In a landmark announcement on Wednesday, the World Surf League announced that in the 2019 season and beyond, the League will award equal prize money for men and women for all WSL-controlled events.
According to a Wednesday press release, the move makes the WSL, the “first and only U.S.-based global sports league, and among the first internationally, to achieve prize money equality.”
“The WSL is proud of its commitment to gender equality and proud to join other organizations beyond the world of sport reaching this important milestone,” the release goes on.
The WSL recently came under fire for a photo depicting two surfers who each won a junior event in the men’s and women’s divisions respectively in Ballito South Africa – the women’s winner, Zoe Steyn, receiving exactly half the prize money as her counterpart Rio Waida who won the men’s division.
The move also comes as the League is embroiled in an ongoing push for equal pay at a Big Wave Tour event at Maverick’s.
“This is a huge step forward in our long-planned strategy to elevate women’s surfing and we are thrilled to make this commitment as we reveal our new 2019 schedule. This is the latest in a series of actions the League has undertaken to showcase our female athletes, from competing on the same quality waves as the men, to better locations, and increased investment and support,” said WSL CEO Sophie Goldschmidt in the release.
“This change is simply the right thing to do for the WSL and we would like to thank the many advocates who have worked for decades to help advance women’s surfing. We want to be at the forefront of pushing for equality in all walks of life, starting on the waves, and we feel very lucky to have women on our tour who are highly talented, iconic role models, and more than deserve this recognition as they stand alongside our extraordinary male athletes.”
The mechanics of how equal prize money will be doled out given the existing disparities in the number of athletes between men’s and women’s events have yet to be formally announced. Still, the move is a step forward from the “prize purse parity” formula that the WSL (née ASP) instituted back in 2014.
“This is incredible, and I am thrilled,” said six-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore of the news. “The prize money is fantastic, but the message means even more. From the moment current ownership became involved, the situation for the women surfers has been transformed for the better in every way. We have been so appreciative, but this takes it to another level. I hope this serves as a model for other sports, global organizations and society as a whole. My fellow women athletes and I are honored by the confidence in us, and inspired to reward this decision with ever higher levels of surfing.”
Kelly Slater even weighed in. “The women on the tour deserve this change,” he said. “I’m so proud that surfing is choosing to lead sports in equality and fairness. The female WSL athletes are equally committed to their craft as the male athletes and should be paid the same. Surfing has always been a pioneering sport, and this serves as an example of that.”
In addition to changes in prize money, the WSL highlighted three new initiatives set to launch in 2019 to underscore its commitment to women’s surfing, including:
- A global marketing campaign to highlight the women’s tour with a goal of increasing event viewership and fan engagement.
- A local community engagement program for girls around the world, featuring instructional clinics with WSL athletes at each women’s Championship Tour stop to inspire the next generation to embrace surfing.
- A monthly content series about the pioneering women of surfing, celebrating them across WSL channels, starting next week with seven-time World Champion Layne Beachley.
The news was announced in tandem with a press conference in Lemoore in the run-up to the Surf Ranch Pro. Watch here: