Over the summer months many would have wrestled with a long foamy surfboard in the messy white wash of a sandy beach. Meanwhile, female surfers on the Pro Tour have been fighting for the same monetary rewards as their male counterparts and not without success. Now, not only have they achieved greater earning potential but also, and more importantly, they have equality within their sport.
By 2019, the prize money for the top male and female athletes at every World Surf League event shall be equal. This is a major step forward for the sport and one that many would say could not have come soon enough. The World Surf League (WSL) is officially the first American-based global sports league to close the gender pay gap completely. Thus, from the start of next season’s championship, on longboard, junior and big wave tours there will be pay parity.
Both male and female surfers have come out in full support of the decision; among these was eleven-time WSL champion, Kelly Slater. Impressively, Slater is both the youngest and oldest winner of the WSL Tour at age 20 and 39 respectively. This surfing legend has recently conveyed how proud he is of the sport and how he hopes that other major sporting organisations shall follow suit. In a similar way, Stephanie Gilmore, a six-time WSL champion claimed that she was almost in tears of joy when she heard the exciting news. In terms of the next surfing generation, surfer Adrian Buchan stated that for his two young girls the sport is now a legitimate career path as there is guaranteed pay parity. To see this shared pride and elation from a number of professional surfers, male and female, makes this a truly inspirational time for surfing.
This announcement comes shortly after WSL and Billabong received widespread criticism over the disparity in prize money for the winners of a junior competition in South Africa. The photo shared after the event depicts Rio Waida from Indonesia and Zoe Steyn from South Africa holding their oversized cheques which displayed their winnings. This inevitably caused a stir as Waida, as the male champion, held a cheque worth 8000 rand; meanwhile Steyn, the winner of the female competition, only received 4000 rand.
To have a female athlete being victorious at the same event, in the same conditions, organised by the same management and only earning half as much does seem unfair from the outset. It is also interesting to note that both male and female surfers pay the same entry fee for this event, so one would expect equal rewards to be on offer. Thankfully, the WSL have brought about the required amendments and the surfing world has taken a massive step forward in terms of gender equality within their beloved sport.
Another recent announcement in the surfing world is that next season’s Margaret River event, after its cancellation in April, has been moved to later in the year in the hope of better conditions. The main reason that this Western Australian leg was called off was due to a significant increase in aggressive shark activity. One only has to look back at Mick Fanning’s extremely close call at the J-Bay Open back in 2015 to realise that a cancellation of such an event is in everyone’s best interests.
Just from these two announcements it is clear to see that the WSL is taking competitor safety and gender equality very seriously. The latter is particularly exciting for the sporting world as, no doubt, other major organisations will follow these admirable footsteps. Who will be next?
Image: Olivia Blinn