It's Time For World Surfing To Ride The Gender Equality Wave

Give us a break!

So this week a picture of the Under-18 winners of the Ballito Pro -- which is run by the World Surfing League (WSL) and sponsored by Billabong -- surfaced on social media. The two winners were given different amounts of prize money, with the male competitor awarded double what his female counterpart was given, despite their equal efforts.

Zoe Steyn won ZAR4000 (AUD$400), while Rio Waida, the male winner won ZAR8000 (AUD$800). Image: Supplied

When I saw the photo I was infuriated, but not surprised.

Surfing is a sexist sport. Always has been. For years, women have been given the bad surf breaks. Layne Beachley said in an interview in 2016: "If the surf turns to s**t then [they] send the girls out".

Turnout for the women’s events has always been low, which is partly culture and partly because they aren’t surfing the best waves. The women’s prize money, for equal effort, is often less than that of the men’s, once again perpetuating the idea that the women’s competition is worth less.

There is an acknowledgement, at a community level, that the treatment of women in surfing is not fair, and active steps are taken at a grass roots level to fix it.

Seven-time world champion Layne Beachley at the 2008 Beachley Classic at Freshwater in Sydney. Image: Getty

I grew up in Torquay, a town that is renowned internationally for its beaches and deadly surf breaks. It’s also home to the Easter Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach, which is also run by the World Surfing League. Every year, my tiny, surf crazy town doubles in size for a week or so over the Easter school holidays, while you take over our best beach for some surf heats.

The culture in Torquay shifted during my childhood. The annual Rip Curl ‘Girls Go Surfing Day’ began, and parents of young surfers made their kids and husbands rock up for both finals -- the men’s and women’s. This shift has not reached our international counterparts and it's still mostly Aussies who rock up for the women.

Without an effort from the top of the surf industry, this culture will never change. Which is why the picture that was published yesterday was equal parts heartbreaking and enraging.

It is not fair, or right, that the international body of a sport whose spectators are vying for cultural change can’t catch up with them.

Tyler Wright, Stephanie Gilmore and Joel Parkinson, all of Australia, and Jordy Smith of South Africa, after the 2016 Hurley Pro at Trestles at San Onofre State Beach in California. Image: Getty.

Last year, the WSL appointed a female CEO -- Sophie Goldschmidt. This is a massive leap for this industry, which should be acknowledged. However, it is not enough to simply appoint a woman to the helm, then dust off your hands and pat yourself on the back for a job well done. That is not how it works. And evidently, it does not invoke the kind of cultural change that we need to see.

A lot of people do not believe that we have an issue with gender equality anymore. However, all someone has to do to see that gender inequality is alive and well is rock up to a surf comp run by the WSL.

There are a lot of things we can do to help. We can aim to reach gender equality in workplaces, on boards, in leadership positions and in organisations as a whole. We can ensure men have the same opportunities that women do, to take time out and actively raise their families. We can make sure that siblings get equal amounts of pocket money.

We can turn our backs on industries and institutions who do not stand up for what is right.

AND, when two young athletes compete in the same competition, and win the same accolade, we can give them an equal amount of prize money for their success.

It's time to get on board.

Main image: Getty