The extraordinary story of Lystra Biscchop

Gold Coast, meet Lystra Bisschop. Of course, if you’re a consumer of mainstream surf media, then chances are you already know who she is. A proud Guugu Yimithirr, Birri Gubba and Erub woman with a splash of Scottish-New Zealand ancestry thrown in for good measure, Lystra is not just the first female magazine editor in mainstream surf media, she’s also the first Indigenous one.

Lystra and her husband Ray bought Gold Coast-based surf magazine ‘Surfing Life’ just over three years ago, with Lystra taking on the editor role in 2020. This glossy, bimonthly publication is largely reader-supported and prints six issues a year, each totally dedicated to a single topic; among them surf travel, surf culture, waves, technique, surfboards and surfers.

While Ray has surfed for over 35 years, Lystra’s interest in the sport was peripheral at best until the debilitating events that followed the birth of her second child more than a decade ago. Lystra experienced a rare triple prolapse, where her bowel, uterus and bladder literally fell out of her body.

“I was bedridden for a year,” Lystra recalls. “I couldn’t stand or walk, I was in agony, and pain medication only made my condition worse.”

A year after the prolapse, doctors decided to try a series of corrective surgeries. Three in a row failed. After the fourth, which achieved a degree of success, Lystra came out of the surgery in a bad way, almost unable to breathe, close to death, and requiring blood transfusions.

“In that moment I’m lying in my bed thinking ‘Is this it? Is this how it ends for people? What happens if it is? Have I lived my life to the best possible extent I can?’” Lystra recalls.

“And I thought about surfing and how I didn’t do it because I was afraid of big waves and sharks.

“We all control our lives in a way to show that we’re not scared but we actually are. We stay in our comfort zones.

I vowed if I get through this, I’m never going to let fear stop me from doing anything again.

Following months of physio to learn how to walk again, and excruciatingly incremental progress, Lystra was given a lengthy list of all the things she would never be able to do, including but not limited to: blowing up a balloon, playing the flute, and carrying her own children (she can’t lift more than 5kgs).

Her husband Ray then asked the doctor: “Is she allowed to surf?”

This is what Lystra refers to as that “life changing moment”. Like many who hit the waves on the regular, once getting the okay from her doctor, she discovered the deep emotional therapy factor of surf, the boon to creativity, and the bonds it can create with your family.

“Ray and I now have our surf date once a week, and we go for a family surf too,” Lystra describes. “I try to get out as much as I can. It covers so much more than physical – it makes me a better writer, it makes me better at everything.

“Surfing was also a leap outside of my comfort zone. That vow I made on that hospital bed, it didn’t stop with just surfing.

It’s something that reminds me my whole life that fear is an ally not an enemy, a vessel that can extend you, draw you out to be better and try harder and keep going, which I guess is what surfing is about itself; it’s forever changing and flowing — the swell, the waves.

Lystra’s decade-long surf therapy and dedication to tackling fear head-on has served her well during her stint as editor of ‘Surfing Life’, where she has run the gamut of obstacles and challenges that are unfortunately par for the course when one upsets the status quo.

“It can happen with anyone outside of the boys’ club — you’re dealing with being completely ignored or haggled and undermined,” Lystra shrugs.

“But I think for me, I had to stop worrying about what other people did or what they said.  That quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson — ‘Do not follow where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and make a trail’ — that’s been in my office for a long time.

“It’s what I always draw back to, and that’s how we’ve come up with some many great ideas for the mag that have never been done before. All of it has come from us and me going ‘we are who we are and that’s okay’, and I’m happy with that.”

One of the main things Lystra and Ray had in mind from the start was a desire to be a positive influence in surf culture.

“There are so many negative influences out there who would bag on people or exclude minorities or are just part of the boys’ club and don’t even care about the everyday surfer who is trying to improve,” says Lystra.

“It’s such a privilege to be able to be in that place to make that change.

“This year I introduced a writing competition, and it was open to all ages because I wanted groms to enter, anyone to enter. That’s one of the joys of being editor and owner — you can open it up to a whole group of people who never had an opportunity to be published and have a voice in the surf community.”

Become a part of the ‘Surfing Life’ community over at surfinglife.com.au.

IMAGE (c) Ray Biscchop

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