Layne Beachley is widely regarded as the most successful female surfer in history, and is the only surfer, male or female, to claim six consecutive world titles (1998-2003); she went on to win a seventh in 2006. In this inspiring conversation with AM Director Kim McKay, Layne reveals the source of her drive to be the best of the best, and opens up about her marriage to INXS rock legend Kirk Pengilly.
The fear of abandonment and the fear of rejection is essentially what drove me to become a six-time consecutive world champion. And the reason I differentiate from the seventh is because the seventh title was won in a state of love. So I proved to myself that you can do it in two different ways.
We all experience trauma, we all perceive it in a different way and none of us can control what happens to us, but the one thing we can control is how we respond to it.
Sue Saxon: Good afternoon. My name is Sue Saxon, I'm a creative producer here at the Australian Museum. I'd like to welcome you to the museum today and to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we stand, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. I pay my respects to the elders past, present, and those emerging in the future, and welcome to you all to the second session of the Australian Museum Lunchtime Lecture Series, Australians Shaping the Nation. Over five more fascinating Tuesdays we'll hear from inspiring iconic Australians who feature in the 200 Treasures at the Australian Museum exhibition in our award winning Westpac Long Gallery. Who's visited the gallery while they've been here? Oh, that's fantastic. For those of you who haven't, it is so full of riches that I really encourage you to come a little early or stay a little longer and make sure that you spend some time there, it will reward every visit you make.
To introduce today's special guest, please welcome Kim McKay, director and CEO of the Australian Museum and one of our speakers in this series. Thank you Kim.
Kim McKay: Thanks so much Sue, and lovely to see you all again, everyone who was here last week and any newcomers, I too would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land we're meeting on today, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation and pay my respects to elders past, present, and emerging. And as you've heard me say before, many of those emerging young leaders actually work here at the Australian Museum and we're so pleased to have them as we go on a very interesting journey here. We're working on training all of our staff to be culturally competent, to work with our Aboriginal brothers and sisters. And I can tell you it is an exciting journey and some wonderful new projects are emerging from that.
Wow, Layne Beachley. We had Ita Buttrose last week, a great Australian woman, and another great Australian woman today, Layne, and someone who made such a breakthrough at an early age. She has an Order of Australia and is widely regarded as the most successful female surfer in history. She's the only surfer, either male or female, to claim six consecutive world titles. They were between 1998 and 2003. Layne then went on to win her seventh world title in 2006 before retiring from the ASP World Tour in 2008.
Now, on Australia Day 2015 Layne was announced as an Officer in the Order of Australia for distinguished service to the community through support for a wide range of charitable organisations, as a mentor for women in sport, and of course as a world champion surfer.
She achieved yet another first in Australian sport by becoming Surfing Australia's new chairperson in the latter part of 2015. Now that means she is the first former female world champion in any sport to take on the role of leading a national sporting organisation.
Of course, Layne is also the proud founder and director of her own charity, the Layne Beachley Foundation Aim for the Stars, empowering and enabling girls and women to take control of their lives, to invest in their future, fulfil their potential, and put back into the community that supported them on their journey.
Her exploits are astounding, her attitude unwavering, and her achievements inspirational. This woman, I can tell you, has guts. Before I invite Layne to join me up here in conversation today where we'll talk for about half an hour and then of course open up questions to all of you, we thought we'd look at this clip about Layne Beachley.
Kim McKay: Well, if that's not inspiring, I don't know what, other than to say maybe we should all just go off to the beach for a while right now. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Layne Beachley.
Layne Beachley: Good afternoon everybody. Thank you for joining us here at lunchtime. And for all of you that have taken your lunch break to be here, please go ahead and eat it if you have it.
Kim McKay: Indeed it's great to have you here as part of this series, Layne, and great to profile a younger Australian woman after we talked to Ita last week and…
Layne Beachley: A more mature Australian woman.
Kim McKay: Oh my God, yeah, we were talking earlier and Layne said to me, 'She's so polished, isn't she?' And we decided we were quite different to that.
Layne Beachley: I'm quite the opposite.
Kim McKay: Quite the opposite. Well, the Layne Beachley story, I know many of us have heard parts of it before, but today I wanted to try and get in a little bit to what makes Layne Beachley tick. I'm sure people have tried to do that before.
Layne Beachley: Yes, and they didn't survive.
Kim McKay: Yeah, that's right. And it's always a combination of things of course. So let's start back at the beginning because growing up in Sydney, Sydney's northern beaches…
Layne Beachley: Manly Beach, everyone's familiar with it. It's the most appropriately named beach in the world. It's where I grew up surfing as a four-year-old.
Kim McKay: I'm also from the Northern beaches there originally. In fact, Layne and I did go to the same high school, Mackellar Girls, where all the women pro surfers came out of in those days.
Layne Beachley: And we both survived.
Kim McKay: And we both survived, yeah, that's right.
Layne Beachley: It had a really bad reputation. When I was told that I was going to Mackellar, girls' heads used to get flushed down the toilet and all sorts of things. So when my dad said…
Kim McKay: That was many years after I went there, Layne…
Layne Beachley: I think you were there before me, Kim, you may have set the standards.
Kim McKay: It was a very good school when I was there…
Layne Beachley: Yes, and it is now.
Kim McKay: No, but surfing was certainly the way of life, I think, if you grew up in Manly and around the northern beaches and it was just something we all did. But interestingly you…and we'll come back to this too, but a lot of young women at the time were just there as decoration for their surfing boyfriends at the time.
Layne Beachley: According to them.
Kim McKay: Yeah, and not getting out on the waves as much. I was one of the MacKellar mat rats, on a surfing mat, while the boys…
Layne Beachley: Okay. So you surfed at North Steyne on one of those Lilos. Yeah, I skipped that period. Thank you.
Kim McKay: You're lucky. Okay, so let's talk about Manly and growing up. What do you remember sort of as your earliest years there in the water?
