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Posted by Jeb Brinkley | 02.25.2020 | Uncategorized

Equal Pay for Equal Waves: Closing the Pay Gap in Surfing

In recent days, the movement to empower women is booming. Women are going to outer space, becoming NFL coaches, running for president, and if you keep up with global soccer, you know women are dominating on that field, too. It seems like women in the 21st century have equal opportunities to demonstrate their power and make an impact, but is that as true in the water as it is out of it?

Unfortunately, the answer to this question wasn’t always yes. In the past, female surfers have been awarded much smaller amounts of prize money than their male counterparts at contests hosted by the World Surf League (WSL). A prominent example of this is the prize money awarded at the 2018 Rip Curl Pro: $65,000 to female champion Stephanie Gilmore, and $100,000 to the male winner, Italo Ferreira.

Although talk of gender equality in the sport has existed for some time, recent events especially pushed it into the limelight. In 2017, the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing (CEWS) successfully lobbied California state officials to create a women’s division at Mavericks, a well-known big-wave surf contest in Northern California. Success didn’t end there because in 2018, CEWS challenged the WSL to close the prize money pay gap at events. Their efforts really took off when an image from a surf contest went viral on the internet. This image was of two teenage surfers, one male and one female, who were both crowned the 2018 Billabong Junior Series Ballito Pro winners. Although this picture should have provoked stoke and joy, there was one very important detail that frustrated many: the male champion held a check for $8,000, while the female held a check for $4,000- she received exactly half the earnings at the same event.

Luckily, after the push for reform the WSL announced that starting in 2019, and lasting forevermore, equal prize money would be awarded to both male and female athletes at every WSL event. This decision is known by surf fans as “Equal Pay for Equal Waves.” This decision marks the World Surf League as the “first and only US-based global sports league to offer equal prize.” It should also be noted that Sophie Goldschmidt, the CEO of WSL, played an integral role in this decision. It called for praise of the WSL from both male and female surfers alike. It even led Australian pro surfer, Stephanie Gilmore, to write,

“Today, I feel proud to be a surfer. Proud to be a female surfer. I feel like the momentum in our society to have this conversation is incredible- because it’s not just in surfing, or is in sport, that women are fighting for equality in the workplace. It’s everywhere.”

As a female surfer myself, I was so glad when I heard about this decision; not only because gives women equal payment, but because it encourages conversation about the female presence in the sport. I remember when I found a magazine with a spread about this move. I happily cut it out and gave it a large spot on the wall of my room. Of course I love to watch men’s surfing, but I gleam with special joy when girls are encouraged to be forces of nature in the surfing world. As the sport grows, so does the potential for young girls to pick up a board and paddle out, and it is thanks to this WSL decision, that women are encouraged to do just that.