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As the surfing world geared up to witness the first ever World Contest Tour event at Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch, the World Surf League revealed some incredible news: starting in 2019, male and female surfers will have equal prize money across every division. They are officially the first US-based professional sporting league to offer equal pay to men and women. Can I get a HECK YEAH?
The men’s and women’s CTs have technically had equal pay for a few years now: the overall purses have been matched, just cut in half for the women because there are half the amount of women on tour. This has not been the case, however, for other WSL sanctioned events, including much of the pro junior series, the qualifying series, and the longboard contests. As a woman who has participated in WSL longboard events, I am so thrilled to hear that the World Surf League has come to this decision. I feel so proud to be a part of the sport that is leading the way in equality, and I can’t wait to see other sports follow suit. Of course, we are nearly 20 years into the new millenium, and it is about time that WSL made this change, but instead of being bitter about the past, now is a time to celebrate being at the forefront of closing the pay gap in sports!
This news comes only a couple months after a photo broke the surf-web, showing the winners of the U18 division of a WSL pro junior event in South Africa holding up their big prize checks. At first, it appears to be a typical photo of two young surfers enjoying their victories, but upon closer inspection, you see that these two athletes are holding different checks. Rio Waida, the men’s division winner, won 8,000 South African Rand, while Zoë Steyn, the female champion, only received half this amount, 4,000 Rand for her equally great accomplishment. Now, there are all sorts of reasons that the WSL and event sponsor Billabong spouted out about this discrepancy, but there are no excuses for making a teenage girl feel like she is only worth half as much as her male counterpart. This sparked outrage amongst the surfing community, and the conversation about equal pay was yet again brought to the table. Although it is very unfortunate for this to have happened at all, it seems this contest was a catalyst that helped push for the change to finally be made (but probably not before someone from Billabong South Africa’s PR department was let go).
The wage gap is prevalent in most industries, and the gap is even larger for women of color, but slowly, we are working our way towards equality. While those who make money from the sport of surfing are only a miniscule percentage of the global population, this announcement is still a huge milestone for champions of women’s rights everywhere! Thank you WSL, for setting this amazing example, and for giving girls and women around the world the opportunity to follow their dreams.