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Wavescape - Surfing in South Africa

Mon, 2 July 2018

In this age of #metoo and growing gender enlightenment, there can be only one outcome after the wakeup call surfing received last week, writes Spike.

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TWO AND A HALF: This was the photo that started all the fuss. Photo WSL / Cestari

Under 18 men's and women's surfers Rio Waida of Indonesia and Zoe Steyn of South Africa became overnight celebrities last week.

A seemingly innocuous photo appeared as part of the ticker tape parade of news coming out of the Ballito Pro presented by Billabong. Posted on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, it depicted the happy winners of the U18 division in the Billabong Junior Series presented by BOS, a precursor to the Ballito Pro QS events.

An almighty conflagration blasted cordite-infused indignation and moral vexation across cyberspaceIn the image, they hold cheques that indicate he won R8,000 and she won R4,000. Oops. Boom! An almighty conflagration blasted cordite-infused indignation and moral vexation across cyberspace like digital shards of shrapnel. Needless to say, the original Facebook post by the Ballito Pro went through the roof. By Friday afternoon, it had garnered 7,000 shares, 2,700 comments and 7,100 "likes" of which 5,905 comprised that angry little red face. Those who understand the dark arts of the Facebook algorithm will know that this interaction suggests more than a million + views.

Twitter (63 comments, 13 retweets) and Instagram (300 likes, 80 comments) had fewer response, but were equally damning, and damaging to the brands concerned: WSL, Billabong, the Ballito Pro and BOS, who most surfers know make rooibos-infused drinks.

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SURF LIKE A GIRL: Do you like watching someone like Carissa Moore? Photo WSL / Sloane

On Twitter, a Johannesburg woman holidaying in Ballito @SharonVW vented (in between mundane posts about kids and beach sand): "Guys! Have you seen this sexist bullshit from @TheBallitoPro? Same age groups, same ocean, same skills, but the female winner gets half the prize money of her male counterpart? 50 years of the Ballito pro, from 1968! Disgusted & outraged! Shame on you, your sponsors & organisers!"

And ... go! Social media spewed and vented. Hashtags like #genderbias #genderpaygap #genderequality were fired like bullets at the source of the anger, bunkered in the midst of a swirling shit storm.

“Wow! Blatant inequality Billabong... I hope your clothes are half the price for women if this is the case,” said one. “FFS it’s 2018 and we are trying SO hard to reach equality. Everything about this photo is WRONG. Plus #BillabongJNR has just ensured no female will be purchasing product” said another.

Many men supported the difference in prize money, basing their argument on a secondhand opinion according to the numbers as handed down by rule books from another time. Their gist was that women have fewer entrants, so less prize money because the field is smaller and they surf less.


CHECKING CHEQUES: The policy of pay is based on how many enter. Photo WSL / Thurtell

One fellow sent a voice note to John Maytham on Cape Talk radio saying it should be based on an hourly rate, and well, men spend more hours in the water, so … eh? Maytham quipped that his slow time in the Argus Cycle Tour meant Maytham should win it every time.

Others - many male surfers appear to be of this view - say that because men ‘rip’ and ‘shred’ the waves in more extreme and aggressive ways (one guy told Cape Talk it was a “different level”) meant that more people like to watch them, and therefore extra sponsorship money was only fair.

The skill of male surfing is a macho construct as decided by menOf course, this does not take into account the historical obstacles women have faced as outsiders to the ring-fenced boy’s club that surfing has been. Besides, as historian Dr Glen Thompson, who has written extensively on the persistence of the historic gender bias in surfing, says, the skill of male surfing is a macho construct as decided by men, and it’s been that way since the beginning of competitive surfing.

Regular contributor to Wavescape, Melissa Volker agrees. Volker, who has written a book A Fractured Land and is an outspoken critic of patriarchy, says that the concept that "good" surfing must be powerful and manly is "gendered in itself” - female surfers are measured against a male standard of what is deemed “good”, and therefore “better”.

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WINNING WAYS: Some women have dealt with more than just bias. Photo WSL / Sloane

In fact, if Jess Basson, who has just started a Back A Buddy campaign called Women love Sport SA to raise money for women competitors, has anything to do with it, women should get paid more, not less. Talking to Pippa Hudson on Cape Talk, Basson used the analogy of two people and a pizza. If they are equally hungry, they get half, but if one is starving, that person should get more pizza.

This is a good argument. We need to encourage women to surf more and enter competitions more. If they’re getting less to win, the incentive is diminished. As former pro surfer Roxy Louw, Ambassador at Oakley International, says, women who enter contests have the same expenses - travel, fees, food, and accommodation. Why should they earn less?

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SAME AS IT WAS: No-one noticed this photo from the Ballito Pro last year. Photo WSL / Janssens

According to the WSL, there is parity in the upper levels of the sport, but the bottom line is that on the CT, there are 36 surfers on the tour, and the winner gets US$100,000, and there are only 16 women on the tour, and the winner gets US$65,000. Are there not enough women to have equal numbers on the tour? Whose issue is it that there are not?

One frustrating part of the issue last week was the slow response to the criticisms. On Instagram one @leighvermaak said: "It’s been almost two days since people started questioning this disparity and you’re still copy pasting that same response (that the WSL determines the prize money) with impunity. How about you take some responsibility? At least in getting a timeous answer!"

@theballitopro replied: "Thanks Leigh, since we didn't determine prize money, we are awaiting statement from those who did."

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TUBE IS A TUBE: Nikki van Dyk pulls into a tube to help kill the stereotype. Photo WSL / Sloane

It was a curious lapse when swift, direct action was desperately required - after all, it is 2018. Eventually, the WSL statement came, but it was generic corporate speak about “elevating the development tiers in this area”.

Billabong stated, with a tone of indignation, how hard it has worked to build female junior surfing, and passed the buck onto the WSL. The Ballito Pro also missed a trick by passing the buck, then dug itself deeper by calling the disparity an “apparent discrepancy”. That sparked a new wave of face palms and shrieks of derision.

Then BOS stepped up. In a stroke of smart, carefully thought out PR that trumped the WSL, Billabong and Ballito Pro by a country mile, they announced that they would "pay the difference in prize money for this event to reflect equal prize money for equal titles” and that "going forward, we also commit that we will only sponsor events that pay equal prize money for an equal title".

A little less conversation, a little more action pleaseWSL has stated its methodology that prize money is paid as a proportional representation of the number of entries per category, which is applied “consistently” across the board. This doesn’t look good, no matter how you try to justify it with numerically based reason or logic. This is an emotive issue about fairness. Its not about the hard, stiff, manliness of numbers but about shifting the status quo and putting gender equality at the forefront of pro surfing.

As BOS writes: "the results of their policy application can potentially and unnecessarily send harmful messages about the value of boys and girls achievements in sport and we want to address this directly". It was a welcome end to drawn out platitudes about engaging with stake holders to work it out - "a little less conversation, a little more action please," sang Elvis.

In this age of #metoo, talking about it is no longer enough. After centuries of patriarchy, people have run out of patience. You cannot win this argument if you tried.

Just make the pay equal. Simple.


angela botha
0 #1 Mrsangela botha 2018-07-09 11:59
Perhaps the havoc caused by this outcry is now in perspective because not ONE CENT was raised by local crowdfunders in order 'to pay Zoe what she should have won'Also both Feminist Australian crowdfunders tried to pay Zoe and she,having Integrity, declined their offer,asking them to donate the money to SA Charities.
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