Burridge, Pam

Warm and articulate Australian goofyfooter originally from Sydney's Manly Beach; world champion in 1990; described by Surfer magazine in 1999 as the "Mother Superior of women's surfing."

Burridge was born (1965) and raised in Sydney, the daughter of a computer programmer father who became a competitive marathoner; Donella Burridge, Pam's older sister, swam in the 1984 Olympics. Pam began surfing at age 10, and turned pro at 15, just after winning the Australian National Titles, and finished her world tour rookie season rated fifth. She dropped out of high school the following year to concentrate on the circuit and finished runner-up to California's Debbie Beacham. Her basic surfing style wouldn't change much over the years: smooth, strong, deliberate turns, performed out of an easy, half-slouching stance.

Australian men had won six of seven world titles since the formation of the world tour in 1976, but Australian women had so far come up empty-handed, and Burridge was designated by the national magazines and newspapers, along with the surf press, as the country's champion-in-waiting. But year after year she came up short, and from 1983 to 1986 she finished, in order, third, third, third, and second—the last result was a heartbreaker, as she led the ratings going into the final event of the season, but was eliminated in the first round.

The contest-obsessed Australian surf press had by this time grown impatient, even surly, with Burridge. "She's never been as fit as she should and always crumbles under pressure," reporter John Elliss wrote in a 1987 Tracks magazine cover story. Burridge said she was ready for the next season—she'd finished runner-up the year before, after all—but Elliss wasn't buying. "It's hard not to be skeptical when she says she's going to do it properly this time," he wrote. Burridge in fact went on to her worst showing of her career, finishing seventh in 1987, then bounced back to runner-up for the next two seasons, first to Frieda Zamba, then Wendy Botha.

By the end of 1989, Burridge was living with surfboard shaper Mark Rabbidge, 15 years her senior and the #3-rated longboarder in the world. Going into the 1990 season, Rabbidge helped Burridge with her boards, technique, and strategy. He also served as agent–manager, screening phone calls and booking plane tickets, car rentals, and hotel reservations. Burridge had lost her major sponsors, and at one point Rabbidge sold his car to pay for her airfare to a contest in California. But the effort paid off. Burridge was runner-up in the season opener, won two events during the middle of the schedule, and had a slim lead going into the final event, at Sunset Beach in Hawaii—just as she had in 1986. But this time she seemed inspired by the challenge, rather than cowed, and in powerful 12-foot surf she convincingly won both the contest and the world title. Burridge finished runner-up twice over the next three seasons, retired for three years, came back to finish third in 1997, then retired for good at the end of 1998, with 20 total world tour contest wins. She'd been ranked in the top eight for 15 seasons.

Burridge's place in surfing had meanwhile become bigger than her contest results. She'd played with her image over the years, first coming into public view as a teenage surfing tomboy, then going from a spiky tangerine-haired punker to sultry diamond-wearing sex kitten to rural country gal. She caused a minor national sensation in 1984 after singing lead on "Summertime All 'Round the World," a song recorded, Burridge said, "as a bit of a joke" with her rock musician boyfriend. "Summertime" earned Burridge mainstream press coverage in People and Count Down magazines—even through it sold fewer than 500 copies, and she never once performed the song in public.

Burridge had also developed problems with drinking and anorexia, and in 1985, according to her 1992 biography, was "suicidally depressed for about six months." Rabbidge, himself a former alcoholic, steered her into a 12-step program. Surfing itself was part of the problem. "It's so conducive to self-centeredness," Burridge said, "which is essential to addiction."

Burridge and Rabbidge were married in 1993, and the following year they moved to Bendalong, a semi-rural town 100 miles south of Sydney; they have two children. Burridge was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1996 and the Australian Surfing Hall of Fame in 1997.

Burridge appeared in more than a dozen surf movies, videos, and documentaries, including Gripping Stuff (1987) Oz on Fire (1991), and Surfer Girl (1994). Pam Burridge: A Biography was published in 1992. Burridge and Rabbidge today run Feisty Girl Surfboards and Mark Rabbidge Shapes and Designs, as well as the Pam Burridge Surf School.