Layne Beachley: So I have photos that you may have seen in that show-reel of me being a four-year-old surfing on…I actually grew up surfing on the harbour side of Manly Beach. I used to wait for the ferries to come in and produce a wake and then, you know, it was testing my balance a little bit on my foamy. I started skateboarding when I was three years old. So it was a natural progression for me to then move on to surfing. My older brother, Jason, is a surfer. My dad was a surfer and they're both very active members of the Manly surf lifesaving movement. But for any young girl that grows up with an older brother, she just wants to hang out with her older brother because it's cool. And she also wants to grow up to be better than her older brother, and I can honestly say I am, so…he doesn't have a trophy room.
So it was just part of my childhood, growing up on the beach, I remember being plonked on the sand before I could walk and just feeling so alive in that environment, feeling the sand between my toes and the sun on my skin and then the salt water through my hair and it just cleansed me. So I just felt like it was the one place where I truly belonged. And it still is to this day, I still surf every day, it's part of my being and it's something that I'm naturally attracted to.
So even though I declared to the world at about 14 years of age, I wanted to be a world champion surfer. I feel that, you know, when people ask you, how do you find your passion? I actually believe that our passions find us and that if we're constantly daydreaming about something, we're constantly visualising something in our minds or we're constantly focusing our attention on something, then that's something that we're naturally attracted to. And if we invest ourselves wholeheartedly in that, we can actually create it.
And I was continuously harassed and intimidated and threatened by the guys in the water at Manly Beach. And even my school teachers said 'Lock up your surfboard, it will amount to nothing, it's a distraction from your studies'. They were correct, it was a distraction from my studies, but it amounted to something.
Kim McKay: Well, I'm so glad you did.
Layne Beachley: Yeah, me too. Yeah. I'm glad my dad didn't listen.
Kim McKay: So you were surrounded by a lot of men, I know. Your mum, Valerie, sadly passed away when you're quite young, around six years of age. That must've had a very difficult impact on you at that age.
Layne Beachley: When I reflect on that time I realise that because I was so young I didn't understand the concept of forever. You don't really understand losing someone as so impactful as your own mother when you're six years of age. I remember my dad coming home from the hospital. It was about, I think it was the 29th of December, 1978, and she had gone into hospital to receive some cosmetic surgery procedures, of all things, and due to undetected high blood pressure because of the lack of staff over that period, she died from a brain haemorrhage unexpectedly. And yes, it was deeply distressing. I remember Dad coming home saying, 'Your mother's never coming back.' And I remember putting my head in my pillow and bawling my eyes out, and then I just felt really uncomfortable, I felt really distressed. So I thought, what can I do that's going to make me feel better?
And unfortunately we didn't live walking distance to the beach, because now I know that whenever I experience any sense of trauma or hurt or pain and suffering, the first place that I resort to is the ocean. It's the place that I can just rinse myself free of any negative emotion. However, as a six year old, I didn't have that freedom. So I remember jumping on my skateboard. I remember walking to the top of the hill and flying down it as fast as I possibly could, just to feel a sense of aliveness, just to feel that sense of excitement, instead of feeling that sense of pain and suffering. And when I reflect back on that, it makes me realise also that we all experience trauma, we all perceive it in a different way and none of us can control what happens to us, but the one thing that we can control is how we respond to it.
And so now I realise that the more we focus on our pain, the more we focus on our traumas and our discomforts and the things that we've suffered through, the longer we make them prolong themselves. You know, if all we're focusing our attention on is just the shit in our life, then we're prolonging that. So it's a matter of just capturing it and going, you know what? This doesn't define me. This isn't who I am. I want to be something different. And that's really what inspired me to jump on a skateboard and then jump on a surfboard. I never allowed external circumstances to dictate the terms to me.
Kim McKay: But there must've been some fear involved in that too.
Layne Beachley: Of course, I won six world titles in fear. I was in a constant state of fear. So if we fast forward a couple of years later, so when I was eight years old, that's when my dad decided to sit me down and tell me I was adopted. And for anyone in this room that has ever adopted children or is adopted themselves or has experience with that, from my own personal experience, when my dad sat me down to tell me I was adopted, the way in which I chose to perceive it determined the action that I took after that, because he was very compassionate and very sensitive in the way in which he shared the information with me. But the way I chose to hear it was very different.
So he's saying, 'You're our baby girl, we're so grateful that we have you, we always wanted a baby girl and you're my baby daughter. However, you're not a blood relation, you come from somewhere else. And the reason that we couldn't have you is because your mother who passed away two years ago had complications with your brother.' So I chose to hear 'you've been abandoned, you've been rejected, you're undeserving of love, your own mother didn't want you'. So that's what I chose to hear as opposed to that's what was being told to me. So that's where the fear came from.
Kim McKay: Understandable though, at eight years of age.
Layne Beachley: Absolutely. It's what I refer to as my survival mechanism. You know, it's survival mode. And essentially I remember just thinking when I think back on that period, I remember going, hmm, I don't like feeling this way. I know, if I become a world champion at something, everyone will love me.
Kim McKay: Was it linked? Was it at around age eight that you thought 'I'd like to be the world champion'?
Layne Beachley: Yeah. At anything. It was an ambiguous goal to set myself as an eight-year-old and an audacious goal as well. But I'm going to become a world champion at something because then I'll be deserving of love. So I ask you all, how do you define when you are enough? Like, when do you choose that you are enough? When do you choose to believe that you are deserving of love and happiness and all the things that we all crave as human beings? Because I had defined that as becoming the best of the best in the world. And the only way I could achieve that is by looking at the history books and going, well, the best of the best needs to become a six times consecutive world champion to be deserving of love. Thankfully I did that, so then I became enough, but I almost killed myself in the process.
