Pay equality reaches professional surfing

When Carissa Moore of Hawaii won the Pro France surfing event last year she received a $60,000 check.

Meanwhile, her male counterpart, Gabriel Medina of Brazil, cashed one for $100,000.

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Same place (Landes, Nouvelle-Aquitaine) and same dates (Oct. 7-18), but vastly different paychecks.

So, the World Surf League’s announcement Wednesday that equal prize money will be awarded at all WSL-controlled events, beginning with the 2019 season, is welcome — and overdue — news.

It stands as acknowledgement of some hard-won recognition in an emerging sport and, hopefully, an impetus for others in the industry to pick up their pace.

“It is more than just prize money, it was a huge statement and what it represents to be respected as an elite athlete on the same level as the men,” Moore, a three-time world champion, said in a telephone interview.

“Surfing has been a very male-dominated sport. When I first started out I was the only girl in the lineup at times.” Moore said. “Sometimes it is still a struggle to get waves with all the guys out there. But this (policy change) says a lot and the guys are very supportive of the decision.”

In a post on The Players’ Tribune, six-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore wrote, “Today, I feel proud to be a surfer. Well, I’m always proud to be a surfer. But today is a little different. Today, something pretty special is happening. Today, the World Surf League is announcing that it will award equal prize money to male and female surfers for every WSL event in the 2019 season and beyond, making it the first and only U.S. — based sport league to achieve pay equality.”

Gilmore wrote, “I didn’t ever really think about the difference between how male and female surfers were treated until after the 2010 season. I had just won my fourth world championship in only my fourth year as a professional — something I’m proud to say has never been done by any other surfer, male or female. I was in discussion with some of my potential sponsors — it was like they didn’t appreciate the fact that I had just won four straight world championships.”

Gilmore said, “I just remember thinking, ‘Why is my world title worth less than theirs?’ “

Why, indeed, the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing wondered while advocating for a full-fledged women’s division at Mavericks and equal purses. As Maui’s Paige Alms won the 2016 and ‘17 Big Wave Championship at Pe’ahi but took home less than the men’s runner up, “We said, ‘we think you should do it, across the board, for all your events,’ ” said Sabrina Brennan, whose CEWS took the issue to the California State Land Commission and Coastal Commission, which award permits.

“We are in a time of change and receiving this news today, left me feeling so proud, supported and exteremely grateful to be a woman in surfing,” Alms said in a text.

The WSL said it has raised purses annually since taking over operation in 2014 so that the average purse per surfer this year will be $16,883 for each male and female surfer in championship events. Though, 36 men draw paychecks, twice as many as women.

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Sophie Goldschmidt, the WSL’s CEO, said of the 2019 pledge, “This is the latest in a series of actions the League has undertaken to showcase our female athletes, from competing on the same quality waves as the men, to better locations, and increased investment and support.”

Moore said, “Over the past couple of years they have worked hard to give us new opportunities. This is a whole other level. I think it says a lot to the next generation, that they have something to look forward to and work towards.”