Surfer/Writer/TEDx Speaker
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Coco Ho, fins free. Photo: Nike 6.0

Coco Ho, fins free. Photo: Nike 6.0


The Inertia

As I scrolled through my Twitter feed, I came across an exchange between Cori Shumacher and Coco Ho, two female surfers. They were discussing an interview Ho gave for the February issue of Surfing Magazine. In the article, Ho said something that ruffled a few feathers:

We’re doing pretty well as female surfers — I don’t think we deserve more yet. The feminists are going to kill me, but all I’m saying is, right now, we don’t deserve as much as the guys. In some jobs, women totally deserve as much because they’re doing the same work. We’re doing the same job as guys but at a different level. Our competitive level is slowly getting where it needs to be and the prize money is following. We don’t need to be out there petitioning and fighting because it’s already happening. It’s growing at the right pace.

Cori Shumacher, three-time world longboard champion and avid women’s rights supporter, was upset. She felt this comment was a step backwards for women.

The article, titled “So Ho,” is an interview with siblings Coco and Mason Ho. While Coco Ho’s comments struck me, there was something more: the content of each interview. Coco’s interview focused on her body and her boyfriend, while Mason’s interview was about his career and his surfing. This disparity, as well as Coco Ho’s notion that female surfers don’t deserve as much as men, got me thinking.

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The sentence in question.

The sentence in question.

Coco Ho is from a generation of women who have the luxury of not knowing the fight women fought in the past to play sports and be taken seriously as competitors. She benefits from women like marathon runner Katherine Switzer, who was the first woman to run in the Boston Marathon. Or rower Chris Ernst who, along with her teammates, stood up to Yale’s athletic department for not following Title IX. There are many more women to add to the list, but the important take away is they all fought to give women a voice in sport.

These women paved the way for Coco Ho to become a professional surfer. They did it by being fierce competitors and demanding the same opportunities afforded to men. As a professional surfer and a role model to female athletes, Ho must understand the power of her words and the message it sends, whether intentional or not. Saying women don’t deserve as much as men can easily be misconstrued by both someone who wants to oppose the advancement of women and by young girls or women who read her words and interpret them to mean that because she is a girl she is not as valued as highly a man.

I agree with Coco Ho’s position that female surfing is progressing, but that can easily be derailed. The surfing industry is less kind to women. Male surfers get more endorsement opportunities than female surfers. Advertisements geared toward women tend to feature models, not athletes. Men are prominently featured in most surf movies while the few female surfers who get featured in movies often get bit parts.

Words are very powerful and can undermine a cause as easily as the can promote one. The surfing community is a richer place with more diversity. We need to work together to preserve the place women have earned (and rightly deserve) in the sport of surfing.

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