Blatant sexism in junior surfing

Ballito Pro surfing competition and Billabong come under fire for massive sexist oversight


Hot on the leg rope of the first women’s big wave competition in Puerto Escondido where women were awarded 1/7th of the men’s prize money, there is global outrage over the 2018 Billabong Junior Series Ballito Pro Junior.


Rio Waida (Indonesia) and Zoe Steyn (East London, SA) claimed their first victory in South Africa but sadly it wasn’t their awesome surfing that is gaining the attention of the world. It is the massive oversight of the event organisers and leading sponsor Billabong that think it is OK to value girls less than the boys. Zoe was awarded half the prize money that Rio won. Same competition, same waves, same rules. The controversy is being discussed all over the web:



Facebook users edited the image to make their point…

Ballito Pro sexist billabong in surfing


As did the satirical surf Instagram account, Rinsed Magazine from Surfer Mag


sexist billabong in surfing


The comments seem to have taken the organisers by surprise. The Ballito Pro took copying and pasting the same answer to everyone’s comments, passing the buck and tagging the World Surfing League as the sports organising body. Parents, surf fans and general decent humans living in 2018 were, however, quick to point out that both the Ballito Pro and its sponsors should have never allowed this to happen. They should have stood up for inequality especially, ESPECIALLY when it is so blatantly targeted at young impressionable children.


Ballito Pro sexist billabong in surfing


It is not the first time that Billabong has been slammed publicly for their sexist treatment of women surfers. In 2017 Karen Knowlton wrote an open letter titled ‘F**k you Billabong. Seriously f**k you!” for portraying women surfers as sex objects when they portray men as strong athletes.


While Billabong probably did not actively craft a sponsorship association that resulted in this sexist world-reaching message, they did not do their due diligence to stop it. And that in the opinion of mums, fathers, surfers and decent human the world over, is just not good enough.


Head over to the Ballito Pro Facebook page and winner photo to view the discussion and comment.



Response from WSL

The WSL official statement on their website says very little other than they have worked for equal par parity at the championship level and are in the process of instituting across other disciplines.

More detail is provied in the ABC on Triple J World Surf League responds to viral photo showing unequal pay in surfing, copied below:


WSL Australia/Oceania Regional Manager Will Hayden-Smith told Hack the Ballito Pro photo “on first glance does look like a huge disparity”.

“It highlights an issue, but it’s a very complicated one,” he said.

The WSL argument comes down to the concept of prize-money-per-surfer, which it says shows the equality of pay between male and female competitors.

It works like this: say there are 10 surfers competing for a total pot of $100 in prize money. That works out to a ratio of $10-per-surfer. The winner gets $50, and the runners up get the rest.

Now say there is a female competition of five surfers. At the same ratio of $10-per-surfer, the total prize money is $50. The winner gets only $25.

That was the case at the Ballito Pro, the WSL said. There were twice as many male surfers as female ones: 36 compared to 18. To keep the same money-per-surfer ratio for men and women, the prize money for the female winner had to be half as much as the men.

“Men get double the prize money only because there are double the competitors,” Will Hayden-Smith said.

The same thing happens at Australian junior surfing events.

“In Australia, the prize money at a junior event is $2,500 for women and $5,000 for men. In the men’s field we have 64 surfers and in the women’s field we have 24.”

The solutions to this would be to either just scrap the ratio system that leads to female winners competing for less, or to increase the number of female surfers to match that of the men.

The WSL said that neither were options right now.

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

“We usually have a waiting list of about four surfers to get into the women’s competition.”

“On the men’s side we have about 30-40 on the waiting list.

“If the demand was there on the women’s side we would expand the draws.”



Many have thought this to be a weak response from the WSL who highlight the process is not perfect but also limited the number of female competitors. One argument is that if the prize money was more equal and attractive to the women, there would be a greater chance of attracting more competitors.


