You know who that is in that heaving barrel? It's Tyler Wright. We rarely see shots like this one, and they're awesome. Photo: Clare Plueckhahn

You know who that is in that heaving barrel? It's Tyler Wright. We rarely see shots like this one, and they're awesome. Photo: Clare Plueckhahn


The Inertia

“The introduction of corporate brands to the surfing market is going really well,” says Anastasia Ashley. “They are probably using girls better than the endemic brands in the sense that they are marketing them more.”  If Carissa Moore’s sponsors have helped her base her image almost purely on performance, Ashley, perhaps one of the savvier businesswomen in surfing, has based hers around sex appeal. So much so, that it’s easy to forget that she is, perhaps, one of the better female free surfers in the world. She also surfs big waves, like Waimea. Although she is a good example of Kennelly’s “Maxim Magazine sex pot,” she hasn’t always had the closest relationship with the surf industry based, anecdotally, on a reputation for being “difficult”. As in any male dominated area, “difficult” when used to describe a woman can sometimes be another way of saying “opinionated.”  Whatever the case, I’ve interviewed her a couple of times and found her to be consistently thoughtful and interesting.

She doesn’t find fault with the way surf companies are marketing their women, but she does think that the media could sharpen its focus a bit. “Most brands have actually stayed pretty authentic by mixing lifestyle and performance in their marketing,” she says. If anything, magazines could improve because they tend to only look at what gets the most eyeballs. If they are going to get more hits running a certain type of photo they are going to do it. I think if they do lifestyle features they should make a point of doing more performance.”

Let’s also not forget the women themselves. Although many would not admit it in interviews, they are some of the most media savvy self-marketers in modern surfing. “I think that most young females surfers that are sponsored are aware of how their image comes across and how it can affect their careers,” Says Villa. “ And I think it is their choice as to how they choose to be portrayed in the media. Sex sells — you can see that with someone like Alana Blanchard-she has more Instagram followers than pretty much any professional surfer-male or female. But she is not just a beautiful girl, she is actually a talented surfer as well and that has worked well for her profile. And I don’t necessarily think that is a bad thing.

Villa embraces these young, attractive athlete/businesswomen. “One of the great things about the social media phenomenon is that these girls are marketing themselves more than the brands are marketing them,” she says. “You get to know everything about them by reading their Twitter feed and checking out their Instagram posts,”

It would take a better mind than mine to tease out any firm conclusions from the frayed ends of feminism, double standards, business-speak, history, and theory that twist into the impenetrable knot of this damned article…but what can we say for sure?  Women’s pro surfing, while not actively discriminatory, has found a way to weed out a lot (but not all) women whose appearances won’t sell clothing. This is achieved through a sort of positive discrimination in which young, extremely talented surfers who also photograph well are supported by the industry more than young, extremely talented surfers who do not photograph well. This does not mean the current crop of famous women pros do not deserve their vaunted positions. But it might mean that there are a lot of women who also deserve prominent positions but will never achieve them without the right complexion or bone structure. There is no evidence to suggest that this system is part of a larger agenda promoted solely by a cabal of filthy, sexist old men. Instead, it’s promoted by everyone who stands to benefit from it – companies, parents, managers, all the way on down to the young women who appear in magazines dry riding their boards like stripper poles, tight asses suggestively pointed towards the camera lens.

Speaking of strippers, listen closely and you can hear the bugles on the battlefield where once raged the war of the sexes; it’s over now. As Jacob Palmer says, men won the second women started pole-dancing for exercise. What we are left with is not a clean resolution, but some voyeuristic amalgam of sex, merit, and PR. Call it what you want. Ultimately the issues here say less about discrimination or sexism in the traditional senses of those terms, and more about the deeply ambivalent role of the modern woman, what society expects of her, and what she expects of herself.

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  • http://jrfaria.com/ Junior Faria

    Great article, you got yourself a fan in Brasil. Cheers!

  • http://jrfaria.com/ Junior Faria

    Great article, you got yourself a fan in Brasil. Cheers!

  • http://jrfaria.com/ Junior Faria

    Great article, you got yourself a fan in Brasil. Cheers!

  • Cori S

    It seems to me that the “new sexualisation” referred to is a larger, industry-wide movement vs. a one-off phenomenon (e.g. Botha). This isn’t a new industry standard (the sexualisation of women in surfing via models has been going on for years) but a shift of focus: now a growing number of female professional surfers are embracing and endorsing the sexualisation trend on their own bodies. The reasons why require an understanding of processes of internalization and enculturation… related quite neatly to the low median age of female surfers and the even younger age of the beginning of their sponsorship contracts.

