Former Australian junior surf star Ellie-Jean Coffey has revealed her “terrifying” experiences in the surf industry in an exclusive interview that will send shockwaves across the sport.
Coffey, 25, had dreams of being the next Layne Beachley or Stephanie Gilmore as a kid but will never compete again after being “mentally and physically” abused by men in positions of power.
A regular on the World Surf League’s qualifying series for several years, Coffey began competing as a 10-year-old and by the age of 14 had a bevy of sponsors and was being flown around the world to take part in events.
But her dream life turned dark because of what she said is a “male-dominated” industry with “decades of misogyny” ingrained in it.
“At first I thought and believed I was the luckiest girl in the world to be living such a life, and not long after that, the darker side of the surfing industry soon revealed itself to me, and it was terrifying,” Coffey told news.com.au.
“The abuse, both mentally and physically, I endured during my teenage years far away from home with adults in positions of power has haunted me my whole life.
“It was a pretty horrible time in my life. I think people in positions of power tend to abuse that power, and I was only a young girl, and it’s taken me a long time to recover.”
Coffey underwent “extensive, intensive therapy” as a young adult and says she has been able to recover from the trauma that “almost drove me to ending my life”.
She felt empowered to speak out in the wake of the Me Too movement.
“A lot of that kind of stuff is coming to light at the moment, and I’ve never really shared that before with anyone — only my close family and friends know it,” Coffey said.
“It was absolutely devastating the abuse that I had to face … so I’m just glad that I was able to come out of it stronger and better than ever, to be honest.
“I really don’t feel that anyone’s come forward and really highlighted the things about the surfing industry. It goes back decades, this misogyny and male-dominated industry — it’s really toxic.
“The managers and the people in positions of power really abuse that to, not just me, but a lot of girls.
“As much as I loved surfing, I just completely broke down. I couldn’t continue with all the abuse; it almost drove me to suicide, and I was lucky to go get that therapy and recover from it. And I know a lot of girls in the industry who have a very similar story.”
Coffey, whose childhood was spent living in a caravan with her family on Australia’s east coast, still surfs but hasn’t taken part in competitions since 2017.
“For the most part, I live at Crescent Head, but being a surfer — camping and fishing and surfing every day — it sort of creates spontaneous adventures, chasing waves up and down the east coast of Australia,” she said.
“Wherever we see a swell, we sort of go, ‘All right, let’s go and pack up and go chase these waves’.”
With the assistance of Nick McCandless from McCandless Group, she recently launched her own personal website where subscribers pay a monthly fee to view exclusive adult content and interact with her.
Coffey said the new venture was the best decision she’s ever made and “empowers me to motivate other women to not limit themselves in fear of others opinions”.
“I finally feel as though I can express myself freely without the worry of what other people think,” she said.
“I really feel this is a movement, and I couldn’t be happier.”
Originally published as Surf star reveals ‘terrifying’ abuse