Kim McKay: Yeah. But there is a drive that comes with that too. I mean, other people…Layne could sit there and…you know, we've all had great goals and ambitions. You know, I've wanted to be prime minister…no, I don't.
Layne Beachley: Not anymore.
Kim McKay: No, not after the past week.
Layne Beachley: No. Someone did text me recently and say 'Layne for PM'. No thanks.
Kim McKay: But we all harbour goals and ambition, but very few people actually execute those goals in the way that you have. And I asked Ita this the other day about what is that inside? What is that special piece of DNA that's inside Layne Beachley that drove you?
Layne Beachley: Belief, to a degree.
Kim McKay: Self-belief.
Layne Beachley: Self-belief to a degree. But there was…so I joined the tour when I was 16, I won my first world title when I was 26. So there was 10 years where I didn't believe, there was 10 years where I would sabotage my own self-belief. And the easiest way to explain it is to help you understand the difference between having a conscious and subconscious thought. Because when you consciously focus your attention on something, that's your want. But if your subconscious mind doesn't agree with it, and that's your belief.
So say, for example, I want to be a millionaire or I want to be rich. And then the following thought that comes after that is I can't even afford to pay the bills, or rich people are dickheads. So then your subconscious mind will actually manifest the reality over your conscious thought. Does that make sense?
So here I was saying I want to be world champion, but my subconscious mind was saying, well, I can't even jump to my feet in one motion. You know, there were so many fundamental flaws in my technique and my ability that those things were subconsciously derailing me or sabotaging my success. And it wasn't until I became aware of what those thoughts were, was I able to change them and change my awareness of them. You can't change what you can't see. So the driving factor also was my desire to be loved and my definition of what that was going to require. So for me, I had to be the best of the best to be deserving of love.
Kim McKay: So how did you discover that? Because it sounds like you've done a bit of work.
Layne Beachley: I have done a bit of work. Yeah, emotional work. In 1997, it was a year before I won my first world title. In 1996 I went to a charity night to raise money for a friend, and I bought this self-help course called Money and You. Because I could not seem to manifest money, no matter how hard I tried. And so I was working 60 hours a week in four different jobs. I was Number Two in the world, and I was earning $8,000 a year from my sponsor. So it was really quite a struggle.
Kim McKay: Yeah, but that's not your fault. That was also at the time women's surfing was on the fringe. The men were earning a hell of a lot more.
Layne Beachley: It's all right to have those thoughts. However, if you don't want to be defined by that you need to find proof or evidence to disprove that. So I looked at someone like Wendy Botha who was earning decent money, or Lisa Andersen, who was earning decent money. So there were girls that were making money. However, the options to do so were quite limited.
So I won this course, I bought this course called Money and You, and I went along to this course and when I was there I realised I had so many mental blocks towards money, a lot of barriers that were self-imposed, and limitations. But from that course, someone decided that it would be a really good thing for me to go and do a rebirthing. If anyone's ever heard of a rebirthing…so I went and did this rebirthing.
And all it means is lying down on your back with a practitioner who gets you in touch with your breath. Because when you get in touch with your breath and you just breathe in a cyclical way for 45 minutes, the thoughts are eliminated, and now it's just emotion. And because our body stores trauma, emotional trauma in physical ailments, it's your body's way of distracting you from dealing with the emotional pain.
And I went through this 45-minute process of just going into my breath and just focusing on my breath and every time something came up I had to really focus harder on my breath. And I remember bawling my eyes out for about half an hour afterwards. And all of this fear came up in me, all of this realisation that I had a massive fear of abandonment and an enormous fear of rejection, and that all stemmed back to being adopted, and my perception of what it meant.
So that fear of abandonment and that fear of rejection is essentially what drove me to become a six times consecutive world champion. And the reason I decide, I dissect or differentiate the sixth to the seventh is because the seventh world title was won in the state of love. So I proved to myself that you can do it in two different ways.
Kim McKay: We'll get to him in a moment. So I want to go back to the teenager Layne Beachley, at Mackellar Girls, whose surfing is starting to compete in surfing contests. You've basically had male role models around you, and then another former Mackellar girl, Pam Burridge, who was world champion many years earlier, came into your life and started mentoring you. Can you tell me about what that did at that time?
Layne Beachley: Because I'd declared to the world at such a young age that I wanted to be world champion, I ultimately realised that when you surround yourself with people who have the knowledge and experience that you lack, you save yourself a lot of time. And fortunately I had the mindset that as long as I surround myself with world champions, I can learn as much from them as I possibly can. Kids today believe that they have all the knowledge that they want and therefore they don't need any of our help. And that's fine. It just means that their ascent to potential success may take a little longer.
When I started travelling the tour, Pam was the current world champion. She won her first world title in 1990. Prior to travelling and surfing and training with Pam, I had worked with Tom Carroll, who was a two-time world champion; Wendy Botha, who was a four-time world champion. I'd surfed and trained with Barton Lynch, Martin Potter—all world champions. And Pam was the first one to really offer to take me under her wing. And her husband, Mark, was a surf board shaper so he taught me a lot about equipment.
So I basically just tapped in to as much knowledge as I possibly could, and she was a tremendous mentor. She was also what I refer to as an honesty barometer. And they're the kind of people that elevate you and lift you up but also call you on your stuff. And there were times when I had declared to Pam, you know, 'I'm going to be a multiple-time world champion.' And my nickname was Gidget when I was a young kid. And she basically looked at me and went, 'Hang on, Gidget, you haven't even won an event yet.' So, you know, tone it down.
Kim McKay: She has that remarkable way of cutting to the chase, doesn't she?
Layne Beachley: Yes. She's a girl after my own heart.
Kim McKay: Pam teaches surfing down at Mollymook. You'll see her van down there, I've run into it quite a few times, but she's a great girl. But it was such an Australian thing to be doing. I know people surf in America and South America and Europe, but you know because we are a coastal nation we've embraced surfing as our own sport in a way, and it did evolve here quite quickly through those years. I worked on the Australian tour for many years with Syd Cassidy.
