ASB MAGAZINE: Surfline’s Australia Country Manager Ella Risby shares with us what it’s like working in a mostly male dominated surf media industry.
Despite the upswing in women’s surfing there are surprisingly few women who have successfully crossed over to surf media. Sally Been, Emily Brugman, Madelaine Dickie, Caz Ridings, Kate McMahon, Lystra Bisschop and Lauren Hill are a few writers who have managed to string together a career writing about surfing. Let’s add writers like Favel Parrett, Rebecca Olive and Miranda Luby who surf, but don’t often write about the culture of surfing. Today, there’s no continuously running women’s surfing publication here in Australia and most traditional ‘surf’ media focus is primarily on men’s surfing, meaning there are fewer creative outlets for women to carve out a career in surf media.
The annual Rip Curl Media Night at Bells is one of the few opportunities for ‘surf media’ to come together and there’s been one familiar face in the mostly male dominated line-up.
Ella Risby has survived every machination the former Three Crown Media Group (3CMG) has been through over the last five years where she held the position of Head of Brand Marketing. 3CMG is a former leading action sports publishing and media company that included a diverse range of digital and print properties like Coastalwatch, Mountainwatch, Transmoto, Surfing World, Transfer and Chillfactor. In 2019 the company sold Coastalwatch to US media giant Surfline/Wavetrack and despite a slight dip in headcount amongst her male colleagues, Ella remained on, moving onwards and upwards to the position of Country Manager for Wavetrak Oceania – Coastalwatch, Surfline and Magicseaweed.
We caught up with Ella to find out how she’s navigated the unprecedented change in the media landscape and the lessons she has for any aspiring girls trying to break into the industry.
How long have you been with Coastalwatch / Surfline?
Ella: I started at Coastalwatch in June 2016 and started working with Surfline when they acquired the business in August 2019.
You are one of the few female leaders in action sports media. Why do you think there are so few?
Ella: I remain hopeful for the future of the surf industry and the females working in it. Surfline has been hiring lots of kick-ass women, such as Chief Marketing Officer, Kim Centeno, who came to us from Apple where she worked on their subscription services. I’m watching this extend to the broader industry as well. Some of the women I look up to in this industry are people like Brooke Farris, the General Manager of Women’s at Rip Curl. She’s a total trailblazer! Working with people like Kim and Brooke has been a highlight of my career.
It’s no secret that the sport and the surrounding industry of surf has always been male-dominated. At this moment in time, it feels like there is a hyper-focus on it globally, given the politically changing tides and the things happening within our industry, like the release of the epic film Girls Can’t Surf, which shines a light on the issue. I’ve seen more discussion on the gender disparity in our industry than ever before — and we’re making this a part of our regular content strategy at Surfline. It does feel like the pendulum is swinging. I’m grateful to work somewhere that truly values diversity and is working to be better at it every day. I think we’ve had some huge wins and progressive moments, like equal pay for female athletes in the WSL, the first international sports body to do that.
What are some of the lessons you’ve learned since the Coastalwatch transition?
Ella: We’re focused on making customer-centric decisions and bringing the best product we can to surfers. Focus being the operative word. It’s how we believe we’ll win in Australia and globally. We’re making more investments than ever in the Surfline experience, starting at the core with our forecasting capabilities, and extending to additional offerings like expanding the editorial team. These are the investments we need to make to achieve continued subscription growth.
The company has undergone major changes within the US. What’s in store for Australia?
Ella: I can’t wait for us to roll out the product enhancements coming down the line. A lot more cameras, live winds, investment in Surf Zone Intelligence, nailing our swell coverage and building the team out here in Australia. Australia will always stay Australian. Everything we do, we do with a view of, “Is this right for Australian surfers? How can we make it best for them?” We are keeping the team here. And I’m thrilled Surfline is so supportive of us doing this. They respect the culture here.
Could you comment on Nick Carroll’s addition?
Ella: It’s extremely exciting. Nick is a leader of surf editorial, journalism and commentary — not just in Australia, but globally. Also, he’s just a great human. I love working with Nick. He’s a huge advocate of diversity across everything we do. He’s been super supportive of me, which I’m incredibly grateful for, but more importantly, it’s a huge win for the business. He has so much to offer and he’s a fully maxed-out frother who lives and breathes surfing. There aren’t many people more excited about Surfline than Nick Carroll.
Any advice for girls trying to break into this industry?
Ella: Know your worth and back yourself. I’ve always advocated for myself in my career. I’ve known my worth, and I’ve pushed to be in the roles and positions that I know I can kill it in. I’m my own biggest advocate and sometimes you just have to ask for what you want and need. Surfing needs women! So, just go for it. And if you ever want advice or support, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn.