Champion surfer Bronte Macaulay is riding a wave of success

An Indian Ocean panorama unfolds as you take the crest of the hill into the seaside hamlet of Gracetown. The ocean is a part of daily life here - 20 minutes from Margaret River – and with world-renowned surf conditions on her doorstep, there's little wonder as to why Bronte Macaulay is where she is: on the Championship Tour of the World Surfing League, competing against the likes of Stephanie Gilmore and Lakey Peterson.

A family condition

She caught the bug early. Dave Macaulay, Bronte's dad and coach, talks about travelling around Australia in 2003 when his kids started to surf in the "user friendly" waves of Byron Bay. On their return, the die was cast; the Macaulay kids competing in local grommet competitions, "all three of the girls made the final one year" says the proud dad.

Bronte's tipping point into a fully-fledged surf career was a matter of a few good results. Wavering on entering a qualifying series event - the Pantin Pro, in Galicia, Spain – back in 2014, she took out second on the leaderboard.

"I was pretty surprised," she says, modestly. And then in 2015 a number three spot in the World Juniors in Portugal. Laughing, she says it was a case of, "stuff uni, I'm going to try surfing." The academic life she says, "just didn't compare to the excitement and enjoyment of surfing and competing."

Going pro

Professional coaching wasn't a reality in the days when Dave Macaulay was himself a pro. "We trained pretty hard in the '80's," he says. "Tommy Carroll was probably the one guy who really brought a high level of physical training into the sport and was really professional from that viewpoint. I followed that path myself, but we coached ourselves or with friends."

Being on the coaching curve with many of his contemporaries seems to agree with Macaulay, but he says, "I ride the highs and lows probably more than other coaches, having that family connection."

Tense relationships

On tour eight months a year could seem like a pressure cooker – especially with your Dad as coach – but the young Macaulay points out: this is surfing.

"I think it's different to other sports, like tennis where it seems like rivalry is very intense; we're surfers, we all love the same thing, we're like minded, we love the lifestyle and love being in the water."

Dave agrees, adding, perhaps from a coaching rather than a fatherly view, "it's competitive once the siren goes, you've got the jersey on and you're in the water, but yeah on the beach the vibe is really good."

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"It can be hard," says Bronte of the working relationship,  "because you want that criticism from a coach but then you want your dad to be really supportive of you, so it's really blurry. I'll say, 'just give me some honest truths, be more critical' and when he does I'm, 'but you're my dad,'" she laughs.

It is, says Dave, "still evolving".

Ride the wave

But Bronte says pressure comes at the end of the year.

"You've got to requalify through the main tour or the qualifying ones, so that's when the pressure comes, when you need a result at the end of the year. The way we look at it is 'so have you got a job next year or not'."

Following her rookie year in 2017, Macaulay has requalified for the CT each year through the qualifying series.

Access to "a great sports psychologist," through the Western Australian Institute of Sport is something that has made a tangible difference for both surfer and coach. "I talked to her a lot during events last year," says Bronte. "That really helped: mindfulness, getting back to the present, not really focusing too much on your thoughts and emotions."

Dave is also seeing the benefit as a coach, saying "obviously I had a pro career but now I'm learning as well, as Bronte's learning, but from a coaching side. We're both on this curve."

Revolutionary swells

Pro surfing is seeing rapid change, from a growing global audience, to new markets, the introduction of onshore wavepool events and progress in gender equality that outstrips many sports. It's hot property.

"Back in Dad's day the women on the tour were fighting: for better prize money, better waves, better everything. There wasn't that mutual respect; guys wouldn't watch the girls."

Dave nods agreement, saying "When I was on the tour the girls were good but the gap was huge; now the levels have gone through the roof in women's surfing, more than the guys in terms of how far the women have come."

"I feel like there's definitely more mutual respect," says Bronte. "Guys stay and watch the girls, and obviously we're getting better pay, better events and better quality surf. It's more balanced."

Love the lifestyle

Both agree it's exciting times for the sport. The announcement by the WSL, of equal prize money, is a trailblazing move. Whether all change is positive, is another question.

"Young girls are growing up and their parents are pushing them because they see you can be really successful in this sport," says Bronte of prize money and availability of sponsorship.

"When I talk to the other girls on the tour, they've had similar situations to me. We fell in love with the sport and started competing; it wasn't super planned, whereas I think now with equal prize money and pretty good sponsorships, maybe in the future it's going to change a bit."

Whatever the future Bronte Macaulay seems fixed on the thought that it's more than just sport. "In other sports, it's pretty easy to get burnt out," she says. "But it's a lifestyle too and it's hard not to enjoy it."

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