Layne Beachley: No way…
Kim McKay: Yeah, and put some of the first women's contests together. I was working, not surfing…
Layne Beachley: We need you back.
Kim McKay: Yeah, that's right. It was great fun being paid to wiggle your toes in the sand.
Layne Beachley: It was great fun being paid to get into a bikini and wiggle your toes in the sand, and then go out and surf for 30 minutes. How tough can it be?
Kim McKay: But you've talked about those mentors that you encountered on the tour, both male and female. So how important do you think mentors are, because we have a program here at the museum, for example, for women to have mentors from some of the staff or people outside the industry. What difference do you think that makes?
Layne Beachley: Mentors have made an enormous impact in my life, just because I've always been very discerning with who I share my challenges and also my successes with. If you're working with someone you want them to be there wholeheartedly for you, and be wholeheartedly invested with you, in you, and then honest with you. And so that's just the way I like to be communicated with. Mentors, they save you time, they share in your pain and suffering, they share in your celebrations and successes; they give you guidance and support that you may not be able to find anywhere else. I lacked that with my family. Having lost my mother at six years of age, my dad was of the 'tough love' generation as well, so if I ever succeeded he would be like, 'Good job, kid.' And if I ever fell or hurt myself, he was like, 'Get up and get on with it.' So there was very little consistency. Well actually no, let's just say there was a lot of consistency in the way that both successes and failures were treated.
So I had to find those people that I could share my knowledge with, then share every challenge that I was going through with, and it wasn't until I actually experienced the deepest, darkest steps of my emotional state, which was depression in 1995 when I had chronic fatigue syndrome the second time—and that's when my mentors played a monumental role in helping me get out of it, because you may have a lot of people telling you you need to change or do something differently, but until you get 100% dissatisfied with your state of being, then you're not going to do anything different. It doesn't matter how many times I say you need to do something different. So the precursor to positive change is just to get dissatisfied. But I failed to get dissatisfied. It's amazing how comfortable we can become in our discomfort.
Kim McKay: Well, you actually described the ten years that you worked up to becoming world champion that you were operating in survival mode.
Layne Beachley: Yes.
Kim McKay: So that was both emotionally and physically.
Layne Beachley: Emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally, you name it. I was in survival mode. I was touted on tour as having the compassion of a tiger shark. And that was actually not only for my competition but for myself. I pushed through everything. I can barely relate to that competitor that I was, because I was so fiercely driven, it was so—if you're not with me get the hell out of my way. I don't see you as on the way, I see you as in my way. And you're slowing me down. So I was impetuous and I was fierce and I was driven, and I was hungry, and I …
Kim McKay: Were you nice?
Layne Beachley: At times. But then I had a belief that success had to be hard. And so I made sure of it. And so I also had a belief that for me to beat my competition I had to hate them or give them reason to hate me. So I made sure of that too—I beat them all the time.
Kim McKay: So you created all these reasons to be successful, like to be that tiger shark. I'm going to see you in a new light now. And then you got there. What was that like?
Layne Beachley: Well, it just validated my belief that success has to be hard. If our expectations are really lofty and life just keeps delivering everything down here, everything in the middle is pain, suffering and struggle. But what happens is sometimes we break through the pain, suffering and struggle and we exceed our expectations, so then we believe, 'Hey! To achieve our expectations it has to be through pain, suffering and struggle.' And so I became a self-fulfilling prophesy. It was painful. It was struggle. It was tough, it was hard, I was rejected. It was everything that I expected it to be.
Kim McKay: You were 26 at this time when you first became world champion. And through that pain and struggle and the attitude you'd developed to get there. I mean we saw on the clip, though, great joy in your face. Standing up on the dais. There's nothing like winning, is there?
Layne Beachley: No. Not when love is tied into it. Well actually not when the fear of not being enough is tied into it. And I don't wish to overcomplicate this conversation, but obviously it's something I'm really passionate about is understanding how my subconscious mind has made me the person that I am today. You know consciously we focus on things but it's the subconscious mind that's more powerful, and if you can visualise it or picture it like this, the conscious mind is the captain of the ship. It's dictating where you're going. Okay, we're going to go due west and the subconscious mind is down there in the engine room just pushing fuel into the engine room going, 'Right, yep, got it, okay, sure, we've got it.' And the subconscious mind cannot reason with you. It can't go, 'Hang on, we were going north half an hour ago. Now you want to go due west. Right, yep, sure. Got it.' So it just keeps making it happen.
So that's why I say the importance of understanding—if you believe success has to be hard, the subconscious mind's like, 'Yep, sure, got it. Okay, let's make it hard. Let's make it harder than it really needs to be.' You can't change what you can't see. So I'm so fiercely driven to win my first world title…
Kim McKay: Well, then there was the second, and the third…
Layne Beachley: The second one was the worst. Because you know how very few people can actually repeat success. So the second one was layered with a whole lot more expectation. Like I have to be twice as good as what I was last year to deserve winning this year. And I had to reset it, because after the first five events I was being a really inconsistent performer. I'd go from first to third to fifth back to first. And an inconsistent performance is a direct reflection of an inconsistent belief pattern, or inconsistent mindset.
So let's go back to the first world title. The year before it I did that rebirthing. I realised what my fears were, so I was no longer driven by the fear. I was just aware of the fear. I started to focus on something different. I fell in love with a guy called Ken Bradshaw later that year. He looks a lot like Buzz Lightyear for any of you Toy Story fans in the room. I got my wits about me later on in life and I married Woody.
So the thing was that Ken saw more in me than I saw in myself. He eliminated the distractions. He was my greatest mentor. He was a coach, he was a shaper, he was surf board maker. He understood what was required to eliminate distractions. He knew how to get the best out of me. So he was my greatest mentor.
