Gender Inequality in Surfing

lady surfer learn to surf South Australia

One of the most talked about topic during this age is Gender Equality. This issue has been prevalent even in playing sports. As a fantastic outdoor sport, surfing appeals to both men and women and it’s about time for our female surfers to be recognized.

The World Surfing League features professional surfing events like World Tour Surfing Event which includes two separate tours, for men and women. These tours vary in numbers. The women’s tour features 17 women surfers compared to the men’s tour which features 34 men surfers. The women’s tour only has 10 events throughout the year whereas there are 11 events featured for the men’s tour. This might suggest in a shortage of world class female surfers but that is simply not true.

Gender inequality in the field of surfing can be observed with the amount of money the competitive male surfers receive in compared to female surfers. The prize money can be viewed as an issue of inequality. The male winner of one WSL World Tour event receives almost $525,000 compared to the meagre $262,500 for a female winner of the same event.

There are seven male surfers with career earnings over one million dollars but the highest paid competitive female surfer Layne Beachley only reached total of $650,000 as her career earnings.

Female surfers are becoming more and more sexualized. Let’s start off with how they are portrayed in magazines and on TV ads. Roxy Pro Biarritz’ advertisement featured the surf star Stephanie Gilmore. This advertisement was done for an up and coming Roxy pro event. However, the resulting advertisement campaign was very suggestive through scenes which show bare skin and implied nudity. The short clip also shows no actual footage pro surfing which they was supposedly promoting. It only showed Stephanie reaching the water at the end of the clip where she was paddling into the lineup.

When watching advertisements and short clips for surfing, you will find girls walking along the beach in bikinis or talking to male pro surfers suggesting a sense of masculinity. Men’s advertisements also portray a sense of adventure and free spiritedness compared to women’s which only seem to give out a sense of 'who looks the best in a bathing suit'.

This is not to belittle the existence of male surfers as elite sportsmen, there are many fine role models within the male surf industry and they deserve all the success they achieve. However, women surfers’ portrayed as sexual beings in order to be noticed by sponsors is unacceptable.

Thankfully, with female icons such as Layne Beachley contributing to the sport the recognition of female surfers as athletes in their own right is increasing. Layne is considered the most successful female surfer in surfing history, taking out a total of seven world titles. She was also the only surfer EVER, male or female, to claim six consecutive world titles (1998 to 2003). There is still a long way to go and we need more females to stand up for themselves and their sport to reach the desired goal of gender equality in surfing.