I remember surfing at Manly beach over 35 years ago on a warm spring morning. It was head-high  with a gentle offshore breeze and I was catching a squillion waves on a lifeguard rescue board.

There were only three of us out that morning and the other two surfers were two young local girls who were fourteen years old, both of whom I knew.

One was Jodi (Holmes) Wilmott who became a professional surfer before transitioning into contest management. Jodi now lives in Hawaii and is the WSL Pro Tour General Manager and executive director of the North Shore Premier Vans Triple Crown contest series.

The other surfer was a young jack in the box who was as alert and as savvy as a seasoned professional. Lean and sinewy, she was built for the ocean and you could just tell she had an extraordinary competitive edge. 

Even at fourteen Layne Beachley was feisty and you could see this beaming young girl who had saltwater pumping through her veins was going to be a world surfing champion. Well, that’s what she told everyone.

Layne swings off the bottom and eyes the lip on a sizeable left. Photo: WSL

Nothing was ever going to stand in her way. I’ll never forget that day as I copped a verbal from Beachley because I was on a longboard and in her opinion, I was unfairly taking too many waves.

Beachley has had one of the most outstanding surfing careers and became the ASP Women's World Champion in 1998 and won the title again in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2006. She is the only surfer (male or female) to win six consecutive world titles.

Raised in the competitive Manly surfing scene she was surfing heats against men and winning at just 15 years of age, a strategy which helped her develop the physical and mental strength that would make her a world champion and fearless big wave surfer.

What most people don’t know about are the struggles Layne endured while capturing the surfing world’s imagination as she monstered her way through a phenomenal career. Unbeknownst to many, while growing up, Beachley suffered from depression and a lack of self-worth. Ultimately this was the basis for her to conquer her demons and to become the extraordinary and inspirational woman she is today.

Layne attributes much of her competitive spirit to the fact she was adopted. She felt unloved but was convinced that winning would provide hew with that loving feeling and a sense of self-worth. 

Beachley’s leadership style also blazed a trail for equality in and out of the water. She put in 15 years of service as a board member of the World Surf League (formally the ASP) and is the current Chairperson of Surfing Australia.

Only recently she launched ‘Awake Academy’, an online self-awakening platform designed to help radically change your life. “I created this academy to share my story and experiences with the world and to short cut the struggle and inspire people to detach from fear, take control and live a life they love,” explains Layne. 

Below Layne chats about the highs and lows of her incredible career and explains why she has founded the Awake Academy to help others reach their potential in their chosen fields.  

When was the first time you stood on a surfboard and what beach was it at?

 I was four. It was the harbourside of Manly Beach and the Manly Ferry created a wave, which rolled under me as I was standing on my surfboard giving me the feeling of the undulation that goes on under your feet. I started moving fluidly with it and I remember feeling super excited.

 Favourite beach/wave to surf in Australia?

Manly Beach (South Steyne) corner, in front of the surf club. It’s like a homecoming every time I surf there.

Favourite beach/wave to surf overseas?

 If I’m short on time and extremely hungry to go on a quick surf trip and get some quality surf I go to Tavarua in Fiji. There are so many breaks and a great assortment of waves from ‘Swimming Pools’ to Tavy rights, Cloud Break, Wilks and Desperados. Everything’s on offer and Restaurants is my favourite left-hander in the world.

First contest you surfed in and how did you go?

 My first contest was at Little Narrabeen. It was a charity/pro-am type of an event and I came dead last. I can remember I was as nervous as hell so

my board felt like it was filled with cement. The surf was great but I was just too tense and anxious. Learning how to lose taught me how to win.

Where did you win your first world title?

August 1998 at Lacanau Beach in France. I didn’t know I’d won it. I thought I still had another heat to surf and when I came out of the water the announcer was praising the new world champion! It took me a while until I realised it was me.

Where did you win your last world title?

I won my last world title in Honolulu Bay in 2006 in Maui and the waves were astonishing. The contest was a dream, even though I was knocked out in the semi-finals. The first day of the swell was a memorable 10 feet and perfect and I scored some of the biggest and best barrels of my life.

Layne Celebrating her seventh world title, back in 2006. Photo: Kirstin Schultz/WSL

Biggest wave you’ve ever ridden?

 Fifty feet. I was surfing at Outside Log Cabins, which is located between Pipeline and Waimea Bay on Hawaii’s North Shore, three-quarters of a mile out to sea. It was just one of those freak, one-day swells and we knew it was coming. I’d been training with Bradshaw for 18 months and had become a very competent tow-in surfer and driver and was committed to chasing the biggest waves of my life and on this particular day, it was presented to me. With the sheer speed I was travelling when being towed into it, I knew it was the biggest wave of my life! Many Life lessons have evolved from pursuing big wave surfing because it taught me how to relax under extreme pressure and duress. I’ll never forget that day and it has formed part of my keynote speaking material recalling the time and everything that went into the preparation for that day. I also relive the moment I let go of the tow rope and how I managed my emotions, detaching from the fear and creating the outcome I wanted, which of course was survival and successfully riding that particular gigantic wave.

This effort from Layne at Cape Solander earned her a nomination in the Billabong XXL Big Wave Awards back in 2009. 

