The World Surf League has announced that it will adopt the transgender policy of the International Surfing Association (ISA) across all its tours. It will go into effect immediately.
The policy, which the ISA first released in October of 2022, requires athletes who are assigned male at birth to maintain a testosterone level less than 5 nmol/L (nanomoles per liter) continuously for the previous 12 months to be eligible to compete in a women’s event.
“The WSL is working hard to balance equity and fairness and it’s important for a policy to be in place,” WSL Chief of Sport Jessi Miley-Dyer told The Inertia. “We recognize that the policy may need to evolve over time as we get feedback and see new research in the field.”
While the topic of how to classify transgender surfers has swept across all sports, the pressure to develop a policy for surfing was intensified when transgender surfer Sasha Jane Lowerson won the women’s open and the logger divisions of the Western Australian Longboard State Titles in May of 2022. She was the first openly transgender athlete to win a surfing competition.
According to Miley-Dyer, WSL leadership, including herself, and WSL Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Allan MacKillop, jointly made the decision regarding the policy.
“We’ve been in a lot of conversations with a lot of different stakeholder groups,” said Miley-Dyer, when explaining the policy selection process that took place in past months. “And we recognize the ISA took a very deliberate approach.”
As far as how the WSL will confirm that an athlete has met the eligibility requirements, the responsibility of testing will be with each athlete.
“The WSL will not test transgender athletes [for testosterone levels] ourselves,” explained Miley-Dyer. “Athletes will arrange their own testing, then come to our chief medical officer to have a confidential conversation and show medical documentation.”
Miley-Dyer acknowledged that the policies already created by other Olympic sports were evaluated when deciding what approach would be most “appropriate” for surfing.
The testosterone threshold established by the WSL and ISA parallels the policies created by World Rowing and the International Tennis Federation. While many Olympic sports still do not have any official policy, the rules for surfing could be considered among the least stringent released thus far.
For example, World Triathlon and the International Cycling Union require transgender athletes to test below 2.5 nmol/L for 24 months to be eligible. World Athletics is proposing to use the same approach. The International Swimming Federation and World Rugby have implemented policies that essentially ban transgender women from competing in a women’s division.
To put testosterone levels in context, average levels range between 10 and 35 nmol/L in men, and 0.5 and 2.4 nmol/L in women, according to Mount Sinai Hospital.
Now that the WSL and ISA have aligned on a transgender policy that covers all Olympic qualifying events, one can imagine that the same policy will be extended to the Olympic surfing competition itself, too. However, no official announcement as such has been made and Miley-Dyer noted that ultimately this decision belongs to the ISA.