Becoming Westerly by Jamie Brisick (Outpost19)
Almost any athlete who comes out as trans right now will be compared to Bruce Jenner, but the story of surf champion Peter Drouyn’s odyssey from teenage Australian hopeful to 1960s surf champion to embittered has-been struggling to rise again as the glamorous, 64-year-old Westerly Windina is a story that deserves equal attention. As a surfer, Westerly pioneered an aggressive style called “power surfing,” introduced the man-on-man competition format, won the Australian National Titles, and brought surfing to the People’s Republic of China. But at the heart of that hypermasculinity lay an unhappy athlete who never felt properly credited. In the hands of journalist (and former pro surfer) Jamie Brisick, this biography is more than a trans coming-out narrative; it’s a story of a journalist chasing a legend and a woman trying to become the vision she’s had of her perfect self, raw and vulnerable but also wildly self-empowered after her 2012 gender affirmation surgery in Bangkok. (And if you’re too busy to read: Brisick’s U.S.-based documentary on Westerly, produced by House of Cards’ Beau Willimon, is scheduled for release this fall.)
Review: Becoming Westerly by Jamie Brisick Is The Best Surf Book Since MP’s
24 FEB 201513,428 VIEWS
by Mike Jennings
Coastalwatch Surfing Editor
From The Latest Issue of Surfing World, Out Now
By Mike Jennings
Peter Drouyn, 1970 Australian Champion, the first Australian Champion from Queensland, the 1970 winner of Makaha when said event was considered an unofficial World Title, the surfer who transitioned from the longboard to shortboard era better than nearly anyone, the revolutionary who invented the man on man competitive surfing format still used today, yes that Peter Drouyn has been on a dramatic physical and spiritual metamorphosis. From the hedonistic and handsomely brooding surfing champion, to the delicate Marilyn Monroe-like starlet, Westerly Windina. You’ve likely heard this story of Peter and Westerly. In surf magazines. Newspapers. ABC TV’s 7.30. Westerly even regularly contributes to this very magazine, but you haven’t heard the Westerly story like this. Not with the intimacy and detail and rolling prose that American writer and ex-professional surfer Jamie Brisick has gifted us in this biography, Becoming Westerly.
Brisick travelled to Australia in 2009 to write a 5000 word profile on Westerly for The Surfer’s Journal. What sparked there has, as Brisick says, “Swollen into the greatest love/hate relationship of my entire life…”. Following that profile Brisick and a world-class filmmaking team embarked on a documentary project about Peter’s transition into Westerly (which we should expect to see released in the next 12 months). It’s through that project that Brisick has likely spent more time and correspondence with Westerly than anyone that isn’t her immediate family. With her for all the big moments and a lot of little ones too, this book is a result of that time. But it is also so much more.
Becoming Westerly opens in a plane on the tarmac at Sydney, Westerly en route to Thailand for gender reassignment surgery. Writer and subject/friend sitting next to each other in uncomfortable economy airbus seats. Brisick is right there in the story whether he planned to be or not. Doting after her and her high-maintaining ways, he has to be a part of this story to tell it properly. Like On The Road’s Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarity, a character that shines so bright can only be explained through eyes burned by the glare. But Brisick brilliantly steers the story in and out of present day, weaving us through the fantastical surfing life of Peter Drouyn. Through the way Drouyn was failed by surfing but also how Drouyn, by his own grandiose ambitions and penchant for the sublime, forced surfing to fail him. Through his ambitions beyond a surfing career, introducing the sport to China and creating ideas for wavepools, the acting career in the UK. Through all of these incredible times that play a part in the ultimate re-emergence of Peter as Westerly in the surfing spotlight today.
Westerly and Peter are two of the greatest characters to ever grace surfing, two titanic life stories, and with Becoming Westerly Brisick has written incredible portraits of both. A story of the glory and terrible burden of ambition for greatness, and greatness unrecognised. Beautiful, sad, and full of hope, it’s the best book in surfing since Sean Doherty’s MP: The Life of Michael Peterson.