Give Us a Chance

This is an article that I wrote earlier last year and thought that I would share it on my blog! I was lucky enough to have it published in a women’s American surf mag called ‘WSSM’. Please note that since the time of writing, figures, earnings and even my outlook has since changed however I still think the general aim of the article is important!

Stephanie Gilmore - ESPN Issue
Stephanie Gilmore – ESPN Issue

I’m no feminist. Don’t get me wrong though, I stand up for women and their equality in society but it’s not exactly an issue that swirls around my head daily and makes me want to start a protest armed with hairdryers, curlers and lipstick, although that sounds quite fun!

You have to be blind not see it, or just really naive! Female surfers, who have always been a minuscule percentage of the total amount of  surfers, is rapidly growing, yet women often still tend to get dropped in on in the line-up with the general misconception of ‘Oh, she’s a lady, with lady-parts, therefore she can’t really surf that well’. And I’m no stranger to sometimes being the only girl in the water most times down the West Coast of Cape Town and although I don’t mind it at all, it still feels as though the guys get shocked that I am physically able to paddle to the back-line, let alone ride the wave. But I don’t want to generalise too much because all in all the bunch of surfers on the West Coast, guys and girls are pretty cool and laid-back humans, bar a few who need a good thumping!

The issue of guys versus girls in surfing has never really bothered me, I have always just got on with it and accepted that there are less girls than guys. During the events where both sexes compete, I did not even take notice that the guys division almost always receives approximately three times the amount of prize money than the women’s, it’s just the way that it goes right? I have been following the ASP World Tour for the past couple of years online showing face at a few where I could but when you’re so far down South, J-Bay is really the only option. I particularly enjoy following the women’s events, not only because they are girls and it’s amazing to compare the differences in their ability and mine (there is no comparison really but I’m not ready to admit that to myself quite yet) but it is mostly due to the fact that these young women seem to be training and shredding harder than ever nowadays. As soon as it comes to just over halfway through the year and the competition is just getting heated, I have to switch over to watching the men’s (which I don’t mind at all) as the women’s tour has finished; no Triple Crown events, no Fiji and no J-Bay when it used to be an event on the ASP World Tour.

We all know that the level of men and women’s surfing are on very different levels, whilst men are breaking boundaries that could have been deemed impossible at one stage, women are said to be ‘pushing the boundaries’ of ‘women’s surfing’. And yes, it could be due to the fact that men are stronger and are generally said to be more naturally athletic than women but could the gap between men and women’s surfing have been minimal if there was more incentive to perform better through more events, surfing better waves and having the stakes increase by raising the prize money three times higher than what they are currently winning.

I was reading an article by Cori Schumacher, 3 times World Longboarding Champ called ‘Proliferating Stereotypes for Profit’’ and she had some stats which were a bit of brain blower. I’ll share some with you; in three well-known surfing magazines, for every one picture of a women in the magazine, seven males could be found and for every one picture of women actually surfing, there were twelve and a half more images of men surfing! But people do not notice these things because it is what we are accustomed to. The Saltwater girl magazine was closest thing in South Africa to a girls ‘surfing’ magazine but it really got my blood boiling to find every issue being about ‘How to tell if he has a crush’ or ‘How to kiss’ with pictures of posers doing cartwheels on the beach in the sunset. Seriously?! South Africa has our favourite local Zigzag magazine, a great magazine all in all but I think almost every picture of a women in the magazine is either topless or displaying only their bums in the shot. The only time that I did see a female spread was on Bianca Buitendag, currently on the ASP Women’s World Tour, and a spread of Tanika Hoffman, fellow friend, beach-babe and one of Cape Town’s very talented female surfers. I was so shocked I tweeted a picture saying how excited I was to see women featuring as ‘surfers’ and not as sex objects. What picture does this paint?

The view of women’s surfing has changed significantly and rapidly even within the past two years. The standards are higher and it is said that they are ‘pushing the boundaries of surfing’, and with this there was a picture of Sage Erikson, not surfing but posing in a revealing costume in the swimming pool and Steph Gilmore posing nude for ESPN…but no surfing pictures. I say do it, it’s good for the sport to promote sex appeal and up the image of girls surfing, promoting surfing as a ‘healthy’ looking sport, getting rid of the old hippy-get-high stereotype but these have to be balanced with the equivalent amount of women tearing it up on the waves.

Why is it that these women who surf are competing with non-surfers for surfing advertisements, and that those who perform the best (Carissa Moore, Lakey Peterson, Courtney Conlogue) are much less preferred to the likes of Alana Blanchard, who as much as I am a fan of, I have seen her bum a thousand times more than I have of her face. If women’s surfing is praised by the ASP and surfing organisations as ‘next-level’ and ‘breaking boundaries’ then why have they only seen roughly 2% increase in prize money over the years, when they are actually being compared with their current males counterparts on the tour who earn three times their amount on most events? How is this even legal?!

It’s a complicated and tough issue that challenges the balance of embracing women’s sexuality without relying on it to determine their athletic abilities by the public. Maybe if women were given an equal chance to the men on tour we could be seeing more ground-breaking stuff. So to all the women out there, keep shredding!

You can view Cori’s article by clicking on this link 🙂

I hope that this has raised some important issues and points, not only in surfing but in everyday activities or sports. I would love to hear your thoughts, so just pop a comment below.

Also, go and check out Cape Town surfer, Tanika Hoffman’s Instagram for awesome surfing/lifestyle pictures 🙂