The Shannon Reporting interview
A recognisable face on the production team for WSL Big Wave Tour, Shannon Quirk has long been fighting a battle behind the scenes to help get women’s big wave surfing to where it is now. A place where women can compete and earn a living along side the men, surfing the same waves.
North Shore, Hawaii: As we walked the one block from the Freesurf Magazine house to Velzyland Beach, Shannon and I caught up on the recent quality of waves and breaks we’ve been sneaking off to, between editing stories. Her long blond hair blowing and perfect cheek bones would have made me jealous if she wasn’t just so damn cool, humble, and down to earth!
Sitting down to watch the crazy mixed up swell, creating rip-able walls at freddyland, we said “howzit” to a few surfers we both recognized. Then the voice recorder came on. I could have talked story with Shannon for hours!
I didn’t have that many female role models and I want that to change for future generations… I never saw females in the magazines. They just weren’t represented. That drives me to put more spotlight on women so that little girls can grow up with those female role models.
Before graduating from UCLA with a degree in journalism, Shannon Quirk was already becoming “Shannon Reporting”. Her first job, a photographer and photo intern for Transworld Snowboarding. Ten years later, after creating The Surf Channel Television Network and announcing for the WSL Big Wave Tour, she is now the managing editor for Freesurf Magazine.
It all started for Shannon right after graduation. She took a camera and her degree, and booked a one way ticket to South America. Having studied both photography and Spanish Literature, with a background as a competitive snowboarder, she was able to make a living taking snowboard photos and guiding in the backcountry of Argentina.
As a woman committed to pitching female stories and advancing the female voice in an industry run by mostly men, Shannon had a lot to say regarding the recent shakeup coming out of the Mavericks competition and controversy around equal pay for male and female athletes.
Listen in as Shannon dishes the dirt on surfing big-wave mecca Nazaré, living like a nomad, sexism in the surfing industry, and how she stays so vibrantly healthy!
After spending ten years always moving, never knowing if she would be home for Christmas, while reporting on big swells across the globe, Shannon admits she’s now ready for stability. She landed a new role as Managing editor of Freesurf Magazine and she couldn’t be more stoked. She said:
“I hit a wall at some point. I’m 30 and I have this dream job – covering the swell and taking advantage of surfing all these big wave spots. But I’m finally feeling the need to be more settled. I still flow with the waves. If there is a big swell, I’m up early to shoot or surf. When there are no waves, I need a morning routine. I need to know where I’m going to sleep every night.”
On surfing big waves – Nazaré
Although Shannon is a regular at Sunset Beach, Oahu, she also spends a large part of her year charging big barrels in Puerto Escondido. Of course she does, growing up in NorCal, Mavericks was the closest break to her home and Ocean Beach was her home break. But the crown jewel of big waves according the Shannon? Nazaré!
Nazaré pushes me a lot. I really like surfing there because I feel like there is no place that’s harder than Nazaré. First it’s harder to surf cold water. Its harder to get motivated. Everything hurts more! It pushes you to be your best, to go train harder, to be the healthiest you can be.
After starting the The Surf Channel Television Network, Shannon began working under the leadership of Gary Linden on the Big Wave World Tour, before it was purchased by the ASP in 2013, and later became the WSL Big Wave Tour. When she started announcing for the big wave competitions, she knew she was onto something:
“I felt like it was where I was going to thrive the most. It was pushing the limits of everything I was doing before. The people that surf the big wave tour are special. I found it very motivating and inspiring. I want to surround myself with people that give me that energy.”
Alongside Gary Linen, they talked about constructing a qualifying series for the Big Wave World Tour, similar to the qualifying system already seen for regular WSL events. Their vision was overturned when the WSL (then the ASP), purchased the big wave tour. Shannon and Gary’s idea was to have places like Todos Santos, Mexico and other friendlier big wave spots as stops on the big wave tour QS. This would give particularly for women, opportunities to be competitive in big waves before pushing them into places like Jaws, which is where the first women were given a chance to compete in 2016.
