Bridging the Pay Gap for Professional Surfers

A progressive step towards gender equity within sport has been recently made within professional surfing, as female athletes will now be paid equally compared to their male counterpart in all World Surf League (WSL) competitions. Female CEO of WSL Sophie Goldschmidt headed the equal pay initiative which was announced in September of 2018 for the decision to be implemented in 2019. Many are celebrating this news of progress, given that pro-surfing is still one of the only professional sports to eliminate the pay gap between its male and female athletes.

Although this is a win for female athletes, many equity issues still exist for women within both the world of professional surfing, as well as within sports in general. For example, there are still fewer events for female surfers (44), compared to males (64) in the World Surf League circuit. Not only are men given more competition opportunity within the sport, they are also have access to better waves as men’s events took priority when it came to the favoured surfing conditions.

Image result for keala kennelly surfing
Professional surfer Keala Kennelly catching a wave. (Source: Still Stoked)

Many female athletes, including professional female surfers, rely on sponsorship money from apparel companies which chose to support athletes based on their physical appearance and sex appeal, rather then their surfing talent. This is a relevant example of how women’s sport is often trivialized as their athletic abilities are overlooked while their bodies are sexualized by the industry. To this point, Keala Kennelly, one of the top 10 female surfers adds that there are more pressures on female athletes than males: “female athletes have to surf well, be really pretty, be really feminine and be between a certain age. We have a lot more requirements”.

It is hopeful that equal pay will help to encourage aspiring female surfers to chase their professional surfing dreams, given that some of the financial burden will be eliminated. In addition, equal pay is hopeful to shake up the dynamic between male and female participation in surfing. Sociologists found that the sport of surfing is a space where dominant cultural ideals of gender (particularly of masculinity in sport) could be challenged.

Despite the much needed change towards gender equity and acceptance in all sport, WSL is leading by a powerful example for sporting organizations to follow.


Feature image: Professional surfer Lakey Peterson of the U.S (Source: SurfTotal)

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