Stab Magazine | Is It Time: Are Women Getting Unfairly Paid In Surfing?

Is It Time: Are Women Getting Unfairly Paid In Surfing?

Fair? Sexist? Or just the money-poor WSL trying to save a buck? 

news // Jun 28, 2018
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

In many respects, the gap between men and women in surfing is bridged to an almost unimaginable extent.

Women surf the majority of the same waves on tour, they’re no longer sent out in utter garbage conditions, and in recent years, the difference between the two sexes when it comes to open face turns is nearly indistinguishable.

There is however one gloomingly large difference which remains – competitive pays.

Recently, the Huffington Post  highlighted and discussed the stark difference between the men’s and women’s division at the Ballito Junior Pro.

Rio Waida won the blokes and pocketed a cool R8,000, whereas Zoe Steyn won the women’s and walked away with R4,000 – for those who never understood long division, that’s half the amount her male counterpart earned.

They surf the same waves, on the same days, only surfing one less round and walk away with half the amount of coin, and as is expected in the modern day MeToo arena, there are a few who are rightfully questioning pay the difference.

The Huffington Post, however, did forget to cover the difference between the number of competitors in the male and female divisions.

“Men get double the prize money only because there are double the competitors,” Will Hayden-Smith, the WSL’s Australian Regional Manager told the ABC.

In the case of the Ballito Pro, there were 36 male competitors and only 18 females, therefore, the winners of the men’s comp earn double the amount of coin. The same argument could also be made for the World Tour, where the men’s events also have 36 competitors and the women’s only 18, although the women earn 60 percent of the men’s $100k prize money on the CT as opposed to 50 percent on the QS.

The reasons for this come down to the total prize pool. The WSL ensures that both the male and female competitors have an equal share in the total prize money in their respective fields. For example, if there’s 10 competitor’s in the mens and a $1,000 prize pool, then each competitor has a $100 share each. If it’s the women’s with 5 competitors, then the total prize pool is $500 and the women also have a $100 share each.

Which in some sense, could be considered equal. 

Steph does is just as powerfully and arguably more stylishly than half the men on tour. Photo. WSL/Poullenot

Now, the difference in prize money between the sexes throughout sport is historically large, but now, 83 percent of sports pay equal prize money out – according to an article by Women In Sport.

Surfing is far from one of the worst offenders in the gender gap dispute, regardless, there’s still differences which exist and will likely continue into the future for the foreseeable future.

Is it fair? Is it sexist? Or is it just the money-poor WSL trying to save a buck, let’s discuss.

Reasons why it might be fair

Let’s be brutally honest, aside from there been a difference in the number of competitors between the two fields, the women don’t surf as good as the men. Look up WNBA, Tennis and Golf – especially WNBA – women don’t play basketball like men.

And at the end of it all, the WSL is just live surfing entertainment, where one could argue that the form of entertainment is the surfing itself and not the competition between the two or more people out there.

If the men are more exciting to watch, then perhaps it’s fair that they are paid more money at the completion of the event.

Furthermore, the men’s competition generally gathers more viewers than the women’s competition. And while this may not be due to the men being more entertaining – it could be due to the WSL’s audience being more males than females – it’s undeniable the men’s competition is worth more in value terms that the women’s competition.  

Another potential argument, directly related to the number of competitors, is the number of heats they surf. For instance, in the Ballito comp, the men surfed five and the women four. And on the World Tour the men surf a maximum of seven heats, whereas the women surf a maximum of six.

It doesn’t quite warrant half or 60 percent of the pay, but potentially, someone could argue that less surfing would result in less pay.

In the QS however, the women typically pay a lower entry fee than that of the men. For example, at the Manly Pro in March a men’s entry fee was $250, whereas a women’s was only $150, which is argued to try and counteract the difference in payouts. But in some sense, could also be used for a justification.

Reasons why it might not be fair

Yes, the men surf better, surf one extra heat and have more competitors in the field than the women, but what exactly are we paying the competitors for?

Considering it’s a competition, one could argue that the surfers should be paid on the effort they put into competition. And as was mentioned earlier, the men and women put in near equal amounts of effort into their heats to get through. A slight discrepancy may be warranted, but the one which currently exists might not.

Additionally, sports like tennis have had equal pay for a number of years now, and have similar discrepancies – there’s a maximum of five sets in the men’s and only three in the women.

“My sister’s better than half the blokes on the [QS]” Mikey Wright on his sister’s surfing abilities. Photo. WSL/Sloane

Another defence is that there’s less interest in the women’s QS events than there are male.

“The demand is simply not there,” Will Hayden-Smith said.

“We usually have waiting list of about four surfers waiting to get into the women’s competition. On the men’s side we have about 30-40 on the waiting list.” Will Hayden-Smith told the ABC.

But this is clearly not the case when it comes to the Women’s World Tour.

Yes, there’s less competitors now, but there’s a QS full of women surfers dying to get on the CT, at least enough to fill the field out to 36 if the WSL wished to do so.


At this stage the pays are unequal, and unlike the discrepancies between some sports such as AFL and football, is comparably minor. There’s also no clear cut answer or solution to the issue, one which will likely continue to simmer over the next few weeks, months and possibly years.


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