I went on and won my first world title, and the only thing I remember feeling when I achieved that was nothing but relief and satisfaction. And I know that my competitors felt exactly the same way. Because I had been declaring for eight years I was going to be a world champion. They were like, 'Thank God she can shut up about it now.' So then I went on and won it, and then Ken went, 'You know what? I think you're the best surfer that this world's ever seen, and you need to stay at the top. Because you can go on and win five in a row.' The only guy that had won five in a row was Kelly Slater. Lisa Andersen had won four in a row. So we wanted to beat the female record and just win five in a row.
So it became almost a vicarious goal of Ken's, and a deeply insidious and embedded goal in me. That life wasn't worth living until I won five consecutive world titles. So I did whatever I had to do to ensure I got there. And I put everything on the line. There was no Plan B. Just go after it with all guns blazing. Have I scared you?
Kim McKay: Yeah. Terrified me, actually. Surfing is not a safe sport. You can get injured quite easily surfing, depending on what the conditions are, how hard you're prepared to push yourself. And you liked surfing Hawaii and the big waves.
Layne Beachley: I do. I love big waves.
Kim McKay: I'm terrified by big waves, Layne.
Layne Beachley: Are you? So surfing is a great sport for control freaks, because it really teaches you to surrender. And the thing when you go in the ocean, you're surrendering to a force that is a lot more powerful than you. So in the year that I did this Money and You course and then did this rebirthing, right before it I actually was competing in Japan and I fell off my board and hit something under the water. And I just remember almost getting knocked out, and I smacked my face and I felt really dizzy, so I laid down on my board and I put my head in my hands and just caught a wave in. And then I pulled my hands away and my hands were covered in blood. So this smile line on my left cheek (it's a really cute smile line). However, it's a scar from my face getting split apart. And that was pretty much the start of my injury pattern.
Then I fractured my coccyx; I had a wave that was ceiling height land on the small of my lower back, fold me in half and crush my lumbar spine. I've rotated my pelvis; I got back-slammed by a competitor in a fun little wrestle and it fractured a rib. I've had all sorts of crazy injuries. I've torn a medial and meniscus in both my knees and I've done some pretty serious damage for a non-contact sport.
So the thing was is that I continued just to push through it, push through it, push through it. When the wave that was really big landed on the back of my neck and it herniated a disk instantly, my left arm went numb and I just let it stay there for five years. I did nothing about it. I just treated the symptoms. I treated the pain. I know it was just stupid.
And then after I won my sixth world title I went, 'Okay, I can settle down now.' And so the following year something just snapped behind my shoulder blade so I went and got an MRI and it showed that 80% of my spinal cord was severed through this disk herniation in my neck. And I was given two pieces of advice: retire and get surgery. Neither of them appealed to me, so I then took six months out of the water and the same level of investment that I had invested into winning, I did exactly the same into investing in my health and wellbeing. I invested that same level of detail into getting my body back to where I could compete without pain, and surf without pain. It took me six months.
Kim McKay: Did you feel like giving up at that time?
Layne Beachley: Absolutely.
Kim McKay: Was it a fear of failure that stopped you?
Layne Beachley: No, I've never had that. I've had a fear of success.
Kim McKay: Fear of success but not fear of failure. Why don't you have a fear of failure, because most people do. Most people experience…you know, terrified to fail. But failure can be okay?
Layne Beachley: Yeah, I embraced failure because I saw it as a stepping stone to success. I saw it as an opportunity to learn. As an athlete, we tend to solicit feedback. We want to know what we're doing wrong more so than what we're doing right. Because then we can correct it and improve. And if you're in this relentless pursuit of improvement, as I was as an athlete, then failure wasn't an option. I never considered failure to be an option.
However, there were times when I wanted to quit. There were three different times throughout that first eight years when I was on tour before I won my first world title, that I was ready to quit. And it's not because I had given it everything, it's just because I didn't see any other alternative. And it wasn't until someone—one of my mentors, whether it was my personal trainer one afternoon after training, a guy called Rob Rowland-Smith. You may have heard of him. He's also known as the Prince of Pain. He sat me down after training one afternoon and he said, 'Listen, I just want to have a chat with you.' And I said, 'Yeah, sure, what's up?' And he goes, 'Listen, I want to know what your goals are. What is it that you want to achieve?' And this was in 1996, it was two years before I won my first world title. And I said, 'I want to be world champion.'
He goes, 'Okay, great. So what is it going to take for you to achieve that?' I said, 'A hundred per cent.' And he goes, 'And what are you investing in it now?' And I remember just kind of sinking down, and the first number that came to mind was 65. So I went, 'Seventy per cent?' And he goes, 'Well there's your answer. You're not giving it what it requires. I see you sabotaging it. I see you coming to training straight from a night club, or showing up to heats drunk. Or coming to contests unprepared. Or not spending enough time building your fitness and working on your equipment. Those little things that you do are sabotaging your future success.'
So if you've got a fear of success it means that you think you're investing everything into doing what you need to do. Actually you're not focussing on the one little thing that you need to do. And that's discipline.
Kim McKay: So I want to jump forward a little bit to Kirk.
Layne Beachley: Ha! Woody!
Kim McKay: To Woody. The gorgeous Kirk.
Layne Beachley: Has anyone seen Toy Story? Okay, good, because sometimes that joke goes way over everyone's head, like what the hell is she talking about.
Kim McKay: Kirk Pengilly, of course, famous rock star in INXS. Where did you meet?
Layne Beachley: Anyone heard of INXS?
Kim McKay: Oh yeah, this group's old enough, it's okay.