“The idea is to make the big wave QS events opportunities for people to get experience,” Shannon commented. “We’ve realized some big wave surfers don’t have contest experience prior to competing on the Big Wave Tour. Some surf big waves in their free time without jet skis or safety teams, so extra training and time practicing pick-ups is beneficial to avoid injury and potentially save lives.”
As we started talking about the state of women’s surfing Shannon started talking faster. There was a fire behind her eyes and her words.
On Women’s Surfing and Equality
Shannon pointed on that on the North Shore of Oahu, during the swell season there are 15-20 contests for men and only one for women. And that one for women, The Queen of the Bay at Waimea… well it is yet to run because the contest window is outside of the swell window (October 1-November 21).
Commenting on the grand discrepancy in opportunity for the big wave women, Shannon said:
“It’s a joke. The women’s Pipe Pro was also a joke – end of march and always flat. All the good surfers would pull out because they didn’t want to pay to enter a contest in crappy waves and no barrels. It’s a big joke. If we can get the contest (for women) to happen in Puerto (Mexico), we can do it here on the North Shore.”
Shannon, as well as the athletes, were disappointed when Puerto Escondido was removed from the Big Wave Tour in 2018. But that’s when Shannon, Gary Linden and other event organizers went rouge:
“I saw a window of opportunity because if you don’t have the WSL rules than I could put together something special, and that was the women’s heat. It was straight up Mexican style. Less rules, a little more wild wild west.”
Comparison kills Joy
Regarding the inclusion of women in contests Shannon had this to say:
“Maybe it’s hard for women in general because we are always being told no. I don’t think I’m going to beat a man in an arm wrestling contest. But I want to opportunity to be in the contest, maybe against another woman. If Keala wants to go out and surf against the men at The Eddie I think that’s awesome! What I’m fighting for is the have a women’s division at The Eddie. It’s a win for her to be there and be recognized but I also think all those girls should be recognized and not compared to the top man. When we are talking about equality, I don’t think that’s the argument. Women are built differently than men and we are going to be better at different things than them. Comparison kills Joy.”
On Equal Pay for Men and Women
I asked Shannon how she felt about the recent change in WSL policy that requires men and women to be awarded equal prize money. She had a lot to say, but she said it very slowly. She thought carefully about every word.
The photos of Sarah and Savannah surfing mavericks brought in more traffic than Slater surfing Teahupoo at the same time. If I look at the numbers, the women are able to bring in more money than the men.
Shannon noted that equal pay doesn’t mean the money comes out of the sky. In the case of the Jaws competition, the men’s prize went down. She laments, “I don’t want the men to suffer because the women get to play. I didn’t think the prize purse would go down. That wasn’t my intention.”
She referenced the women of professional tennis and how they ended up creating their own world tour because of similar pay discrepancy issues:
“That’s an options we’ve considered. I found there are plenty of products out there or brands that were willing to support women. It’s just marketing to a different audience.”
But would the funding really be there? Does the world really care as much about women’s big wave surfing as they do men’s? Shannon convincingly argues in the affirmative:
“We ran a story about Sarah Gerdhardt. It was about how she took Savannah Shaughnessy under her wing when she was 16 and paddled out at maveric with her. The photos of Sarah and Savannah surfing mavericks brought in more traffic than Slater surfing Teahupoo at the same time. If I look at the numbers, the women are able to bring in more money than the men.”
“There is also the issue of sexuality,” Shannon went on. “When you look at a contest like Mavericks it is 5/4 hooded wetsuits….there’s no cleavage at Mavericks. You have women who could literally die in the live stream. It’s scary. Do you know how much controversy there is about this? Controversy brings in clicks. It brings in money. A really smart company would back the women’s prize purse. (Mavericks) will be the most watched event surfing. The women are greatly responsible for that.”
The idea with surfing being the first sport (to offer equal prize money) is that is could be a domino effect for every sport and that’s an ideal scenario that I didn’t think I’d see in my lifetime.
On Assembly Bill 467 – Equal Pay for Equal Play
“It’s been controversial.” She states. “At this point I’m hoping people can take a step back and see what it’s doing for the entire sport”
On February 11th, 2019, a bill was introduced to the California State Assembly which would require any competitive sporting event held on state land to offer equal prize money to men and women in order to receive land use permits. The bill was prompted by the actions of the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing (CEWS) regarding the permit for the Mavericks competition, spearheaded by surfers like Bianca Valenti who spoke about the length fight, at length in an earlier interview with Still Stoked.
