Readers Response: Sexualisation In Surfing

A few weeks ago we published an article called How to solve a problem like surfers not sex symbols, which you car read here. The topic sparked debate on social media and various reader responses. One of which was from Jessica Jackson, who got in touch with an essay on some of her thoughts on the matter:

In a recent interview with surfer Silvanna Lima she stated that for the first 13 years of her surfing career she wasn’t sponsored as she wasn’t deemed ‘hot enough’.  Skateboarder Leticia Bufoni has also reported she doesn’t have a sponsor because some big skateboard companies will not sponsor girls and the women’s US National Soccer team is working hard to receive the same amount of pay the men’s team do, gender equality and sexism has been a hot topic in the media lately.
However it has become increasingly difficult in terms of surfing. I’ve recently, successfully, defended my Master’s Project entitled Hashtag Skater Girl: Popular Culture and Extreme Sports, which spoke about how girls are treated in extreme sports, why those extreme sports aren’t seen in the media as much as they were in the 90s and 2000s, and how to change the way women and these sports are perceived. (Of course one remedy would be to bring surfing back into the X-Games for a more mainstream viewing, but I digress). Despite the project focusing mostly on skateboarding and snowboarding, surfing was a big part of the project as well. One of the biggest portions of mention was the cash prizes awarded in competitions as well as how the competitions available for women are significantly different from men. Within the sport of surfing, it was the sexism within advertisements that had become a big issue.

Most of my research came through online advertisements and I’ve found, much like others, advertisements for the sport come more form a modeling perspective. As athletes within the sport are typically in their bathing suits it is not uncommon to find that it is the suit and the lifestyle it represents rather than the sport that is represented. As was mentioned in Wavelength’s earlier article Alana Blanchard has control over her brand and image and is a model as well as a professional surfer. I want to make to make it clear that there is a difference between a surfer who has gone into modelling as part of her brand compared to a company that is trying to sell the sport with those who are simply models. Women like Alana who choose to create their own image and brand within surfing as well as modelling are in control of their brand and should continue to have that voice.
It does pose the question of what can be changed. Of course these following examples are not end-all be-all ideas that will definitely work to change things. Time needs to be given and ideas need to be formed and implemented to remedy the sexism and sexualization within the sport. The first thing that has to be recognised, however, is that when you’re in a sport that typically has a bathing suit as an attire there will be some people that will look at the athletes as an object and others as an athlete.
That being said there are some things that can remedy this. One thing for sure is that the companies that are creating these advertisements need to focus more on broadcasting the sport rather than those who are in the sport. Take more action shots; get photos of the surfers on the beach getting their equipment ready, stretching, psyching themselves up as well as being on the wave. It is the shots of the surfers charging large waves and riding the face that captures attention. In this case it should take a page out of print advertising where the large picture captures your attention rather than what the surfer is wearing.

- WSL / Kirstin Scholtz

– WSL / Kirstin Scholtz

Have more woman led companies or companies for women that advertise for these sports. If people see there are more companies that have products geared towards women who are endorsers and sponsors for these women surfers then they can’t be turned away because ‘they’re not hot enough’ or ‘the brand/company doesn’t want to hire girls’. These women are role models for young girls who want to get into surfing, so being able to have products that are geared towards them sponsoring or even creating more events will be a step forward. Adding into this is pay; as we’ve seen from other avenues women are not being paid what men in these sports are and are typically living off of a stipend—or a ‘flow’, which results in them moving into modelling (or other jobs) to continue to make a living within surfing. The more women surfer gets paid, the less they’d need to move into modelling as well. (Again, I am not saying anything against those that do decide to do this because it is something they choose to do with their career). Conclusively the marketing of the lifestyle—always on the beach and wearing nothing but bathing suits—shouldn’t be focused on so much as the sport itself. Type in ‘surfing advertisement’ into Google and you’ll find more picture of women sitting on boards or pictured in a bikini rather than actually surfing. Getting a deeper understanding into how these companies market and advertise will aid in a way to change it as well.
Outside peers are a big part of this as well. It is those people who go into a comment section to mention—and only mention—the look of an athlete rather than the talent she had within the sport, it backs the idea that sex sells. Of course this is something that will most likely not be completely combated, but changing comments from focusing on appearances to the talent showcased will help. Especially seeing it publicly which will then cause a paradigm shift. Is this to suggest that women don’t enjoy looking at men in the same way? Not at all. But male surfers aren’t judged primarily on their looks rather than talent, within surfing.
A change that can be made soon is the further inclusion of surfing within pop culture. Speaking from a POV of the United States, the only time surfing can be seen on television is when contests that have already been contested air on TV. Otherwise viewing has to be done via livestream. If there were more opportunities to watch competitions live, such as bringing it back to the XGames, as well as more television shows, books, and movies centered around the topic of the sport, the women’s talent can be seen more often.
Bringing in slow changes in advertising from the inside of companies, whether it be by hiring models that are professional surfers as well, having a wider range of female product-based advertisement, or merely changing how people speak about women’s surfing, as well as hiring those based primarily on their talent, are a few of the tools that can be implemented to change the sexualization within surfing.

Words Jessica Jackson

Cover Photo courtesy of WSL /  Kelly Cestari