Layne Beachley: Boy band from the '80s. Kirk and I were set up on a blind date by Jon Stevens. And Jon Stevens was the former front man of Noiseworks and then became the front man of INXS after that tragic loss of Michael Hutchence. And Jon and I had met doing the celebrity Grand Prix down in Melbourne a couple of years prior, and then I went off on tour and then he went off on tour, then all of a sudden INXS and Layne Beachley were in New York at the same time. Randomly. I didn't know the rest of the band, I just knew Jon was there. So I rang Jon and said, 'Hey, let's catch up.' And so he went to organise a meeting with me in the lobby with the rest of the band, but only Garry could show up, who was the bass player. So I just had a few beers or a few wines with Garry and Jon, and apparently Kirk was in his room entertaining, so I didn't get to meet Kirk. Not that I had any interest in him, anyway, because he was the geeky, dorky guy who blew the saxophone, so I was like, 'Yeah, I like Garry.'
Anyway, this was July. In October I came home, I'd just broken up with Ken Bradshaw, Buzz Lightyear, and Jon said, 'Fantastic! You've got to meet Kirk.' And I went, 'Hang on, I've just broken up with Ken.' He said, 'That doesn't matter. You've got to meet Kirk'
And so I went to an INXS show and I met Kirk. Now the meeting didn't really go very well because Jon and Kirk were onstage and Jon made it his absolute goal to introduce us during the night. And when I stood on stage—I remember standing in front of Jon and in front of Kirk and I'm like Jon, you're so hot; Kirk, you're so not. Can I take the married guy home?
That's how shallow I was. Anyway I went up to Kirk after the show to introduce myself and he was talking to another guy and he turned around, looked at me and went, 'Yeah, hey, nice to meet you,' and then turned around and kept talking to his mate. Just brushed me. Two or three times he did that. I'm like, 'That's it, I'm done. I'm out.'
So towards the end of the night I go up to say goodnight to Jon, and Kirk happens to be standing with him and he's all excited: 'Layne, Kirk; Kirk, Layne.' I'm, 'Yeah, we've met.' So we go to the bar, we have a drink, and then I promised Jon before I got to this event that I would get Kirk's number. Now, that was like drawing blood from a stone. It was one of the hardest things I've ever had to endure, but I'm a woman of my word. If I make a promise I will do it. I managed to get his number from him. A week later I called him and I took him out on a date. Now…
Kim McKay: Good for you.
Layne Beachley: I made the pact that I wouldn't allow Kirk to pay, because sure, being the rock star he's probably always expected to pay for everything. So I decided I'm going to take this guy out. And I took him 10-pin bowling at Dee Why RSL.
Kim McKay: Good girl.
Layne Beachley: I'm a classy bird. Then I took him to a restaurant at Dee Why beachfront, and halfway through dinner we're literally yawning in each other's face. There is no chemistry, there is no connection, we have no desire to be there whatsoever. And we're talking about all the things that went wrong in our first relationships or our previous relationships—all the things you're not meant to talk about on your first date. And then halfway through dinner I excuse myself, I go to the bathroom and if there's a window that I can climb out of, I'm out of there.
And while I'm in the bathroom, Kirk's thinking, if I just leave some money and do a runner do you think she'll notice? And I came out of the bathroom, he was still sitting there, and I was deeply disappointed. And then the owner of the restaurant recognised that things weren't going well and so he sat down with a fresh bottle of limoncello that his grandmother had made the night before… Hey, we're still married. So thank God for limoncello is all I can say. We actually toasted limoncello at our wedding.
Kim McKay: But it's interesting. You're a celebrity for your achievements. Kirk is a star, a rock star, as you said. And the two of you come together. What was that like? Two high profile people?
Layne Beachley: Two worlds collided. The whole reason that Jon set us up because he thought exactly that. He thought for two people to come together that have a mutual understanding of what it takes to become the best in the world, the biggest in the world at what they do. The trust that goes with that, the compassion, the patience ,all of the things that are wrapped up in being these so-called celebrities. We're just human beings. We're the same as everybody else but we've just gone on and done some pretty silly stuff and some crazy stuff and some extraordinary things as well. But at the end of the day we're both just human beings who just want to be loved and want to be cared for.
Kim McKay: And you both have quite a deep desire to give back. Kirk has done a lot…I was on the board of the Eye Foundation and Kirk was an ambassador for that. You with your own foundation. Can you tell us a little bit about what drove you to start up the foundation?
Layne Beachley: So after winning my fifth consecutive world title a friend of mine from Macquarie Bank rang me unannounced one afternoon and said, 'Why don't you start your own charity?' And I said, 'Why would I do that?' And he said, 'Because no other surfer has.' I went, 'I'm in. I love pioneering stuff.' So he said, 'Listen, you decide what it stands for, what it's called and what it does, and we'll support it.'
And so I went home to my PA who lived with me and we did a full brainstorm, and we reflected back on the mid-'90s when I was number two in the world, earning $8,000 a year, working six different jobs or four different jobs, up to 60 hours a week. Sometimes sleeping in my board bag at contest sites, hitch-hiking to contest sites, just doing it really hard. And times when I wanted to quit.
Now, I worked in a very salubrious establishment called the Old Manly Boat Shed. Yeah, it's a shit-hole. And the Old Manly Boat Shed was perfect for me because I got to work from 6 at night till 3 in the morning, and then I could sleep for about four hours then surf for an hour and then get to the surf shop by 9 till 5, and then have dinner and be back at the Boat Shed. And the nights I didn't work at the Boat Shed I worked at the pizza shop just down the street, where I was making and delivering pizzas.
So I was doing everything and anything I could possible do to earn my way—to pay my way—to get on tour. One night after work at 3.30 in the morning one of my employers said, 'Listen, I see how hard you're working. I know how much you want this, and I believe in you. Here's $3,000, here's your next round-the-world air ticket.'
Kim McKay: Wow.
