World Surf League Closes Its Gender Pay Gap

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Courtney Conlogue (USA) is the winner of the 2018 Women’s VANS US Open after winning the final to secure her second US Open victory for the second time in her career at Huntington Beach, CA, USA.World Surf League

In 2009, Courtney Conlogue, 26 of Santa Ana, California, won a surfing competition and her prize purse was $4,500. She remembers that the event organizers ultimately upped her earnings to $10,000 because of her performance. But what she’ll never forget is that the male surfers, who caught the same waves, earned a $100,000 prize purse.

For Conlogue, that experience was a big eye-opening moment; since then she has learned to treat her professional surfing career like a business.

“My road was manufactured by me and will power. It wasn’t always easy. There have been ups and downs with sponsors. I have had to maintain my true authentic self through everything,” said Conlogue when asked about challenges facing women in surfing.

“Surfing is a very expensive sport to do internationally. It costs a lot for board fees, flights and lodging. It is quite the investment for an athlete. You’re investing in yourself and your own success.”

During the 2018 World Surf League season, Conlogue has made strategic judgment calls on where to put her finances. She believes that investing in herself and making sound financial decisions led her to the top of the podium at the 2018 Vans US Open of Surfing.

Conlogue’s journey is not unique. Women across the sports industry navigate their love of being professional athletes with their right to earn a living and to be treated as equals next to their male colleagues.

Same sports. Same wages.

It should be that simple, right?

But paying women equally has not been straightforward. Male patriarchy in sports is a centuries-old battle where women have challenged sexist barriers and restrictive notions about their physical appearance and athletic ability. Overcoming gender stereotypes in surfing, a strong masculine sport, has been especially challenging for women. But they have persevered and now will be recipients of equal pay.

Beginning in 2019 season and beyond, every World Surf League controlled event will award equal prize money for male and female athletes. This historic announcement marks the World Surf League as the first and only US-based global sports league to offer equal prize money and among the first internationally.

The World Surf League annually operates more than 180 global events across the Women’s and Men’s Championship Tours, Longboard Tour, Junior World Championships and Big Wave Tour – all of these competitions will offer equal pay regardless of gender. Qualifying Series events are sanctioned by the World Surf League, but not necessarily controlled by the league. The goal over the next couple of years to achieve pay equality in the Qualifying Series as well.

“The WSL is a progressive, forward-thinking organization. I think this just re-underlines that,” said Sophie Goldschmidt, WSL CEO and No. 15 on Forbes’ list of the Most Powerful Women in International Sports.

“It is an important statement, and it is celebrating what is happening in society. It is a movement that has been needed and our female athletes deserve it.”

Currently, the World Surf League distributes prize money based on a pay parity system, which refers to the on average prize money that competitors get from an event. The overall prize purse is proportionate based on the number of athletes in a competition. On the Championship Tour, for example, there are 36 men and 18 women, under the existing pay parity system women would not reach pay equality until the depth of the women’s surfing field increased.

The pay parity system sparked a debate this summer when a photo of a Billabong Ballito Surfing Pro Junior Event in South Africa showing a female surfer take home just half the money of her male counterpart went viral. Goldschmidt notes that the movement to equal pay is not the result of pressure from their critics.

“This is a natural next step for us. We always said it was a question of when and not if. It has always been a part of the conversation since the new ownership group took over in 2013,” said Goldschmidt.

“Since I came on board we’ve had a focus on all aspects of the business, and this has been one. But that is not where it ends. Prize money is an important step, but there are still other things that we want to continue to invest in.”

Specifically, Goldschmidt points to the launch of an international marketing campaign that will highlight the women’s tour, and specifically focus on increasing viewership and fan engagement. The league is also rolling out a beachside engagement program for girls, which will offer clinics at each of the Women’s Championship Tour stops to inspire the next generation surfing. And starting next week, World Surf League is honoring its past with a Pioneers Program that will celebrate female surf legends.

“We are rightly acknowledging and awarding these women for their amazing athletic achievements. For the next generation of surfers to feel that they are being fully compensated equally is inspiring,” said Goldschmidt.

“Hopefully it will inspire more girls of tomorrow to want to become professional and get into surfing.”



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