    Those in privileged positions rarely admit/see this reality, even if they themselves are of the same group. Pointing to exceptions subtly underscores this point. Why are there still exceptions (off tour and w/o sponsors at that) if times have indeed changed to the extent that a more diverse, yet equally represented, group of women are making 100% performance based salaries?
    More analysis with hard numbers needed.

    Additionally, it is a rather strange marketing strategy that continues to use the same advertising and marketing techniques and then blames the lack of interest on the ladies themselves (surfers and the female market). Might not the ad/marketing be missing the mark? A bikini contest in the middle of a women’s contest? Sexy ads and sex sounds during commercial breaks during women’s contests (Bells)?? C’mon.

    Great article once again, Mr. Endo.

  • Cori S

    It seems to me that the “new sexualisation” referred to is a larger, industry-wide movement vs. a one-off phenomenon (e.g. Botha). This isn’t a new industry standard (the sexualisation of women in surfing via models has been going on for years) but a shift of focus: now a growing number of female professional surfers are embracing and endorsing the sexualisation trend on their own bodies. The reasons why require an understanding of processes of internalization and enculturation… related quite neatly to the low median age of female surfers and the even younger age of the beginning of their sponsorship contracts.

    Those in privileged positions rarely admit/see this reality, even if they themselves are of the same group. Pointing to exceptions subtly underscores this point. Why are there still exceptions (off tour and w/o sponsors at that) if times have indeed changed to the extent that a more diverse, yet equally represented, group of women are making 100% performance based salaries?
    More analysis with hard numbers needed.

    Additionally, it is a rather strange marketing strategy that continues to use the same advertising and marketing techniques and then blames the lack of interest on the ladies themselves (surfers and the female market). Might not the ad/marketing be missing the mark? A bikini contest in the middle of a women’s contest? Sexy ads and sex sounds during commercial breaks during women’s contests (Bells)?? C’mon.

    Great article once again, Mr. Endo.

  • Cori S

    It seems to me that the “new sexualisation” referred to is a larger, industry-wide movement vs. a one-off phenomenon (e.g. Botha). This isn’t a new industry standard (the sexualisation of women in surfing via models has been going on for years) but a shift of focus: now a growing number of female professional surfers are embracing and endorsing the sexualisation trend on their own bodies. The reasons why require an understanding of processes of internalization and enculturation… related quite neatly to the low median age of female surfers and the even younger age of the beginning of their sponsorship contracts.

    Those in privileged positions rarely admit/see this reality, even if they themselves are of the same group. Pointing to exceptions subtly underscores this point. Why are there still exceptions (off tour and w/o sponsors at that) if times have indeed changed to the extent that a more diverse, yet equally represented, group of women are making 100% performance based salaries?
    More analysis with hard numbers needed.

    Additionally, it is a rather strange marketing strategy that continues to use the same advertising and marketing techniques and then blames the lack of interest on the ladies themselves (surfers and the female market). Might not the ad/marketing be missing the mark? A bikini contest in the middle of a women’s contest? Sexy ads and sex sounds during commercial breaks during women’s contests (Bells)?? C’mon.

    Great article once again, Mr. Endo.

  • Cori S

    It seems to me that the “new sexualisation” referred to is a larger, industry-wide movement vs. a one-off phenomenon (e.g. Botha). This isn’t a new industry standard (the sexualisation of women in surfing via models has been going on for years) but a shift of focus: now a growing number of female professional surfers are embracing and endorsing the sexualisation trend on their own bodies. The reasons why require an understanding of processes of internalization and enculturation… related quite neatly to the low median age of female surfers and the even younger age of the beginning of their sponsorship contracts.

    Those in privileged positions rarely admit/see this reality, even if they themselves are of the same group. Pointing to exceptions subtly underscores this point. Why are there still exceptions (off tour and w/o sponsors at that) if times have indeed changed to the extent that a more diverse, yet equally represented, group of women are making 100% performance based salaries?
    More analysis with hard numbers needed.

    Additionally, it is a rather strange marketing strategy that continues to use the same advertising and marketing techniques and then blames the lack of interest on the ladies themselves (surfers and the female market). Might not the ad/marketing be missing the mark? A bikini contest in the middle of a women’s contest? Sexy ads and sex sounds during commercial breaks during women’s contests (Bells)?? C’mon.

    Great article once again, Mr. Endo.

