J.P. Currie recently wrote his provocative opinion piece in which he claimed that the women’s event at Jaws doesn’t represent progress for women’s surfing. I couldn’t disagree with him more. While the event was certainly not the first time in history that women paddled out to Jaws, it was the first time women had the kind of media and monetary support behind them to do so.
Bear with me here, but from where I’m sitting, it looks like the women are actually outdoing the men. Let’s step back and look at the big picture, rather than comparing women directly to what men are doing right now. When Jaws was first paddled in 2010, only two men were able to do it. It wasn’t until two years later that another man successfully paddled a wave at Jaws. When seen in this light, four women catching waves at Jaws is better than anything the men did in the early days of paddle-in surfing. Men get injured on big waves all the time, and we don’t make a big deal of it. Injuries will happen when you push yourself harder—whether you’re male or female.
Men have been financially supported to hone their abilities at diverse big breaks for years, while women who have had the desire and the guts to go for big waves have had to do so with no glory, fewer women in their female crew to cheer them on (and back them up if they wipe out), and no financial support to chase the next swell. Women’s surfing doesn’t have to be the same as men’s surfing, but to claim that women can’t surf on the same playing field is a little silly, and myopic at best.
In some sports women have actually been the ones to set the standard. The first person to ever climb El Capitan free was a woman – Lynn Hill. She did what no other man had done before her, a task some thought impossible. Who knows what new standards women will set now that they’ve been given some money and legitimacy to do so. As a rock climber and surfer, seeing women charging Jaws inspired me – to try for bigger waves, to test myself. When you only have men as your mode of comparison, you may dream smaller. After Jaws, I feel like I can dream bigger.
Women who have pushed the boundaries of their fields have been accused of striving for masculinity. This is a charge lobbied against the first suffragists, the first scientists, and the first writers and painters who dared to make their voices and their talents heard and seen. I suppose it is not shocking that the first women to take their talents to the big wave stage would similarly face charges that they are “striving for masculinity.”
Will women ever surf bigger waves then the men? I don’t know. Women have different advantages and disadvantages. Rather than assuming that equality can’t be achieved, why don’t we wait and see, and appreciate what women can do, on their own terms?