Why women’s surfing will never be a good as men’s

6X World Champion Stephanie Gilmore on her way to winning the Roxy Pro. Pic: WSL / Cestari

The WSL roadshow rolled into the Gold Coast last week and so began the first ‘CT event of the year. The stage was set, the flags raised and, for the first time in far too long, there was swell.

It’s taken me a while to get my head around so forgive me if, in this 24 hour news cycle world, you’ve moved on already but I think I’ve stumbled upon the real reason that women’s surfing still lags behind men’s. Sure, it could be the fact that most companies prefer to sponsor models over athletes or that training opportunities are limited or any of the many other valid reasons but I think it’s as simple as the fact that the surf industry, which is still largely dominated by men, simply doesn’t give a shit.

Lakey Peterson winning her semifinal at the Roxy Pro. Pic: WSL / Cestari

I came to this conclusion while watching the women’s finals on Sunday. With decent conditions and featuring an in-form Lakey Peterson against Steph Gilmore on the comeback trail, the final was set to be a nail-biter. Lakey, who missed half of the 2016 season due to a broken ankle and Steph, who was struggling to get back in form following a knee injury at Margaret River in 2015, both have stories worth exploring but you’d be forgiven for missing this in the commentary.

“It’s a pretty amazing comeback isn’t it?”

“Yeah, this time last year, he could hardly walk…”

WAIT! What?! He? Surely you mean she? Oh, no. You do mean he. You’re talking about the final that matters. You know, the men’s one. Not the one that is happening RIGHT NOW! Let’s cut to the beach where some random dude (I follow women’s surfing, maybe he’s a someone. I just don’t know who) is vox popping the crowd.

“Who do you think is going to win? Owen or Wilko? Owen… Owen… Owen… ok, let’s hear from the crowd, ‘who’s going to win the final?” “OWEN!!!!”

What the!? THE FINAL IS ON AND OWEN AND WILKO AREN’T IN IT!!!

Back with the commentators and during the insightful chat on the beach we’ve missed one of Lakey’s waves. But who cares right? It’s just the women.

Look. If the WSL commentators and the wider surf industry don’t give a shit about women’s surfing, how can the average punter? The whole farce becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. The industry thinks no-one wants to watch/listen/support women’s surfing so they don’t support it so Joe Blow doesn’t see it and get engaged with it so doesn’t care, so the industry does next to nothing to support its development and continues to promote women as eye candy and towel holders rather than athletes worthy of commentary.

I’m a big fan of the WSL and am glad of the advancements the new structure has brought to women’s surfing but we can still do better. Talking about the women while they’re on, about the history of the event, about other women who’ve won and perhaps even (gasp) having a female guest commentator are pretty simple steps to take. Until we get the same support and avenues for betterment, women’s surfing will never be at the same level as men’s.