The Inertia for Good Editor

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The Inertia

The California Coastal Commission delivered a letter to the American Longboard Association (ALA) this week regarding a ban of transgender women from competing in the women’s division of its upcoming HB Pro contest in Huntington Beach. In the letter, the Commission pointed to language within the Coastal Act that a ban wouldn’t be in compliance with its public access, recreation, and environmental justice policies. The stance taken by the Commission marks another point in the divide regarding the inclusion of transgender athletes.

The recent conflict arose when surfer Sasha Jane Lowerson contacted the event’s organizer Todd Messick to ask if spots were available for her to compete in the May 11 event. Messick didn’t respond to her inquiry but she says he did share a video online the next day stating the event needed more women to participate. That prompted Lowerson to submit her entry and the required fee. Then, on April 25, Messick shared another video publicly stating ALA’s policy on including transgender surfers, although he reportedly still hadn’t communicated with Lowerson.

“I do want to make clear that our policy is very much in line with the ISA,” he said in his statement. “Right now, we’re going to support biological males and biological females in their divisions respectively. If you are born a female, you enter into the women’s. If you are born a male, you enter into the men’s. You guys can live however you want to do in life. That’s not for me to decide. It is for me to decide what’s fair and not fair for the American Longboarding Association.”

But the ISA policy Messick referred to was rolled out in 2023 and laid a path for transgender athletes who meet specific testing criteria to compete in the gender-based division they identify as. Surf Equity’s Sabrina Brennan was alerted of Messick’s policy by another advocate. She then contacted Messick and directed him to review the ISA policy but didn’t hear back. Brennan soon decided to bring the matter to the California Coastal Commission.

“Wow! What a way to turn this whole thing around to support your narrative,” Messick wrote on social media after Surf Equity posted about the ALA’s transgender policy, doubling down on his stance regarding the contest. “The American Longboard Association is All about supporting All Humans Equally, With Love & Acceptance! SashaJane is Welcome to Surf Any of our Events in Her Biological Division. We welcome & Encourage Her & Every other transgender Athlete to Do The Same. Make A Stand For Who You Are & Stay True To Your Mission. This Planet is the Most Unequal Planet in the Universe. Race, Religion, Financial. All of It! Our Stand Is Simple. Love & Acceptance.”

Meanwhile, Brennan continued pushing for the Commission to take action and had a meeting with officials at their regional office.

“I didn’t have to make a big scene about it or present a bulletproof case,” Brennan told The Inertia. “They (the Commission) understand the coast is for everyone. The ocean is for everyone. Some guy can’t block access based on somebody’s gender identity.”

Finally, on May 7, the Commission sent a letter to Messick after they’d apparently spoken to him.

“In our conversation, you committed to following the ISA transgender policy rule and allowing transgender women to compete in the women’s division if they can demonstrate they meet the criteria outlined in the ISA policy,” it reads. “Following through with this commitment and ensuring an inclusive and safe competition space for all competitors will allow for equitable access to coastal waters and will ensure that the event is consistent with the public access, recreation, and environmental justice policies of the Coastal Act. It will also qualify the event for a temporary event exemption under the Coastal Act. Thus no additional authorization will be required from the Commission.”

The Commission’s letter points out that Messick’s and the ALA’s initial stance (stated on April 25) concerning transgender athletes wasn’t consistent with the Coastal Act or the ISA or WSL policies that address equal access. The Commission cited Section 30013 of the Coastal Act, which states that “no person in the State of California, on the basis of race, national origin, ethnic group identification, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, color, genetic information, or disability, shall be unlawfully denied full and equal access to the benefits of, or be unlawfully subjected to discrimination under any program or activity that is conducted, operated, or administered pursuant to this division…” 

The Coastal Commission plans and regulates the use of land and water in coastal zones.

We reached out to Todd Messick for comment or further clarification but have yet to receive a response.

After news of the letter was made public Wednesday, Lowerson told The Inertia she still had not been contacted about entry into the May 11 contest. Either way, she’s decided not to enter.

The Australian athlete, who was born intersex, worked with Surfing Australia to establish its policy addressing the inclusion of transgender athletes in competitions, boardrider clubs, and more. In 2022, she made international headlines when she won the Women’s Open and the Logger divisions of the Western Australian State Titles. That moment quickly prompted the ISA to adopt its current policy, with the WSL following suit shortly after — a decision the League acknowledged in 2022 “may need to evolve over time as we get feedback and see new research in the field.”

In 2023, Lowerson publicly shared for the first time that she was born intersex — a term describing people born with reproductive anatomy that doesn’t fit the binary designations of male and female gender. According to many sources, including the National Library of Medicine, the Center for American Progress, and the United Nations, about 1.7 percent of the human population is born intersex.

In Lowerson’s case, she tells The Inertia she didn’t enter puberty until her late 20s and doctors didn’t learn she had been born intersex until years later. When they performed a non-invasive scan they noticed the scar tissue from a procedure performed at birth without her parents knowing.

“I kept that to myself for a few years because I felt that it would muddy the waters,” explaining that she worried policymakers would take her specific experience as an exception to the rule. “‘We’ll let Sasha surf,'” she reasoned, “‘but we won’t let the other transgender surfers surf (that aren’t intersex).'”

Although the shaper and surfer has entered the public eye the past two years, she says she has no designs on being a professional surfer, or to take anybody’s spot in contests.

“I don’t go in them (contests) to win,” she said. “I go in them to hang out and meet people. But they’ve kind of become pretty shit now. I can surf good enough and I just go in the events when it suits, I’m not trying to qualify.”


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