Layne Beachley: And that was a catalyst for me. That prevented me from quitting—again. $3,000 changed my life. So I thought why don't I start a foundation that provides women with the financial means and mentoring support to achieve their dreams? Not just in sport; music, science, culture, business, arts, academia, environmental studies, law, you name it, we support it. So this is our 15th year. We've supported 500 girls and it's been an amazing experience. We're having our big final fundraising gala this Friday night in Sydney, where we're bringing back a lot of our alumni. And then we're doing a parent-and-teens walk and then an individuals walk through Tasmania to raise money and then…I'm sorry to say but I'm winding it up next year. After 15 years and 500 girls I felt that my time is right to hand over the baton, so what we're raising money for at this gala on Friday night and then also our fundraising walk in Tasmania, is to provide life and game-changing grants to five alumni.
I want to give a $20,000 grant to five different alumni to ensure that the programs that they're currently operating that are community-focused expand. Because the $3,000 was chump change to some of these programs but it made a monumental difference to their lives. So now I want to give them these game-changing grants so that they can carry on the baton for the rest of their lives.
Kim McKay: That's fantastic, Layne, and an incredible achievement in so many ways.
Layne Beachley: Thank you.
Kim McKay: So what's next?
Layne Beachley: Well I might have a little bit more time for surfing.
Kim McKay: That's not bad. Take a bit of a break.
Layne Beachley: Yes, take a bit of a break. I'm focusing on writing another book. I'm developing a corporate leadership program to roll into organisations to help people be the champion of their own lives. I do a lot of mentoring. I'm the current chair of Surfing Australia. So one of my passion projects as far as being chairman is Tokyo 2020. Surfing is announced as an Olympic sport this year—a legitimate Olympic sport, not just an exhibition sport. So it's my job to ensure that we perform to the best of our ability in this opportunity. And then spending some time with my husband. He's recently retired and has his gold pensioner's opal card and he's living the dream.
Kim McKay: And his golden guitar.
Layne Beachley: Yes, that's it. Like the gold microphone.
Kim McKay: Well, thank you so much for being so open and sharing with us. I'm sure our audience have some questions if you're happy to answer a few.
Layne Beachley: Absolutely. Anything.
Kim McKay: Great. Who'd like to go first? Oh, go on…
Layne Beachley: They're afraid…right at the top of the stairs…
Audience question 1: Hello Layne. I just wanted to ask, you said that you didn't have a Plan B. Do you think it's necessary not to have a Plan B to be really successful?
Layne Beachley: From my own experience, I always in the back of my mind felt that my Plan B was just to go and get a real job. I knew deep down I had a great work ethic. So I always was confident of the fact that if surfing didn't work out then I'll go and be a waitress or I'll go back to school. There was always the opportunity. Having fall-back plans gives us an excuse and a reason and a story as to why we can't.
So I know all the most successful people throughout my era and generation never had a Plan B. Keith Urban didn't have a Plan B. But then you think about people who have these dreams and aspirations. Like Oprah Winfrey for example was fired from television because she was told that she was unfit for television. And Walt Disney was fired from his journalism job because he lacked creativity. Henry Ford failed with Ford five different times. Dyson failed 5,000 times. There's a lot of failures on the road to success. Unfortunately we define ourselves by our failures and then we allow our past to be our future.
If you continuously focus on what you want but then continuously tune in to what it is that your subconscious mind is saying—what are your beliefs around that—then that will determine whether you succeed or not. I believe that we don't need a Plan B because we're such adaptable beings. We can adapt to whatever happens. It's great to have an audacious goal, but it's also really healthy to be adaptable to the changing tides and the changing currents.
I had a goal to win my first world title in five years and it took me eight. And I wanted to quit three times between the fifth year and the eighth year, because it just wasn't working out the way that I wanted it to. And it wasn't until I became aware of that fundamental fear of rejection—the one thing I didn't elaborate on when I talk about that fear is I had to ask myself what does success mean. And to me, when I looked at successful people I had to ask myself, what's my judgment of them. Because we become what we judge. And I looked at successful people and I thought well the minute they're on a pedestal I want them to fall off it, which is the tall poppy syndrome in Australia. You've had your time, get out. And that's exactly what happened to me with my peers. However, I did have the support of Ken, people like Ken around me that kind of defused that. So my judgment of success was what was preventing me from manifesting it. So if there's something in your life that you really want, ask yourself what's the cost of it, or what's your judgment of it, and that'll help you uncover what your fear of it might be.
Audience question 2: Wouldn't a Plan B be a distraction?
Layne Beachley: Absolutely. Plan B does give you a distraction. And a waste of time, yeah. So the thing is that we, as human beings, we'd rather be right than happy. So what that means is if we're wrong, predominantly shame is wrapped in wrong, and none of us like to feel that. And so if we say here's my plan but I'll never make it, and then that's exactly what we do. We never make it. We've just made ourselves right. We've just validated ourselves. So it takes a lot of courage to say, 'That's my plan, that's where I'm going and I'm going after it and I need all your help. And if I don't get there, well I was wrong.' So the thing is, you've got to ask yourself what are the stories or the reasons or the excuses that you're giving yourself that are preventing you from getting there. And that's what we're looking for most of the time, the reasons, the excuses, the stories, because that's what makes us right.
Audience question 3: Following on from that, what advice would you give your 16-year-old self?
Layne Beachley: Lighten the fuck up. Honestly I really needed to lighten up a lot. I reflect back on that period…I was so intent. I remember when I hit my 20s and I expected everyone to have that same level of intensity and focus and drive me around me that I had. And it was exhausting. So as a 16-year-old…the thing was, as a 16-year-old I remember when I graduated from high school as a 17-year-old and it was an all-girls school and all my mates were guys down at Manly beach. And I used to wait for every weekend where I could just spend all day, every day at the beach. So the minute they celebrated Year 12 and everyone got out of their chairs and walked into the quadrangle, I distinctly remember getting off my chair and running to the gate, and turning around and going, 'Where is everybody?' And I walked back to school and they were all hugging and crying. I'm like, 'Are you kidding me?' It's time to be free. I can surf all day now.'