If the WSL need to work out prize money in a mathematical sense (note that prize money is determined before the number of entrants is confirmed and forms part of a sponsor’s commitments), another possible method could be to look at the rounds surfed. As surfing is not a tournament where you face each and every competitor, the men, and the women surf a similar number of rounds against the same number of competitors e.g. 4 surfers in round 1, 3 surfers in round 2, 2 in the quarterfinals etc. In the specific case of the Ballito Pro, the boys surfed 5 rounds to the girls 4. So if ratios must be taken into account, one could argue that the amount of surfing rounds should play a role in determining the monetary prize. Especially when the number of women’s and men’s entrants are capped (as is the prize money!).

I would however propose prize money is fixed up-front by the sponsor and used to attract both male and female competitors in an equal fashion. Making surfing competitive attractive to women with prize money that might cover just half of their flight to get there is a damn good start.



Response from Billabong & Ballito Pro

Update 28/06/08

The Ballito Pro responded to the conversation on their Facebook page with the following comment on behalf of the event and Billabong:


“The event organisers of The Ballito Pro, presented by Billabong, and representatives of Billabong, have noted the concerns raised regarding the apparent discrepancy in prize money between the girls’ and boys’ division for the Billabong Junior Series.

“The Ballito Pro maintains its stance as a pro-gender equality competition, which is evident from the ongoing development of the women’s series year-on-year,” said festival organisers. “Based on this commitment to equality, we are meeting with all relevant stakeholders to discuss how any potential discrepancies can be resolved going forward.

“We are grateful to everyone who brought awareness to this issue and we value all the contribution, comment and participation that has prompted discussions, at the highest level, for a speedy resolution.

“The World Surf League (WSL) is the sanctioning body for WSL-aligned surfing events such as The Ballito Pro. The WSL implements certain criteria to determine surf ratings and prize money, and we have formally requested a detailed outline of this process for future discussion.”

Chad D Arcy, event license holder of the Billabong Junior Series, stated: “Billabong has always been actively invested in and supportive of women’s surfing in South Africa. We’ve proudly watched women’s surfing grow over the years, in part thanks to the host of women’s events we’ve run. For many years, we’ve sponsored a team of female athletes, nurturing their careers in surfing from an early age.

“In order for any professional surf event to be internationally accredited, it has to be sanctioned by the WSL. The WSL also determines the allocation of prize money and points for each event.

“As a brand, Billabong is, in every way, committed to gender equality and will continue to support the growth and progression of women’s surfing in South Africa.”



It’s sad to read the word ‘potential discrepancies’ in their statement. As if they didn’t believe these were real discrepancies.


It was also sad to hear that the same event which stated above is a ‘pro-gender equality competition’, ran the whole women’s QS 1000 event in one day despite an allocated one-week event window. The women were given 20-minute heats while the men got 30minutes. The women’s event was also capped at 32 surfers. Congratulations to Sofia Mulanovich and our friend Phillipa Anderson who got 1st and 2nd respectively. Both girls had to surf 5 heats in one day so they could ‘make way for the men’s’. While the women athletes say it was great to have another QS event especially running alongside the best men in the world (a QS 10,000 event), the women were not given proper consideration. Phillipa won $300 for her efforts.


In closing the sentiments on this article I think journalist Clementine Ford nailed the issue in the context of the bigger picture perfectly in her article for the Sydney Morning Herald titled Same waves, half the prize money: why this photo is a disgrace


This is what all too many people don’t understand when they deny the depths to which sexism operates to keep women from succeeding in areas traditionally considered to be the realm of men. Women’s sports are “boring”, so we won’t pay them as much. Women should just try harder to do “men’s jobs”, but we’ll denigrate their attempts so that they feel unwelcome and unqualified. If women want equality, they should do the hard and dangerous stuff that men do but we’ll make sure to gang up on them until they quit and then say it’s just that they couldn’t hack the pace.

The impact of sexism on women’s careers is about so much more than legislation and formalised pay grades. By repeatedly sending the message that certain pursuits are masculine and that women trying to involve themselves are just obnoxious interlopers, society enables the continued disadvantage of those not privileged by gender. It’s not good enough for large corporations such as Billabong to need the public to point out these obvious inequalities, nor does it reflect well on the general make-up of those institutions that discrimination like this is seen as so standard that literally no-one thinks to challenge it.



What do you think? leave your comments below.


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  1. Not cool. What sort of message does this send to little girls – that they are not good enough. That boys will grown up thinking they are superior to women. WTF!


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