What was your worst wipeout and what other injuries did you suffer in your quest for becoming a multiple-time world champion and one of the most successful surfers ever?

 I’ve had a few ‘worst wipe outs’ but the most enduring is the one I’m still dealing with to this day. I was surfing Teahupoo in Tahiti in 2001. It was after the final and I’d already won the contest. The surf was perfect and I pulled into a classic west bowl, stalled and was just a little too cocky. Grabbing my rail I started coming out of a deep barrel and inexplicitly looked down. And where you look is where you’ll go, so the nose of my board drifted into the impact zone of the lip, and the full force of lip landed on the back of my neck and my left arm instantly went numb. But because I’d won the contest I was on a high and ignored the injury and kept surfing. Five years later I had an MRI and it revealed 80% of my spinal cord had been severed by a disk herniation. So now I’m constantly in pain management because I didn’t give my body time to heal and recover.

So that was my worst but I’ve suffered many. My board hit me in my face, splitting it apart, resulting in 10 stiches and a smile dimple on my left cheek. Again, my board hit me in the head, just above my temple, nearly killing me, and due to that injury, my right iris is bigger than my left. Another monster landed on my lower back, folding me in half and crushing my lumbar spine. I’ve torn both medial ligaments in my knees, fractured my coccyx and a couple of ribs, rotated my pelvis and I’ve had a few stiches here and there, but apart from all these injuries, it’s been pain free and wonderful!

How has COVID 19 impacted on your 2020 life?  

 Personally, this pandemic has been a blessing in disguise. I was looking at my schedule for the year and was wondering how I was going to squeeze everything in that I had planned which included: being booked for at least 30 keynote speaking engagements around the world and attending the Olympic Games in Tokyo. Kirk and I were going to host a surf retreat in the Maldives and we had a three-week trip planned travelling through Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. I was also building my online course and I’d convinced myself that this was all going to happen. It’s possible I may have achieved it all but at what cost?

This time has enforced upon the world a triple e-reset: Economic, Environmental and Energetic and has given me the quality time required to launch my new project; ‘Awake Academy’.

A mate of mine who I surf with asked me what have I’ve been doing during COVID and I told him I’ve been investing wholeheartedly in building this academy and he said to me at least when this pandemic has come to an end you can look back and realise you used your time wisely which I’m very proud of.

Tell us about the inspiration for the Awake Academy and the direction you are taking with it?

For every guy that said I wouldn’t make it there were other guys saying you’ve got what it takes. It’s here I learned the value of being elevated, nurtured, and supported and how this impacted my confidence and beliefs and that’s what I wanted to pass on. I didn’t need to make it any harder, it's already hard enough. It’s what inspired me to start my foundation ‘Aim for the Stars’ which operated for 15 years and provided over a million dollars of support to young girls and women to achieve their dreams in all industries. Not just surfing or sport but music, science, law, academia, and environmental causes. I look back and think how did I make time for all this when all I really wanted to do is go surfing?

Over the last 12-15 years, I’ve travelled the world as a motivational speaker, paid to present at conferences and other events. I talk about a variety of topics including sustaining success, building a dream team, and overcoming fear. I’ve had to develop and adapt my ability as a storyteller, sharing insights and being relatable in order to help people.

In September 2019 I hosted my inaugural public Evolve workshop. There was a light bulb moment when I hosted that seminar. Attendees paid a premium to spend a day with me in a room to hear me speak about my life lessons and that made me realize the exceptional value of my content. That event gave me the confidence to believe people are willing to pay me for what I have to share. I wanted to create something that would broaden my impact and enable me to touch many more lives and give them the tools and the resources to shortcut their struggles and provide me a passive income stream.

Most people didn’t realise how I struggled throughout my life and career. There was a lot of pain, negative thoughts, and trauma that others didn’t see, and today the majority of the population is enduring this. I wanted to create a programme that could wake people up to their true gifts and give them the impetus to change their lives. People don’t see the shit you go through. They see the outcome and think it was easy!

So, this tool that I’ve built is the ‘Awake Academy’ and the first course is called ‘Own Your Truth’; Helping people wake up, own their shit, and trust in love. Today our lives are dominated by fear, uncertainty, and challenge so this course is designed to help people detach from fear, bring back the fun, and find their flow. Because the world as we’ve witnessed this year in particular needs more joy, happiness, and light.

I wanted to write a book but I’m just not a confident writer and my editor walked away (nice way of saying she sacked me) because I wasn’t delivering content. I decided to put together a course with the help from my business partner who used to be head of marketing for Virgin and has worked for other big brands. After 10 months of blood, sweat, tears, and a few therapy sessions, we’ve put together a no-bullshit seven-round online course to unlock your internal GPS. Seven rounds because it took me seven rounds to win a contest and I won seven world titles. 19 videos, correlating with the 19 years I spent on tour and 29 workbook exercises correlating with the 29 events I won.

“I created this academy to share my story and experiences with the world to short cut the struggle and inspire people to detach from fear, take control and live a life they love”.

For all information about the ‘Awake Academy’ please visit my website below:

www.awakeacademy.com.au