The Glass Ceiling in Women’s Surfing

The glass ceiling in women’s surfing

We’ve all heard of the ‘glass ceiling’ holding women back in the corporate world, but there has been a lot of talk lately about the same challenges facing women surfers,

Female surfers are paid significantly less than their male counterparts when it comes to both prize money and sponsorship deals.

An example is the recent opening round of the ASP World Surfing Title here on the Gold Coast.

Taj Burrow won US$75,000 for taking out the event, while Stephanie Gilmore won just US$15,000 in comparison for the same feat.

Kylie Webb is a former pro-surfer who was in the World Top 8 in the 1990s and is also a member of the Tweed Coast Girl’s Boardriders Club.

Kylie says pro surfing is a “brilliant” career but when it comes to prize money, that’s a different story.

She says that in the 1990s “there was a big difference and it’s still the same today, there’s only a handful of women that are making really good money and that comes through endorsements.”

“We need somebody backing the women – we’re under the ASP at the moment and have been since it started but I feel that there’s no one actually out there in the ASP pushing the women’s profiles and looking for outside corporate sponsorship – they need to just get out there and search for sponsorships because it’s such a promotable sport,” she says.

Kylie now runs her own cleaning business and says she earns more doing that than she ever did from professional surfing.

“I made a living out of pro-surfing but I wasn’t able to put money in the bank. I earn more money cleaning than what I did surfing!”.

Rebecca Olive, a PhD student studying women’s surfing at the University of Queensland, says there is definitely room for improvement in the sport.

“I think we have to remember as well that when we talk about this it’s good to keep in mind that this is an issue in women’s sport more broadly as well. Women experience this all the time.”

Although she says it is also an area where there are really obvious fixes.

“You can raise the prize money, you can not send the women out in the poorer surf conditions, the commentators can learn more about the women surfers so that when they’re speaking as the women surf they give more information about them or support them a lot more, you can have women in more roles of power within the sport.”

As for who should take on the responsibility of making these changes, Rebecca says it needs to be shared amongst everyone from surfing clubs, event organisers, sponsors, media, and fans.


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