By ADAM HICKS THE event that helped launch the career of newly-crowned women's world champion surfer Stephanie Gilmore is in danger of closing out.

Organisers fear the All Girls Surf Showdown will be cancelled next year because a major sponsor has not been secured since long-term partner ICON Australia discontinued its support in August.

Showdown contest co-director Rachael Bonhote-Mead, who surfed against Gilmore in last year's event, said $15,000 was needed to cover prize money and management costs.

"This not-for-profit volunteer sporting event has been successfully sustainable for 15 consecutive years," said Bonhote-Mead.

"The All Girls Surf Showdown is well recognised within the surfing communities as a successful event to promote and showcase some of the best up-and-coming women surfers in the world and locally.

"This is an opportunity to ensure we develop a future for women and girls surfers.

"The success of this event over the 15 years has been due to the generosity and support from local companies and businesses."

However, local searches have proved fruitless and organisers have turned to national companies. Showdown marketing officer Sara Hurren said she had approached every company in the industry without success.

"We've approached every surfing company you could name, from big brands to travel to surfing accessories companies," she said.

"The big surfing brands have already budgeted their plan for 2008. So we're already out of the loop basically.

"To me, the marketing potential is ideal. They'll get naming rights and media exposure television, print and Internet over three days."

However, the beancounters and bottom lines are jeopardising what has become an institution in women's surfing.

"One of the difficulties of canvassing a new sponsor is they don't understand the event, so it's a bit hard to sell the product to someone who doesn't understand what it has been for the past 15 years," Hurren said.

"This is like the breeding ground for professional surfers. They need to have this experience and level of competition to put them in good stead to qualify for future pro events.

"It's about promoting and developing young girls into the sport. The role of the All Girls is a mentoring project really. It nurtures these young girls."

Gilmore was a regular at the Showdown, winning five titles in three years between 2002 and 2004.

She returned in 2006 and finished third in the open pro event behind Sally Fitzgibbons, and former world champion Pauline Menczer.

Menczer, who has surfed in the Showdown for over seven years, said the event was vital for young surfers.

"It's an awesome competition, it's so good for the whole area," she said.

"This is one of the bigger pro am events in the country. "It does have good pulling power because a lot of girls love it so anyone that is around normally comes.

"It is the kind of event (for young surfers) to compete against someone like myself and other top girls.

"That is their first taste of what it's like and it gives them such a thrill to beat us.

"It gives them the win drive. "They at least get to have a run with the top girls and have an idea of what it's like.

"It is one of the best events that brings the professional and family elements together.

"It is definitely a highlight on the surfing calendar. "It will be a sad day if it's cancelled."

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