July 24, 2018 | “We were there.”
At last month’s Surfing Heritage and Culture Center’s Gala honoring “Women Making Waves,” Patti Paniccia (JD ‘81) brought the surf world’s elite to their feet with her speech on the need to change the way the World Surfing League (WSL) approaches and drives the dialogue around women in professional surfing. Her keynote address, however, transcended the world of competitive surfing and spoke to an overall shift in a mentality that remains apparent in professional sports: There should be no mainstreaming of one gender over the other. “Words,” she said, “reflect a mentality that has persisted for decades-women’s participation (in sports) being the deviation of the norm – a side item.” In today’s climate, Patti expanded upon the importance for women to be included in the history which they have helped write. “It has taken so much to get to where we are today, and many of the women here helped pave the way.”
A former professional surfer, broadcast journalist, CNN reporter, and Pepperdine-trained lawyer, Patti has dedicated her life’s journey to turning obstacles into a call to action. She holds the distinction of being a pioneer in professional surfing, having competed on the first organized world tour in 1976. However, by 1978, feeling a literal shift in the tides of professional surfing, Patti left the competitive circuit and went straight into law school. Pepperdine’s proximity to some of California’s most storied waves made it the obvious choice
Patti, now an adjunct professor at Pepperdine Law, was a member of the very first class that began law school at the newly-opened Malibu campus in 1978. Accustomed to the “insurmountable challenges” of riding big waves, Patti had no reservations about the three years ahead of her in law school. “Perhaps my surfing gave me a can-do spirit,” she explained. “You get this attitude where you go for it, move in, and do the absolute best you can.”
And go for it she did. In 1979, Patti qualified for the US surfing championships held that year in South Padre Island, Texas. The championships collided with a ten-day writing competition to join Pepperdine’s Law Review. Since the women’s division was scheduled early in the contest, she anticipated flying back in enough time to complete the writing assignment. For three straight days, however, the contest was postponed due to no surf, during which time she started taking 90-minute bus rides into Brownsville, Texas in order to research in the county law library. The library’s resources were limited, however, and there was no Internet at the time. On her final bus ride, she made the decision to leave Texas without competing in order to make the law review deadline, but while on the bus, a hurricane arrived earlier than predicted and passengers found themselves suddenly stuck in rising flood waters. Road closures and overall hurricane destruction kept her stuck in Texas, where she managed to take an 8th place in the championships but missed the law review deadline.
As a law student, Patti learned her rights and how to fearlessly exercise them. After graduating and passing the Bar in both Hawaii and California, she went on to build a distinguished career in media. She found her voice in the cause for women’s rights and encouraged other women to have the confidence to advocate for their own rights and equality in the workplace. The very same determined spirit that made Patti a successful competitive athlete translated into a notable career advocating for gender equality. With this recent keynote address on the future of women’s place in the surfing industry, Patti continues to make waves.
Speaking to this remarkable member of our professional community and alumni family, Dean Emeritus Ron Philipps told Patti, “I am very proud of your role in promoting fairness, and for your many achievements in surfing, television journalism, promoting children’s choir, writing, teaching, raising two remarkable daughters, and being a friend.”
Today Patti serves on the board of the Surfing Heritage and Cultural Center. She also serves as Co-General Counsel for the board of the Radio and Television News Association of Southern California where she assists with issues related to media access. Patti generously gives back to the law school not only with her expertise in the classroom but also through the Patti Paniccia Law Scholarship.
Finally, Pepperdine Law is proud to announce that Patti is this year’s recipient of the David McKibbin Excellence in Teaching Award. The award is named after a beloved former professor and is presented to one adjunct faculty member each year for being “an exemplary classroom teacher and a role model for our law students.”
Congratulations, Patti! You can view the entire Surfing Heritage keynote address here.
*Alumna Patti Paniccia is pictured (center) with 6x WSL world champion Stephanie Gilmore (L) and 4x world champion Lisa Anderson (R)