  • Cori S

    It seems to me that the “new sexualisation” referred to is a larger, industry-wide movement vs. a one-off phenomenon (e.g. Botha). This isn’t a new industry standard (the sexualisation of women in surfing via models has been going on for years) but a shift of focus: now a growing number of female professional surfers are embracing and endorsing the sexualisation trend on their own bodies. The reasons why require an understanding of processes of internalization and enculturation… related quite neatly to the low median age of female surfers and the even younger age of the beginning of their sponsorship contracts.

    Those in privileged positions rarely admit/see this reality, even if they themselves are of the same group. Pointing to exceptions subtly underscores this point. Why are there still exceptions (off tour and w/o sponsors at that) if times have indeed changed to the extent that a more diverse, yet equally represented, group of women are making 100% performance based salaries?
    More analysis with hard numbers needed.

    Additionally, it is a rather strange marketing strategy that continues to use the same advertising and marketing techniques and then blames the lack of interest on the ladies themselves (surfers and the female market). Might not the ad/marketing be missing the mark? A bikini contest in the middle of a women’s contest? Sexy ads and sex sounds during commercial breaks during women’s contests (Bells)?? C’mon.

    Great article once again, Mr. Endo.

  • Cori S

    It seems to me that the “new sexualisation” referred to is a larger, industry-wide movement vs. a one-off phenomenon (e.g. Botha). This isn’t a new industry standard (the sexualisation of women in surfing via models has been going on for years) but a shift of focus: now a growing number of female professional surfers are embracing and endorsing the sexualisation trend on their own bodies. The reasons why require an understanding of processes of internalization and enculturation… related quite neatly to the low median age of female surfers and the even younger age of the beginning of their sponsorship contracts.

    Those in privileged positions rarely admit/see this reality, even if they themselves are of the same group. Pointing to exceptions subtly underscores this point. Why are there still exceptions (off tour and w/o sponsors at that) if times have indeed changed to the extent that a more diverse, yet equally represented, group of women are making 100% performance based salaries?
    More analysis with hard numbers needed.

    Additionally, it is a rather strange marketing strategy that continues to use the same advertising and marketing techniques and then blames the lack of interest on the ladies themselves (surfers and the female market). Might not the ad/marketing be missing the mark? A bikini contest in the middle of a women’s contest? Sexy ads and sex sounds during commercial breaks during women’s contests (Bells)?? C’mon.

    Great article once again, Mr. Endo.

  • Cori S

    It seems to me that the “new sexualisation” referred to is a larger, industry-wide movement vs. a one-off phenomenon (e.g. Botha). This isn’t a new industry standard (the sexualisation of women in surfing via models has been going on for years) but a shift of focus: now a growing number of female professional surfers are embracing and endorsing the sexualisation trend on their own bodies. The reasons why require an understanding of processes of internalization and enculturation… related quite neatly to the low median age of female surfers and the even younger age of the beginning of their sponsorship contracts.

    Those in privileged positions rarely admit/see this reality, even if they themselves are of the same group. Pointing to exceptions subtly underscores this point. Why are there still exceptions (off tour and w/o sponsors at that) if times have indeed changed to the extent that a more diverse, yet equally represented, group of women are making 100% performance based salaries?
    More analysis with hard numbers needed.

    Additionally, it is a rather strange marketing strategy that continues to use the same advertising and marketing techniques and then blames the lack of interest on the ladies themselves (surfers and the female market). Might not the ad/marketing be missing the mark? A bikini contest in the middle of a women’s contest? Sexy ads and sex sounds during commercial breaks during women’s contests (Bells)?? C’mon.

    Great article once again, Mr. Endo.

  • Carley

    I’ve been surfing since middle school and always regretted not pursuing the professional path. As I’ve always deep down known the facts but it is refreshing to see you write about them. I was never the girly girl or sex pot, I hardly had the looks of the girls getting the sponsorships even though I was beating them in competition. Girls surfing is endemic of our cultural view of women. Something I came to figure out a long time ago is that as a woman you have the ability to attract things into your life as opposed to having to go out and get it with bull strength. While some may see women get sponsorships and recognition partly on their looks as a negative thing, it is a powerful asset that women are blessed with. These women who are successful in leveraging their “assets” to get sponsored are actually using their looks as if they had a genetic predisposition to be a faster or stronger athlete. Beauty and brains are the power of a woman.

  • Doh!

    It doesn’t help when male journalists don’t even spell the women’s name right: it’s Miley-Dyer… With an I … ;)

  • Doh!

    It doesn’t help when male journalists don’t even spell the women’s name right: it’s Miley-Dyer… With an I … ;)

  • Doh!

    It doesn’t help when male journalists don’t even spell the women’s name right: it’s Miley-Dyer… With an I … ;)

  • Doh!