There’s a lot of sexist BS that happens behind the scenes of a lot of the contests.
Shannon says she’s in a unique but volatile position with this new legislation. She is often the only female voice in the room and feels she can only push so hard at times, or risk being shut out of the boy’s club.
“The idea with surfing being the first sport (to offer equal prize money) is that is could be a domino effect for every sport and that’s an ideal scenario that I didn’t think I’d see in my lifetime. It was like a dream that we had but not something we thought would actually happen.”
But it isn’t all perfect, not by any means. Shannon is attempting to bring both sides together:
“There’s a lot of sexist BS that happens behind the scenes of a lot of the contests. I’ve been kicked out of meetings because I brought up equal pay. I have to be careful because I don’t want to be kicked out and then there is no woman’s voice at all on the tour.”
“Bianca (Valenti) takes a lot of heat from from both men and women on the tour who do not think women should get equal prize money. But this is in direct correlation to what we’ve been told our whole lives. That we’re not worth the same value as a man. That is straight up gender inequality.”
But Shannon can understand some of the arguments against legislating equal pay.
“It’s like Title IX, which also has a lot of issues that are not necessarily helpful for women all the time. Entire sports can get cut from a school because they don’t have a women team. Now before an event can be permitted we have to bring in the prize money (for the women).”
She noted that it is going to created challenges when pulling off events. In her conversations with the WSL, she reminds organizers that all the athletes, men and women, are always going to push for more prize money. But if you don’t listen and pretend like it isn’t an issue, that doesn’t make it go away. The women of the CEWS committee working with the California Coastal Commission is good example of that.
“I want to make a positive impact and not just focus on what’s wrong. I have to step back. We are fighting for so much but we have to be grateful for how far we’ve come. This has been a 0 to 100 movement in the last year. From fighting to get [women] into the event, to all-of-a-sudden equal prize money. You need to speak your voice yes, but if I complain all day about the women not getting paid enough I’m not going to get invited to the meeting. It’s a delicate spot”
We are fighting for so much but we have to be grateful for how far we’ve come.
There is so much more going on than the public sees. Shannon pointed out that it’s a huge win for women to be included in the big wave events. Overall, Shannon is stoked with the direction the WSL is heading.
“The reason I’m working on the tour is because of the men’s contest. I’m grateful that Gary (Linden) even started a tour. We have to give thanks.”
On Female Role Models
“I didn’t have that many female role models and I want that to change for future generations. I was snowboarding with my brothers, I learned to surf with my dad. I never saw females in the magazines. They just weren’t represented. That drives me to put more spotlight on women so that little girls can grow up with those female role models.”
Shannon knows all too well about working in a male dominated field, noting that for years she was the only woman in the room. She is thrilled that now that the WSL has a female CEO, Sophie Goldschmidt. She’s excited about female surfer and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard who just announced her candidacy for the 2020 presidential race.
Seeing women running for president whether they win or not motivates me to take a leadership role in my industry.
On Mental Motivation
Shannon constantly fills her brain with motivating and brilliant podcast. It’s a daily ritual for her. Here are some of her favorites:
On Staying Vibrant:
With her glowing skin, lean muscle and lightning fast verbal thinking (have you seen her do a live interview?!), she’s either got great genes or she’s doing something right!
It turns out Shannon is a self proclaimed supplement fiend. Not only does she not eat meat, she loads up on superfoods daily. Here is what goes in one of Shannon’s morning smoothies:
Then of course, there is physical activity. Shannon finds balance from the excitement of big waves in the calming effects of yoga. She says it’s impossible for her to do her job without sufficient physical activity to balance the creative work.
To stay up to date on anything and everything happening in the world of big wave surfing, women’s issues in surfing or the latest swells to hit the big wave spots around the world, follow Shannon on instagram @ShannonReporting and Facebook. Also check out over 80 of her stories on The Inertia.