So I remember as a 16-year-old it was almost a dichotomy of intensity and then fun. But I just placed so many parameters around them. There were so many limitations I placed around myself, because of the severity of my expectations. So lighten up on your expectations and start tuning in to what you're saying to yourself, because it can be pretty fierce. And pretty mean.
Audience question 4: Hi, Layne. I'm adopted, so it's a question about adoption. And I don't want to offend or anything, but I was wondering if you'd actually looked for your birth family.
Layne Beachley: Good question. So when I was 24 my dad had just remarried my step-monster, and she and Dad had my baby sister who's 18 years younger than me. And so I felt like I'd been kind of cast out of the family. Because I moved out of home when I was 21 and all the accommodations that I've had throughout the years just started to fall through, and then I needed to move back home because I had nowhere to live, and she wouldn't let me come back home. And so I was literally squatting at my personal trainer's house for many years.
And that's when actually my personal trainer's wife said to me, 'Have you ever thought of buying your own place?' And I thought no, I'd never even thought of going into the real estate market. And fortunately I was a bit of a squirrel as far as money was concerned, and I had US$36,000 sitting under my dad's house. And so I had a deposit for a unit. So it was great advice and I was really grateful that my step-mum didn't let me come home, because it would not have allowed me to then develop this portfolio that I've been able to create.
So I felt homeless and I felt family-less. So I decided I need to find out where I come from. So I went to the Births Registry Office and I was given my…well, when I applied for my birth certificate it was actually handed to me ten minutes before I was paddling out for a heat in South Africa, so it was a major distraction. But I remember receiving my birth certificate and my mum's name was Maggie Campbell Gardner. And she was born in Scotland, in Glasgow, and she was 17 years of age when I was born. And so I just decided, okay, great, now I know why I was given up. What 17-year-old in 1972 would be sensible enough or mature enough to have a baby? I was just really grateful that I wasn't aborted and I was born.
So that was enough information for me. And then in 1997 my mother, Maggie, found me. She rang up the house and found my dad and had a chat with my dad, and Dad said, 'Well she's away at the moment, she's in Indonesia,' (because I was on a surf trip) 'but she'll call you when she gets home.'
Now, Maggie didn't want to wait till I got home. And so by the time I had got home, Dad gave me this information and literally the next day Maggie rang my home phone just to hear my voice. And Google in those days gave her a good indication of who I was. And this is 1999. So I'd just won my first world title. I was about to win my second one, my mum rings me up and goes, 'Hi, I'm your mother. I always wanted to keep you but you were conceived through date rape and I wasn't allowed to keep you…' Just dumped all this information on me. I'm like, 'Holy shit! Goodbye.' This is overwhelming.
And so the relationship was rather tumultuous throughout the whole period and it took me a lot to connect with her, because I didn't trust motherhood. So my first mum dies in '78; '79 Christina comes into my life, and then my step-monster, who's a beautiful woman, and then my mother calls me in 1999 and I go and meet her for the first time. It's literally like looking in a mirror in 17 years time. And then a couple of years later Christina dies from breast cancer. And then when I start writing my biography I realise that one of the limitations or the barriers for me to be connecting with my mother is I equate motherhood with loss. Every mother I've ever connected with has gone. And then my mother was also HIV-positive, and had just been living with the disease for 30 years.
So I had a lot of trust issues as an adoptee. We do have trust issues, we don't connect easily, we put a lot of boundaries around ourselves and around our hearts. And so I connected with my mum and then all of a sudden, now that she had me, she rejected me again. And so it was quite a difficult journey in the last few years. And then in March last year I got a phone call from her out of the blue and she said, 'I've been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and I've got three weeks to live. Can you come and see me.'
So I ran to the States and I spent two hours bedside with her and I got to say goodbye. And it was the five minutes of a conversation where we just got to say sorry. And we forgave each other and then she was gone. She went to sleep and never woke up again. So yeah, it hasn't been the easiest of journeys with me and my mum, but however I'm really grateful that I found her. She never gave me any information about my father—obviously she didn't want to remember any of it. SBS wanted to do the show Who Do You Think You Are? but because there's no connection with my paternal side—and they looked up, they spoke to Maggie and did some research and everything as she had recorded it came true. So yeah, it was just a matter of connecting with my mum before the opportunity was gone. So I was really grateful that I did.
However, my dad, who adopted me, his name's Neil, he is my rock. He has been the one consistent figure in my life. And he turns 80 next year. And he still gets up at 5am and runs the length of Manly beach every day. He's a bloody legend, my dad. You can set your clock by him. 12 o'clock to the Steyne, 2 o'clock back home for a nap, 4 o'clock back to the Steyne, 5am at the Surf Club.
Kim McKay: Isn't that great. Layne, the story you've told us this afternoon is one of a Sydney girl, but it's one of a woman who has achieved extraordinary things and certainly coped with so many issues in her life. And the fact that you've been so open in sharing that, and exposing your soul to us is a great privilege. You deserve so much to be one of our 100 Treasures of the Museum. Thank you.
Layne Beachley: It's an honour to be a treasure. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that by pursuing an audacious goal to become a world champion surfer would amount to being a national treasure in the Australian Museum.
Kim McKay: You've just got to be careful though when people want to say to you, 'I'll put you in a museum' that they don't stuff you, right? So ladies and gentlemen, please thank Layne Beachley.
Layne Beachley: Thank you very much, thank you.
This installment of Lunchtime Lecture Series took place at 1pm, Tuesday 28 August in the Hallstrom Theatre at the Australian Museum.
Lunctime Lecture Series: Australians Shaping the Nation is a series of talks with distinguished Australians who are shaping the nation across science, sport and the arts. This year's speakers were drawn from our 200 Treasures in the Westpac Long Gallery. The series will return in early 2019.