Respect. That’s the word of the day. Always is when the circus hits the North Shore and the “Hawaiian Respect” factor smacks the larger surfing community upside the head. Visiting pros and locals alike repeat the word like a mantra. It is one of the strongest currencies on the Hawaiian surf scene. When you have it you’re golden; when you don’t, you’re just another one of the faceless hordes, clawing and gnashing with the other peons for waves. There are a lot of things you can do to earn respect on the North Shore: charge Pipe for years, win the Triple Crown, surf better than everyone else, fight better than everyone else – or, best of all, know people who fight better than everyone else. But tragically, it seems that the one way you’ll never earn respect on the North Shore, or from the global surfing community as a whole, is by being a woman.
For proof, look no further than the surf media press surrounding Carissa Moore’s recent wildcards into the first two Triple Crown competitions. Or better yet, let me sum it up for you: “Dude, are you scared of losing to a chick?”
Really? “Chick?” We are talking about Carissa Moore. In case you haven’t heard of her, she’s one of the greatest surfers of her generation. On her worst days, she surfs better than all of the men sitting behind microphones and keyboards who have either uttered the word in the sycophantic, verbal wank-sessions they call interviews, or not questioned it when it was uttered by a pro. She is better than Alan Riou, who she beat at Sunset (while finishing third in her heat). For that matter, she’s better than a lot of the guys on the WQS, and if she surfed the men’s World Tour, I would put money on her in perhaps a quarter of her heats – and I’ll stand by that – if the chance should ever arise again for her to compete against men. She also got a diploma from a real high school, which makes her smarter than about 90 percent of those guys as well.
But Carissa Moore is still just “a chick,” and the worst kind, too: the kind that isn’t afraid to compete against men. The low ranking pros, the commentators, and the media hangers-on laugh – oh this silly little chick – but it’s nervous, high-pitched, testicles-in-their-stomach laughter, because they are afraid, threatened, unsure of how to deal with a woman who has invaded their little club. I can smell their nervous sweats from New York, and it’s disgusting.
Now that the heats are over and the PR is done, it’s hard to decide which is worse: a pro surfer like Alain Riou, currently sitting at a whopping 72 in the world rankings paddling down the beach and slinking home after being beaten instead of coming in and congratulating his betters like a man, or some surf blogger asking him “how he slept” the night after the loss. My guess? He slept like little boys who can’t take being beaten by girls always do – with the light on and a teddy bear under his arm.
The real issue here is not that men are scared of losing to women; it’s that they can’t admit when a woman is actually better than them. In many classical sports, it appears that women are at a distinct disadvantage to men due to the differences in strength. If you look at the running records for male and female Olympians, there is no comparison. In 1973, Bobby Riggs came out of retirement at 55 and easily beat the top ranked woman player at the time, Margaret Court (though later lost to Billy Jean King). However, sports that are judged subjectively are an entirely different bag, and while there are some female surfers I can’t stand to watch, the same is true on the men’s side, and I will gladly watch any heat that includes either Moore or Stephanie Gilmore.
The only bright spot in this media mediocrity storm has, for a change, been Sunny Garcia. Garcia, a man who arguably demands more respect in the North Shore lineups than any other pro in the last twenty years, has also been the only one to publicly praise Moore with no asterisks attached. “I thought about how I would handle losing, and I can honestly say that if she beat me, I’d paddle in with my head up, because I would’ve lost to a great surfer,” he told Mike Cianculli for Surfline. Of course, by his own admission he “bullied past” her to get a wave, but that’s completely legit – he would have done it to a guy, too, and if Moore had wanted to beat Garcia badly enough, she wouldn’t have let him. I hope Garcia’s message isn’t lost in the din of snickers coming from the boys club – the one that’s been thanking their lucky stars her name has never (and hopefully will never) appear beside theirs on a heat sheet. That’s respect.