It is ironic that Victoria’s most successful competitive surfer is such a shy and unassuming character, who most people have probably never heard of, yet her sporting record is exceptional.
Gail Couper was born in Melbourne in 1947 before moving with her family to Lorne in 1959. Gail started surfing two years later and before long was competing at surfing’s highest level as a finalist at surfing’s first official world championship at Manly (NSW) in 1964.
Her family embraced surfing, her father Stan was an administrator for the Australian Surfing Association and a contest director at Bells Beach for many years. Her mum Vi also assisted with contest administration as well as traveling the coast with Lorne grommets, including a talented young local kid called Wayne Lynch, looking for waves.
For the Coupers, Stan, Vi, Gail and Geoff (Gail’s brother) surfing was a family affair. Gail won the first of fourteen Victorian State Titles in 1964, competing (and making the semi final) of surfing’s first official world championship at Manly that same year. Gail won Australian national titles in 1966, 67, 71, 72 and 75. Gail finished fourth in the 1966 world titles held in San Diego (California) and again made it to semi finals at the 1968 world championships in Puerta Rico.
There is so much more to Gail’s story though, from 1966 until 1977 Gail won the women’s division at the annual Bells Beach contest ten times in eleven years. Unbelievable! Inspired by Wayne Lynch (many consider him the most dynamic and influential surfer of the late 60s early 70s) and supported by her family Gail achieved an unmatched surfing record, but you would never hear any of that from her.
There was a really touching scene at Bells a few years ago, Gail was talking to Steph Gilmore when a young girl approached to get Steph’s autograph. Steph pointed out that although she had won Bells a few times the lady standing next to her had won it an amazing ten times and she should be getting Gail’s autograph as well. Gail just blushed.
Gail was inducted into the Australian Surfing Hall of Fame in 2000.
Pic of Gail (R) and Phyllis O’Donnell (L) with Duke’s Freshie board on the beach for the Aussie Titles at Coolangatta in 1966 (Gail won it Phyllis was runner up) pic (c) C.J. McAlister ANSM collection
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