    It doesn’t help when male journalists don’t even spell the women’s name right: it’s Miley-Dyer… With an I … ;)

  • http://www.awasht.com/ awasht

    It comes down to the simple fact that if you want to make money from surfing, you have to have a reason for people to invest money in you. If people in the industry think you can make them money, then they will spend money on you.

    Anyone who gets paid to surf is essentially a model.

  • http://www.awasht.com/ awasht

    It comes down to the simple fact that if you want to make money from surfing, you have to have a reason for people to invest money in you. If people in the industry think you can make them money, then they will spend money on you.

    Anyone who gets paid to surf is essentially a model.

  • Anonymous

    “As for the magazines, if you are not 22 or younger, well-sponsored, and hot you can forget about getting editorial unless your shot is extraordinary.” KK sums it up perfectly. Women, by and large, don’t surf as well as men. To sell products, they need to either rip extraordinarily hard, or they need something else; most often this something else is beauty. This isn’t new, it isn’t insidious, it isn’t sexist, it just is. If I’m going to watch surfing or read about surfing, it needs to capture and hold my interest. Great surfing does that, as does interesting surfing. As does watching beautiful girls surfing. But I won’t spend any time at all paying attention to mediocre surfing. Especially in a contest. Same reason I will never watch the WNBA. Not liking boring surfing has nothing whatsoever to do with gender. I’ll watch Carissa surf (not sponsored for her looks), I’ll watch Steph Gilmore surf (also not sponsored for her looks), I’ll watch Coco Ho surf (ditto), and sometimes I’ll watch Sally Fitzgibbons surf (probably sponsored in part for her looks). But other than those four, I’m not particularly interested. I’m also not interested in watching somebody of my level surf, unless that person is me, or is surfing in some way that is unusually interesting.

    Surfing is a sport that pays its athletes from a giant pool of marketing dollars. Most sports do. Those who can sell something, by either their innate, world-class (not world class for their gender, but straight-up world class) abilities will get paid, as will those who can sell something based on their personality or their physical appearance. This isn’t the surf industry’s fault. If you want to blame something blame capitalism and human nature.

  • Anonymous

    “As for the magazines, if you are not 22 or younger, well-sponsored, and hot you can forget about getting editorial unless your shot is extraordinary.” KK sums it up perfectly. Women, by and large, don’t surf as well as men. To sell products, they need to either rip extraordinarily hard, or they need something else; most often this something else is beauty. This isn’t new, it isn’t insidious, it isn’t sexist, it just is. If I’m going to watch surfing or read about surfing, it needs to capture and hold my interest. Great surfing does that, as does interesting surfing. As does watching beautiful girls surfing. But I won’t spend any time at all paying attention to mediocre surfing. Especially in a contest. Same reason I will never watch the WNBA. Not liking boring surfing has nothing whatsoever to do with gender. I’ll watch Carissa surf (not sponsored for her looks), I’ll watch Steph Gilmore surf (also not sponsored for her looks), I’ll watch Coco Ho surf (ditto), and sometimes I’ll watch Sally Fitzgibbons surf (probably sponsored in part for her looks). But other than those four, I’m not particularly interested. I’m also not interested in watching somebody of my level surf, unless that person is me, or is surfing in some way that is unusually interesting.

    Surfing is a sport that pays its athletes from a giant pool of marketing dollars. Most sports do. Those who can sell something, by either their innate, world-class (not world class for their gender, but straight-up world class) abilities will get paid, as will those who can sell something based on their personality or their physical appearance. This isn’t the surf industry’s fault. If you want to blame something blame capitalism and human nature.

  • Anonymous

    “As for the magazines, if you are not 22 or younger, well-sponsored, and hot you can forget about getting editorial unless your shot is extraordinary.” KK sums it up perfectly. Women, by and large, don’t surf as well as men. To sell products, they need to either rip extraordinarily hard, or they need something else; most often this something else is beauty. This isn’t new, it isn’t insidious, it isn’t sexist, it just is. If I’m going to watch surfing or read about surfing, it needs to capture and hold my interest. Great surfing does that, as does interesting surfing. As does watching beautiful girls surfing. But I won’t spend any time at all paying attention to mediocre surfing. Especially in a contest. Same reason I will never watch the WNBA. Not liking boring surfing has nothing whatsoever to do with gender. I’ll watch Carissa surf (not sponsored for her looks), I’ll watch Steph Gilmore surf (also not sponsored for her looks), I’ll watch Coco Ho surf (ditto), and sometimes I’ll watch Sally Fitzgibbons surf (probably sponsored in part for her looks). But other than those four, I’m not particularly interested. I’m also not interested in watching somebody of my level surf, unless that person is me, or is surfing in some way that is unusually interesting.

