Women Surfers Push for All Sports Events on Public Land to Include Categories for Both Genders

by on March 28, 2019 · 1 comment

in California, Ocean Beach, Women's Rights

Surf in Ocean Beach. Photo by ACE, Dec. 2015

Women surfers push beyond equal pay—even if it means letting men into the water, too

By Laurel Rosenhall / CALmatters / March 21, 2019

Women surfers scored a big win in California last year when an obscure government commission decided it would only lease a public beach to the Mavericks global surf competition if men and women were awarded the same amount of prize money. Experts said the precedent could compel equal pay at marathons, bike races, skateboard contests—any athletic events on public land.

A lawmaker put the idea into a bill that, if approved, would require equal prize money for men and women at any sporting event on state-owned property. It all seemed to be good news in the long fight for gender equality for women athletes, whose male peers have long been paid far more.

Now a push to go further is opening a broader debate over how to advance equality for women in male-dominated sports—and whether all-female competitions should be open to men.

Arguing that the bill inspired by their victory doesn’t go far enough, some of the same women who fought for equal prize money at the Mavericks surfing competition want the bill also to require that all sporting events on public land include categories for both men and women.

“Long term, that will be best for women athletes and encourage girls to stick with the sport and become pro athletes and get the money they need to do that,” said Sabrina Brennan, co-founder of the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing—the group that pressured state regulators first into including women at the Mavericks surf challenge, and then into requiring equal prize money.

The group advocates for separate divisions for men and women, not co-ed competitions.

Still, including both genders at all sporting events on public land would not only mean adding women’s divisions to all-male competitions. It also would do away with all-female sporting events that were created to provide unique opportunities for women and girls.

That threat is raising a debate between those who, like Brennan, argue that single-sex athletic events perpetuate inequality—and others who say they empower women in sports dominated by men.

“Our event makes it a safe space for women and girls to participate,” said Amelia Brodka, co-founder of Exposure Skate, which puts on an all-female skateboarding competition at a public park in Encinitas.

Brodka said she started the event after several skateboarding contests canceled their women’s divisions.

“It creates something that is needed to build these girls and women up… The men have a million events they can participate in.”

Encinitas Assemblywoman Tasha Boerner Horvath wants to preserve events like that, which is why she’s resisting pressure to expand her bill focused on prize money to also require inclusion of both genders.

“My strong feeling is that when we compensate women equally, that will translate into greater equality and inclusion across the board. We don’t have to legislate inclusion at this point,” said Boerner Horvath, a Democrat.

“If we see in a few years that women are shut out of large events then we will address that. We will be tracking to make sure we have the maximum amount of gender equality and equity on our public lands.”

San Francisco surfer Bianca Valenti acknowledged the camaraderie of all-female events but said requiring inclusion of both genders is the only way to give women more opportunities to compete. She pointed to an all-men’s surf competition this month in Huntington Beach.

“If you look at the number of events available to boys and men there are many more than are available to women,” she said. “If you want to preserve those women-only events you would be losing out on being able to participate in so many more.”

Brennan, a San Mateo harbor commissioner whose advocacy for women surfers has earned her national attention, now finds herself arguing that men should be included at events that have long been exclusively for women, such as a surf contest in Oceanside that launched 12 years ago to showcase women in action sports.

“You have a Civil Rights Act for a reason and it’s important that we enforce it however that works out. Sometimes it doesn’t work out to your group’s advantage and that’s just part of the deal,” she said.

“For society overall I see it as the best thing for the collective good of all.”

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

sealintheSelkirks March 29, 2019 at 3:35 pm

Hmmm. Nobody has commented on this hot potato. No surprise there! I’ll take a stab at it.

Why do corporations sponsor (pay for) contests? Is it out of the goodwill of their hard cold corporate hearts? No, it’s about a return on their investment by promoting their brand which is why their name is splashed all over the contest site. It’s about selling t-shirts and flip-flops and making huge gobs of money off selling ‘the lifestyle.’ Contests are market-driven, they are corporate. It’s all about the revenue and we know this.

And since it is all a business decision based on profit, or potential profit, and if their expected sales of their product doesn’t live up to expectations, they cancel sponsorship. Poof goes the funding.

As for Equal Pay. That should be in every industry. Do the work, get paid the same has always made sense to me. No question there.

But forcing this regulation on all sporting events held on ‘public land?’ On county fairgrounds, public parks, rivers, lakes, and every single beach in the state? On every kind of sport? Being forced to have a ‘woman’s division’ because…it will do what?

It’s still equal-but-separate. Unless it goes co-ed. Look way down the path this is heading, folks, and you see no separation by gender. Nobody is special, nobody deserves anything more than anyone else and not the segregation way still being promoted in the article. And isn’t that what everyone wants?

Every person involved in sports of any kind has a chance on their own skills because there will be only one World Champion allowed in each sport. No gender divisions, just talent and luck.

If you call that a bit pessimistic…I certainly agree but humans have never been much for showing any kind of (un)common sense, just zinging from one extreme to another.

The concept of backfire and blowback certainly comes to mind here, though.

There are far more male surfers than females. Probably far more male kayackers than female, far more male mountain climbers than female, far more MMA fighters are male I’m sure. Golfers, tennis players, (no contests held on public golf courses just private, same with tennis courts), it spreads out like blood in the water and would cover every form of sport.

Which would make the World Series a little more interesting, wouldn’t it? Because all those gigantic concrete coliseums are paid and maintained by taxpayers, yes? Do they count as public?

So every contest has to have both sex divisions. They get 400 men signing up to a surf comp and 30 women…and it costs the corporations that sponsor these contests twice as much but sees little return on having to double their investment. In terms of sales, too, because after all 400 guys (and the ratio of male to female consumers of these products) are going to buy a lot more product than 30 women and their much smaller group of consumers.

Yes, we are just consumers of lifestyle products. Seems a bit tacky, doesn’t it?

I’m guessing that’s what was behind the skateboarding contest women division cancellations that were mentioned in the article. Not enough profit for the sponsors.

Does anyone really think corporations are going to continue sponsoring any particular contest, at least in California, if the numbers don’t add up to the bean counters who make these decisions? In the World of Sports, only the money matters.

This probably won’t end well.



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