I recently listened to a recap of the year’s ‘CT events on a favorite surf podcast of mine. The difference between the enthusiasm levels when talking about the men’s events compared to the women’s was obvious in their voices. One presenter was clearly not at all interested in the women’s competition. To be fair, he made some really good points. He was brutally honest as he asked his co host “You like watching NBA right?…. So why aren’t you watching women’s NBA too?”
It’s a fair question. He summed it up by reminding us we want to watch the best in the world, right? That’s true. We want to see the best surfers in the world surfing the best waves in the world. To be brutally honest, while all of the ladies on tour surf better than myself, some of their heats are less than inspiring. But the same can be said about some of the men’s heats too.
So why the lack of interest in women’s surfing? Is the standard that low? I don’t think so. I would much rather watch Carissa Moore, Tyler Wright, Courtney Conologue or Steph Gilmore surf a heat than some of the men on tour. I think they surf better and with more style than a chunk of the guys. Women’s surfing has improved and grown massively in the last 15 years. But at a time when the WSL and major surf brands are expanding their empire and doing their best to increase surfing’s audience you’d think the women’s market would be the obvious money maker. One could argue it is, it’s just being marketed in the wrong way, and that is hurting women’s surfing.
As a surf school owner I can tell you that more than half of our students are women. The popularity of movies like Blue Crush and Soul Surfer play large roles in that. Every young lady that signs up wants to be the next Kelia Moniz as well as being part of the sisterhood. Roxy is arguably the biggest female specific surf brand. Their marketing strategy is not quite as explicit as Rip Curl and Billabongs women’s series, as Roxy tends to be more lifestyle orientated while selling a vision of health, endless summers, longboards and surfing till sunset like Kelia. It’s pretty similar to the way men’s surfing is sold to us. I get it, I’d buy into that.
Some of the other brands go for a slightly different approach. Who’s the best surfer on Rip Curl’s women’s team? Without a doubt it’s Tyler Wright. She rips. She’s hardcore. So why does she hardly appear in their adds? Why do I walk past the Rip Curl store near Main Street and see Alana Blanchard’s butt staring at me? Therein lies the problem. Women’s surfing is sold as sex, hot girls and bikinis. Ultimately damaging the sport.
The money and brand advertising is put in the wrong places. Silvana Lima was recently interviewed by the BBC where she stated she couldn’t get sponsored because she wasn’t pretty enough. So being the best women’s surfer in Brazil wasn’t enough? That’s horrible! Without naming names, there are many surfers on the women’s CT who are incredibly average and no where near the standard of a world tour athlete. They are there because they sell bikinis. These girls are slowing down the progression, performance and hard work of the more talented ladies on tour.
Industry brands should be concentrating on the high level performers, not the best looking. Imagine if it worked that way with the men. In some light you could argue it does, to a certain extent. With that said I just walked past Quiksilver and saw a full window spread of Mikey Wright with a mullet pulling a front side grab. That just makes me want to go to Indo and improve my surfing. I don’t care what trunks he’s wearing and I definitely don’t want that mullet. Let’s have the young ladies looking at the adverts and saying I want to do that not I want to look like that. The long term benefits are clear to see.
In their short sighted, profit focused strategies, surf brands are hurting and holding back the limits of women’s surfing. If the sport has to be sold then let’s sell it the way it deserves to be sold.
But what do I know? I’m just a man.