    Surfing is a sport that pays its athletes from a giant pool of marketing dollars. Most sports do. Those who can sell something, by either their innate, world-class (not world class for their gender, but straight-up world class) abilities will get paid, as will those who can sell something based on their personality or their physical appearance. This isn’t the surf industry’s fault. If you want to blame something blame capitalism and human nature.

  • Danielle Clayton

    Another thought-provoking and enjoyable read, thanks!

  • Danielle Clayton

    Another thought-provoking and enjoyable read, thanks!

  • Danielle Clayton

    Another thought-provoking and enjoyable read, thanks!

  • Danielle Clayton

    Another thought-provoking and enjoyable read, thanks!

  • Danielle Clayton

    Another thought-provoking and enjoyable read, thanks!

  • Danielle Clayton

    Another thought-provoking and enjoyable read, thanks!

  • Danielle Clayton

    Another thought-provoking and enjoyable read, thanks!

  • Danielle Clayton

    Another thought-provoking and enjoyable read, thanks!

  • Danielle Clayton

    Another thought-provoking and enjoyable read, thanks!

  • Danielle Clayton

    Another thought-provoking and enjoyable read, thanks!

  • Danielle Clayton

    Another thought-provoking and enjoyable read, thanks!

  • Danielle Clayton

    Another thought-provoking and enjoyable read, thanks!

  • Danielle Clayton

    Another thought-provoking and enjoyable read, thanks!

  • Danielle Clayton

    Another thought-provoking and enjoyable read, thanks!

  • The plain truth

    In surfing or skating, it’s almost a joke to watch the womens in comparison to the mens division. You’re kidding yourself if you think it’s exciting or unforgettable. It’s boring and lame in comparison… who knows? Maybe some day women will turn into men and you will enjoy watching it too?
    Well…. whatdya expect? haha Womens surfing is a joke and the companies (nike) that try to turn it into some new revelation are pretty kooky too! …just sayin’
    I still love watching a bikini contest either way! :)

  • The plain truth

    In surfing or skating, it’s almost a joke to watch the womens in comparison to the mens division. You’re kidding yourself if you think it’s exciting or unforgettable. It’s boring and lame in comparison… who knows? Maybe some day women will turn into men and you will enjoy watching it too?
    Well…. whatdya expect? haha Womens surfing is a joke and the companies (nike) that try to turn it into some new revelation are pretty kooky too! …just sayin’
    I still love watching a bikini contest either way! :)

  • BH

    Such a great article! It really inspired me and I could write pages on this topic. The whole sex-sells thing enrages me and I wish women would stop being their own worst enemies. We’ll only ever be reduced to sex objects if we keep allowing it to happen.

  • BH

    Such a great article! It really inspired me and I could write pages on this topic. The whole sex-sells thing enrages me and I wish women would stop being their own worst enemies. We’ll only ever be reduced to sex objects if we keep allowing it to happen.

  • SCS

    One of the best articles on this issue I have ever read, I just wish I didn’t find it the same day that you posted the Alana Cyclone video.
    On the idea of marketing to young women surfers through pictures of them lying on the beach instead of surfing, they have a double effect of not appealing to those who want to surf, and also discouraging young women who might want to surf by conveying that the “value” is in looking hot in the bikini, not ripping in it.
    Also, I like the conclusion of this article that these issues don’t mean that “the current crop of famous women pros” deserve their positions, but just that there may be others out there who might also but will never be giving the opportunity. Alana frustrates the heck out of me, but I understand that she is following society’s lead and the money. I just hope she really can rip and that there are not ten other girls who could do better but will never get that chance because they either don’t have her ass or don’t want to show it off if they do.

  • http://www.facebook.com/CafePlayaNegra Andrea Raffo

    would it be different if the judges @ contests were women?

  • gurl-in-the-curl

    hi, i think this is very true. i live in indonesia and up till now is still rare to see women standing on the surfboard here. the last few years some local females have been practicing and competing, although their level in surfing are mediocre. however, they’re very enthusiastic and want to be local pro badly (at least to compete in local championship). it’s not easy to join every contest here without sponsor, because u gotta spend a lot money to go traveling around the archipelago. This beauty issue becomes real matter now, as for major sponsors they either must be a ripper, or good looking (it’s ok even if the only thing u can do is just stand and pose on the board).if you’re average on both case, you will go nowhere. Yet the worst thing about that is the beauty image often relates to racist idea for women. as for asian, lighter skin is preferred, and likely easier to get sponsors.