we used to say, a trip. It's the tail-end of the contest, directly in front of the famous Hatteras lighthouse: great surf, man-on-man final, and for reasons I don't quite understand, Rick has to beat Jim twice to take the title, while Jim only needs to beat Rick once. Surfing described Cartland as "the most consistent surfer in the water—the Trim Master," while Rasmussen was "the antithesis of Cartland, surfing with total abandon and looking for places to explode." Rasmussen takes the first heat, and here's where it gets good. "The sun was gone when they went out the second time," Surfing continued: 

One heat, winner take all. The Park Rangers now radioed to a nearby group of fisherman who had four-wheel drive vehicles and asked them to drive down to the Lighthouse, hoping to finish the contest in the dark using headlight high beams. It was a crazy scene, several hundred people watching two surfers in the eerie light of ten Jeeps. It was a great idea but it didn't work. After 10 minutes, the heat was called off.

Rasmussen beat Cartland the following morning in a one-hour final-final. But the point I'm trying to make is that the Jim Cartlands of the world deserve more attention, and we begin here.

jim cartland
jim cartland
jim cartland

Pauline Menczer, like Cartland, is an underappreciated figure in surfing. The difference is that Cartland happily turned his back on the commercial side of the sport not long after the '74 USSC, while Menczer fought her way to the top, winning the 1993 WCT title (beating Pam Burridge, Lisa Anderson, and Layne Beachley, among others) and just kept fighting, on multiple fronts, as she tried to keep her sometimes-crippling arthritis in check, her sexuality closeted, her bank account afloat, and what a gut-punch that was, as Menczer came bang-up against the surf industry's new Roxy-defined beauty standard, which had zero use for a freckled tomboy—never mind that Pauline had more personality and humor and zing than any ten pros combined, male or female—meaning the new champ went into her title-defense year without a major sponsor. She fought all that, and for the most part did it with a big smile. Menczer's surfing talent is world-class, but her real gift is for preservation and perspective; she had—still has—a singular ability to do battle while maintaining appreciation for who she is, what she's been given, and what she's earned. Most of the rest of us are working toward the kind of balance and perspective Pauline Menczer—poor, fatherless, bullied—seems to have been born with. Along with co-author Luke Benedictus, Pauline has just published Surf Like a Woman, her autobiography, and here she is at age 14, skating down to South Bondi, aka Scum Valley, in 1984. 

south bondi beach

Surfboard under my arm, I skate down our leafy street in the warm November sun. I hop the curb over Ewell Street, then proceed over Stephen Street, before rounding the corner into the human traffic of Bondi Road [where] I get wolf-whistled by a car full of sleazeballs, despite the fact that I barely look 12. Then the path narrows and steepens and the foot traffic thins. I sit down on my skateboard to pick up speed, balancing the Coolite on my head and using the soles of my Dunlop Volleys as brakes. Rolling along, I catch a momentary snatch of blue sea. Then I’m bowling round the corner past Hunter Park, where it’s thankfully too early to see the local flasher wanking in the bushes. Then Australia’s most famous beach looms into view, and I’m heading onto Campbell Parade, where things start to get really lively.

Forced to jump off my skateboard, I pick my way on foot down the beachfront street. Opposite the Astra Hotel, the pavement is throbbing with crowds of people. Half-naked bathers, tourists, Westies, drunkards, bikers, dole bludgers, speed freaks, Vietnam vets. Bondi is a magnet for all, and they’re getting in my way. I need to get to the sea.

As I pull on my wetsuit and wax my board, I keep glancing up, scanning around for Tanya Carlaw, my best mate, who’s nowhere to be seen. Girls are a rarity in the South Bondi lineup because surfing this break can be intimidating—physically, mentally, and sexually. Few are prepared to put up with the constant taunts and heckles, and I can hardly blame them. Most of the guys down here are just gross. I’ve become inured to most of the bullshit, probably because I live with three teenage brothers, who’ve forced me to toughen up fast. Yet I’m always conscious of the latent threat of trouble. As a girl, I maintain a low profile, keeping my hair cropped boy-short and my head down.

Pauline paddles out, the story continues, and in true Menczer style it is uplifting, then crushing (literally), then back to uplifting.

pauline menczer

The end of the book finds Pauline at the 2023 WCT Bells contest, taking part in a side event called Rising Tides, where officials clear the water and female pros, past and present, surf with a big freewheeling group of young girls. "There must be 50 girls out here," Menczer says, "splashing about together, laughing and joking in the waves. I've never seen anything like it." Pauline reflects for a moment on her teen years at Bondi, when she was the only female surfer in the water, keeping her hair short and her head down just to get a few waves. The Rising Tides event is still rolling when Pauline walks up the beach and sees a small boy holding a surfboard and screaming at his father. "It's not fair! Why can't boys go in now?"

"C'mon mate, it's the girl's turn," the dad replies.

Pauline walks by, grinning, looks back at the dad. "Just let him go in, mate. The ocean is big enough for him, too."

Pauline Menczer for President, or Prime Minister, either one.

Thanks for reading, and see you next week!


astra hotel, bondi beach, south bondi

PS: The Astra Hotel, mentioned by Pauline above, originally the Cliff House, opened in 1880 and was the first structure on the cliff at South Bondi. It was the site of the 1943 Beer Riot, when 1,500 men, on a warm summer Saturday, brawled in and around the upscale cream-and-green-tiled hotel. "Trouble began," the Sydney Morning Herald reported, "when the crowd in the bars, including many soldiers, became too large for the attendants to serve with beer. At 5:45 it was announced that beer supplies had run out." Fighting commenced, spread, and the police who arrived were met with a fusillade of empty beer mugs. One officer "lost his uniform cap, which, it is believed, was torn to shreds." The Astra became a second-tier rock venue in the '60s and '70s, but was much reduced by the time Pauline Menczer skated by in 1983 with her Coolite. So many Astra-related disturbing-the-peace complaints were filed, in fact, the hotel was remade the following year as the Astra Retirement Village. 

[Photo grid, clockwise from top left: Pauline Menczer; Jim Cartland at Pipeline, photo by Lance Trout; Rick Rasmussen and Jim Cartland, 1974 USSC, by Larry Pope; magazine ad for 1941 Cadillac; Hatteras lighthouse; Pauline, Rocky Point, 1999, photo by Ron Brazil. Rasmussen and Cartland, Hatteras '74. Cartland cutback, photo by Eric Olsen. Cartland at Pipeline. Quiver shot by Steve Wilkings. Bondi Beach, 1978. Menczer surf shot by Allen Schaben. Bikini Bar at the Hotel Astra, around 1966.]