World Surf League: Making Waves in the Fight for Gender Pay Equality in Professional Sports

Female surfers’ struggle for equal pay is finally over.

On Wednesday, September 5th, 2018, the World Surf League (WSL) made history announcing it will be awarding equal prize money to male and female surfers beginning in its 2019 competition season. The WSL’s announcement makes it the first American-based global sports league to offer gender pay equality.

Prior to a major re-branding and transition into the World Surf League in 2014, professional surfing’s governing body, the Association of Surfing Professionals, gained a reputation of treating its female athletes as secondary to its male athletes. Female athletes were receiving a fraction of the prize money their male counterparts were receiving, and in addition, falling victim to male priority when it came to the quality of waves surfed during competitions.

The announcement sparked many positive reactions from members of the professional surfing community, many of which acknowledging the impact equalized pay makes beyond the sporting community. Six-time world champion surfer Stephanie Gilmore expressed this message in an article for The Players’ Tribune:

“I’m 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 in sport, that women are fighting for equality in the workplace. It’s everywhere.”

Although Wednesday’s announcement by the World Surf League may appear to only impact the surfing community, a change such as this has effects that go beyond the borders of surfing, and sport itself. Because sport is indeed a worldwide phenomenon, the potential to address and overcome sociological issues and make positive changes is limitless. As stated by professional surfer Stephanie Gilmore, the impact that gender pay equality has on surfing and sport is invaluable, but the momentum that is created by a long overdue change made by the WSL will have lasting effects that impact society as a whole.


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