Johanne Defay, a French surfer, was devastated by Roxy dropping her just before she became a pro surfer. This shattered her confidence and threatened her career.
“They were just like Oh, you don’t look that way, you know? For, like, photos,” Defay stated. “I felt like I wasn’t doing enough or fitting in in the right way for their brand.
Now, Defay will be heading to Tokyo Olympics to surf’s debut at the Summer Games. This is buoyed by a win against Carissa Moore, reigning world champion at the High-Intensity Surf Ranch competition last week.
Despite the excitement and renewed enthusiasm for women’s surfing, there have been years of objectification and pay disparities, as well as an opportunity gap. The World Surf League, a professional organization, and USA Surfing are committed to repairing the injustices that have held female surfers back for so long in this male-dominated sport.
Women surfing face many obstacles, including mental, financial and logistical.
According to Isaiah Helekunihi Walker (a Hawaii surfing historian), the Hawaiians who invented the sport considered it a egalitarian national pastime that all ages, genders and social classes could enjoy. The Christian missionaries who arrived in the island attempted to ban surfing, in large part due to nudity. Surfing naked was common when the sport was first created. Although locals were largely supportive of colonizers’ efforts, female surfers saw their numbers shrink significantly.
Walker, a BYU Hawaii history professor, said, “When it comes down to controlling nudity it’s all about controlling female bodies.”
Moore, the child prodigy that beat the boys and became the youngest World Surf League champion, admitted she has struggled with her body image. Moore, now 28, has openly spoken out about her childhood experience of starving, which led to binging and then forcing herself to eat.
“Everyone had an idea of what a surfer girls should look like.” Moore stated that there were many ‘hot lists’ of the ‘cutest surfer girls list. “I didn’t make them, but when you look at who made them, you feel like: “Oh, I guess, like that’s how I should look.”
In a previous iteration, professional surfing was run in a decentralized manner. Brand sponsors were responsible for many competition logistics. This would vary from one event to the next, according to Greg Cruse (USA Surfing CEO). Although it was not an official rule or standard there was clearly preference for the men’s sport.
Surfing schedules are decided in the morning according to how the ocean waves look. It was not surprising that both the men’s and boys’ competitions were given the best surf conditions. If they were invited, female surfers received the scraps.