Gender equality in surfing

An important announcement was made at the start of this month which could, arguably, change the future of competitive surfing.

Equal prize money for male and female surfers.

To me, the fact this wasn’t happening before seems mad – why wouldn’t two professional athletes participating in similar championships be paid the same?

Sadly, in sport, gender inequality with pay seems to be a recurring issue.

So, what’s the background?

In surfing, the WSL recently came under fire for a photo which depicted two surfers who had both won a junior event in South Africa. The problem, was that the women’s winner received exactly half the prize money as her male counterpart…

The recent decision to make prize money equal has been welcomed by both male and female surfers.

On an article on SurfGirl’s website, Steph Gilmore, six times World Champion, said: “The prize money is fantastic, but the message means even more. […] I hope this serves as a model for other sports, global organizations and society as a whole. My fellow women athletes and I are honored by the confidence in us, and inspired to reward this decision with ever higher levels of surfing.”

And Kelly Slater, holder of 11 World Champtionships, said: “The women on the tour deserve this change. I’m so proud that surfing is choosing to lead sports in equality and fairness. The female WSL athletes are equally committed to their craft as the male athletes and should be paid the same.”

But while equal prize money is a start, I think there’s more that needs to be done.

action beach fun leisure

I’ve always felt quite disappointed in the way that the women’s World Championship Tour is promoted.

Last year, we watched a lot of the WSL Championship, checking in on the app to watch waves on my lunch break and competing in fantasy surfer leagues.

I decided to pick both a male and a female fantasy team. No prizes for guessing which one was easier to do, and which championship was easier to follow…

I realised I only knew about a couple of female surfers so, asides from the likes of Steph Gilmore, Tyler Wright and Coco Ho, I had no idea who else in the league I should pick.

When it came to picking my men’s team, I found it notably easier. True, I don’t have an in-depth knowledge by any means, but if you asked me to name professional surfers competing today, I could reel off far more males than females.

Why is that?

Well, I’m convinced a part of that is to do with the coverage. I actively tried to watch some of the women’s heats but I struggled to remember when they were surfing. On the WSL app alerts were triggered automatically whenever a men’s round started, but the same didn’t happen for the women’s.

There’s also much more press around the results of the male championship tour. If it wasn’t for Surf Girl, I wouldn’t have stayed as up-to-date as I did.

The women’s surfing has always felt like it’s secondary compared to the men’s surfing. And it shouldn’t be that way at all. It should be equal.

Which is why I was particularly interested in the additional initiatives introduced by WSL alongside the equal pay.  From 2019, they’ll also launch:

  • A global marketing campaign to highlight the women’s tour with a goal of increasing event viewership and fan engagement.
  • A local community engagement program for girls around the world, featuring instructional clinics with WSL athletes at each women’s Championship Tour stop to inspire the next generation to embrace surfing.
  • A monthly content series about the pioneering women of surfing, celebrating them across WSL channels, starting with seven-time World Champion Layne Beachley.

Finally it seems like there’s some significant backing for women’s surfing. I was beyond excited to see that WSL were committing to a marketing campaign to increase event viewership, and to push a monthly content series. Some much needed extra coverage to boost the women’s surf stars.

The community engagement program is also excellent news. As a surfer still learning how to handle a board, how to read the waves and how to feel more confident in the water, I fully appreciate how important it is to have lessons from those in the know.

And they don’t just improve your skills on a board. Surf instructors (the good ones at least) have the ability to boost your confidence, teach you about the ocean, and make you feel a part of the surf community.

Standing in wetsuits in Newquay

It’s always intimidating starting a new sport (particularly as a girl) and in surfing, there’s definitely an ‘image’ to be upheld. So starting from scratch, particularly when you’re no longer a child, can be daunting.

But if WSL are actively encouraging their professional surfers to take part in community events, and inspiring the next generation to get into surfing, hopefully they can encourage some more girls to give it a go. Give it a go and not care what anyone else thinks of them while they’re learning and wiping out.

So yeah. I’m excited about the future of professional surfing now WSL have committed, not just to equal pay, but to supporting the visibility and engagement with female surfers.

And with surfing set to be in the Olympics in 2020, the future of the sport itself looks like an interesting one to watch.

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