Director of Surfing Competition on Letting Women Participate: 'We're Not There'

Illustration for article titled Director of Surfing Competition on Letting Women Participate: 'We're Not There'

Lady surfers are coming up. They're fast, strong, creative, and "challenging the notion that big-wave riding is the exclusive domain of danger-craving men." Cool.


But a not so cool thing is that these women don't have the same kinds of opportunities that their male counterparts do, and it's definitely absolutely total and complete bullshit.

Specially, there are a group of female surfers — including Savannah Shaughnessy, Sarah Gerhardt, and Jamilah Star — would like women to be included in California's annual Mavericks Invitational surfing competition. According to 38-year-old Gerhardt, women can physically handle giant waves but says that "The percentage of all surfers who will actually surf big waves is very small. If you look at men, it might be 1 percent." I wonder if that's because they rarely see women doing it? And maybe that's because some of the big competitions — like Mavericks — don't allow women to compete? That's rhetorical.

Which leads us to the people who actually run the competition.

Asked if the 13-year-old Mavericks Invitational should include a women's heat, contest director Jeff Clark said, "We're not there." He noted that this year's event has 24 invited competitors and 17 alternates - all of whom have put time in learning to excel at Mavericks - while dozens more men would love to get in.

"We've got one day to hold an event for the best of the best," said Clark, 55, who was the first person to surf Mavericks in 1975, when he was 17. "If in 10 years there are 10 or 12 women surfers who surf Mavericks, who knows?"

Someone who knows more about surfing please clue me in — why can't women compete in the same contests as men? I'm genuinely curious what the reasoning is — especially considering that pro female surfers are attesting that men and women can conquer the same giant waves.

Gary Linden — founder of the Big Wave World Tour — said he'd like to include women at some point and believes that female surfers may have more sponsorship potential because of their "sex appeal." Uh, gross. And also, not true.


Shaughnessy, 23, who holds down three jobs in addition to her surfing, said she tried to get sponsorship out of college but couldn't. It's apparently harder for women to get sponsorship — and that's especially true when the economy is down. Especially disturbing is hearing about inequality in prize money — in 2011, there was a $50,000 difference in the amount of prize money the female and male winners took home in the Nike U.S. Open of Surfing.

Maybe that's why Shaughnessy no longer considers surfing to be a potential job. Which, fine, the career life of a pro-surfer is probably fairly short — but for women, the potential appears all but non-existent.


Which both sucks and is interesting considering how much potential there might be for sponsors to make mad cash by working with these women:

Matt Warshaw, in his 2008 New York Times article Surfing: a History estimates that there are about five million people in the world who surf, and ten to fifteen percent of them are women. In the US, SIMA calculates that these women were responsible for buying 503.8 million dollars worth of surf and skate clothing that same year, making it the fourth largest surf/skate related market behind shoes, men's clothes, and boards (in that order…which in itself is a telling stratification). Even if you ignore the fact that women also purchase boards and shoes, it's safe to say that, not only are female surfers an important part of surf culture, they represent a sizeable portion of the surf economy as well.


Now, I don't know Annette Funicello from Keanu Reeves (sorry), but that seems like a pretty big slice of the Big Kahuna (sorry) to wipe out (sorry) on — not to mention all the future lady surfers to inspire and excite.

Mavericks: Women riding the monsters [SF Gate]



Re: Your Question. It's a cyclical pattern of exclusiveness that keeps women from excelling at surfing in the pros. Surfing is "for men" and since it's "for men" there are few female pros and few female role models for young lady surfers. Why devote your life to a sport that has a glass ceiling, right? Here in Hawaii, there are a lot of lady surfers, and all the non-lady surfers I know support the lady surfers because it's "cute", but once a lady surfer gets to a certain skill level then it's not cute, and who does she think she's trying to be, surfing with us men folk?! (This is not universally true, defensive man who supports lady surfers 100%, this is just what I see A LOT of.) Surfing is hard, takes a ton of practice, balance, strength, and creativity, and I'm sure there are a number of women out there capable of surfing with the pros, but gave up because of bullshit sexism and the difficulty of turning pro sans sponsorship and support. Stop alienating women from the surf, men! Also, hard sciences and politics! No more boys clubs, we wanna play, too.