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Wavescape - Surfing in South Africa
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Thu, 6 September 2018

After the ruckus about gender pay disparity that began in South Africa, the World Surf League has decided to award the same prize money to female athletes from 2019. Very smart, writes Spike.


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THE LOOKING GLASS: Can you get barrelled like Stephanie Gilmore? Photo WSL / Cestari


The about-turn by the WSL is a very smart move, further enhanced by three initiatives and the increased commitment to women financially and by adding events for women (see bottom of page). It's good for the athletes. It will make fans happy. It deftly cuts out the haters. It will attract more fans. It's actually a PR scoop. Gender disparity was always an unwinnable argument, with only one feasible outcome, as I espoused two months go (Bridging the Gender Divide).

Their announcement of equal pay pertains to all WSL-controlled events across the different tiers, from junior level to longboarding to big wave surfing to the Championship Tour, and specialty events. According to their press release, this means that the WSL becomes the "first and only US based global sports league, and among the first internationally, to achieve prize money equality".

This is in contrast to statements made exclusively to Spike in an interview in Jeffreys Bay this year in which WSL CEO Sophie Goldschmidt said there were no plans to change what she called a "very fair pay parity system" based on the fewer numbers of women on tour and in events.

"I feel very strongly about equality, and I think we have a very fair pay parity system in place. The reality is that most of our women’s draws are smaller than the men, so there are less women competing, and they therefore have to surf less heats to win. That is why they are paid less."

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TIMES CHANGING: WSL CEO Sophie Goldschmidt talks to Spike in J-Bay. Photo Sandy Coffey


"So I think there's very sound rationale, but unfortunately there was some miscommunication around it, and at the moment it's a very hot topic and understandably so, I think unlike with us, there are many industries where there is a very real discrepancy. We have absolute pay parity." (full transcript here)

Either way - perhaps due to pressure from stakeholders, sponsors or inhouse strategic shifts - the decision was made to change direction - a win-win on all levels, including pacifying angry fans, and gaining new ones, a public relations scoop. The press release goes on to say: "The WSL is proud of its commitment to gender equality, and proud to join other organisations beyond the world of sport reaching this important milestone."

In announcing the new ruling, Goldschmidt said, “This is a huge step forward in our long-planned strategy to elevate women’s surfing and we are thrilled to make this commitment as we reveal our new 2019 schedule. 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.”

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BAND OF BRUS: Some of the surfers celebrate the move at the Surf Ranch. Photo WSL / Cestari


Stephanie GilmoreGoldschmidt continued, “This change is simply the right thing to do for the WSL and we would like to thank the many advocates who have worked for decades to help advance women’s surfing. We want to be at the forefront of pushing for equality in all walks of life, starting on the waves, and we feel very lucky to have women on our tour who are highly talented, iconic role models, and more than deserve this recognition as they stand alongside our extraordinary male athletes.”

Stephanie Gilmore (right), six-time World Champion, said, “This is incredible, and I am thrilled. The prize money is fantastic, but the message means even more. From the moment current ownership became involved, the situation for the women surfers has been transformed for the better in every way. We have been so appreciative, but this takes it to another level.

“I hope this serves as a model for other sports, global organisations and society as a whole. My fellow women athletes and I are honored by the confidence in us, and inspired to reward this decision with ever higher levels of surfing.”

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SKY TRAIN: Tyler Wright flies high to prove that it is the right decision. Photo WSL / Cestari


Kelly SlaterKelly Slater (right), holder of 11 World Championships and 55 Championship tour event victories, said, “The women on the tour deserve this change. I’m so proud that surfing is choosing to lead sports in equality and fairness. The female WSL athletes are equally committed to their craft as the male athletes and should be paid the same. Surfing has always been a pioneering sport, and this serves as an example of that.”

Kieren Perrow, WSL Commissioner said, “Today is a huge moment for the sport of surfing. With our 2019 calendar, new season and dates, we are proud to confirm the new prize money equality will be in effect. This covers all WSL-controlled events: the Championship Tour, the Longboard Tour, the World Junior Championships and includes the Big Wave Tour starting on October 1st, 2018 to March 2019. We will be working with our partners at competitions where we don’t control prize money, such as certain Qualifying Series events, to achieve equality as soon as possible.”

According to the press release: "The WSL continues to be one of the fastest-growing sports leagues globally, continually expanding its reach and fan base. WSL content and live coverage is now digitally available in every market and over 100 linear broadcasters now cover its events, including this week’s groundbreaking competition at the human-made wave at Surf Ranch. Surfing has also been added to the roster for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, introducing the sport to new audiences."

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WHOOP WHOOP! Carissa Moore looks fairly stoked at the decision. Photo WSL / Cestari


In further support of its commitment to women’s surfing, the WSL also announced three initiatives that launch in 2019:

  • A global marketing campaign to highlight the women’s tour as well as increase event viewership and fan engagement.
  • An local community engagement program for girls around the world, featuring instructional clinics with WSL athletes at each women’s Championship Tour stop to inspire the next generation to embrace surfing.
  • A monthly content series about the pioneering women of surfing, celebrating them across WSL channels, starting next week with seven-time World Champion Layne Beachley.
Investment in women’s surfing:
  • Combined men’s and women’s Championship Tour events have increased from four to nine.
  • Women’s Championship Tour prize money has risen by 153% per event.
  • 64 global women’s events scheduled for 2019 - up from 14 just seven years ago.
  • The addition of two historic women’s Big Wave Tour events in Pe’ahi and Mavericks.
  • Appointment of the WSL’s first female CEO in 2017.
  • Development of the co-ed, region vs. region Founders’ Cup, with multiple teams lead by female captains.


WSL investment timeline in women’s surfing:

  • 2013: Eight Women’s Championship Tour events. The WSL now invests in 10.
  • Includes world-class venues Jeffreys Bay, Fiji (now Bali), Trestles (now Surf Ranch) and Maui.
  • Since 2013: Prize money per event for the women on the CT has increased by 153%.
  • 2014: The WSL institutes pay parity for the men’s and women’s Championship Tour (CT) – all surfers, men and women, earn the same average prize money per surfer.
  • 2016: Women compete in the Big Wave Tour at Pe’ahi for the very first time.
  • 2017: The WSL appoints its first female CEO, Sophie Goldschmidt.
  • 2018: The WSL execute world-first co-ed, region vs. region Founders’ Cup.
  • 2018: Two Big Wave Tour (BWT) events scheduled for women: Pe’ahi and Mavericks.
  • 2019: Full prize money equality covering the Championship Tour, the Longboard Tour, the World Junior Championships and the Big Wave Tour starting on October 1st, 2018 (to March 2019).
  • Future: Working with event partners, the institution of equal prize money across all non-WSL-controlled Qualifying Series (QS) and Pro Junior events).

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