Women in Surf: Why are we still talking about this money gap?
What is the problem?
Many may have read the headline to this article and rolled their eyes. I know you’re thinking not another woman empowerment story. Not because you don’t care or believe in equality, but because it really is everywhere.
There is a good reason for this. Many of the equality topics do need to be spoken about. One of these topics includes equal prize money for female and male surfers.
You may be surprised that a difference exists. I mean why on earth would it? There have been a few reasons why this has happened. In this article, I’m going to look at those reasons. Then round up with how we are solving this issue, as a surf community.
Please note many of the issues touched on in this article are all up for debate and a matter of opinion.
Why the difference exists?
There have been a few reasons why the difference in the prize money between men and women in surf exists.
It works as an economy of things. People watch, follow or support surfers. If that surfer has 50,000 fans then this means that the brand sponsoring them has 50,000 eyes on it.
A popular surfer gets sponsored, which means brands kit them out with gear, and throw around some ads featuring the surfer. These brands are also behind any TV time, as well as putting the prize money forward for events.
For example if we have the Brand XYZ Pro then Brand XYZ is the company paying for the event. The brands claim that because there are more eyes on the men’s competition and more eyes on the brand then the men get paid more.
From a business and economic point of view, sure this makes sense, but we all know that you can’t function today with only profit in mind. To be a successful brand today, you need to make money and show that you can relate on a human level to your consumer.
The number 1 reason for the pay difference has traditionally been down to the fact that there are more people watching the men, therefore, the men get paid more.
The second reason for the pay gap, which is a bit weak, is that men are physically more athletic and therefore deserve more money for their performance.
This second argument is an excuse for justifying something on wobbly ground. It’s like saying kids need to step up and be able to compete with men to do well and get paid a decent amount.
No, if a grom or a lady is ripping it up out on the waves they deserve as much as the guy ripping it up.
Another reason coming from the surf community was that due to the fact there are more men competing they get more prize money. Which economically again makes sense, but falls short when you want to promote the sport to include more women. All these reasons for less pay don’t make professional surfing look that attractive as a sport.
When has this happened?
In the past the top professional male surfers would earn at least $40,000 more than the top female surfer.
In 2017 many competitions paid men exactly double of what the women won. One particular case was at the Ballito Pro where Rio Waida was awarded R8000, and his female counterpart, Zoe Steyn was awarded only R4000.
You’ve both reached the same point of your careers by putting in a massive amount of effort and work. You sacrifice social time and everything that goes with competitive sport, then you win, but you don’t really win.
Why would you choose to surf when you can play tennis and get the same pay as the men?
It is a serious issue throughout many professional sports. It is a vicious cycle of getting more women to play sport but how can you convince them if the pay is half of what the men earn.
Due to the shocking disparity between Rio and Zoe at the Ballito Pro, there was a lot more talk around the subject. Just last week a fantastic decision by the World Surf League (WSL) was made.
“Equal by Nature. From 2019, female and male athletes will receive equal prize money across all WSL controlled events. #CatchThisWave”
Can I get a hell yeah! This is certainly a brilliant move in the right direction. Not only will this news attract more women to the sport. It will also encourage an attitude of respect between men, women, and spectators of the sport.
I say the right direction as this will only apply to competitions which the WSL has control over. It is an excellent start and I am sure this acts as a precedent for their partners and other sponsors to follow suit.
If you offer someone a service and your price is much lower than others in the market, many people might question the quality of your work. Then they go with the guy who has an average price, but not the lowest price.
The same applies to sport. If we label women’s sport to be worth less because they earn less, then spectators immediately feel the quality of the sport is less.
I’m not sure if anyone caught the Corona JBay Pro this past year? Well those women dominated and showed some real quality out on those waves. Check it out here.
What can we do to help?
Go out and support men’s and women’s sport. Yeah, the women’s may be a bit different to the men’s but with our support and encouragement, we can all work to make the sport more equal in pay, quality and the number of competitors.
Sport and surf are an amazing way to connect and unite people. Let’s keep that true by showing love to all sports.
Then we can eventually stop talking about it, and share more dog memes instead.