World Surf League will award equal prize money to women and men

The World Surf League will now give female surfers, like Stephanie Gilmore, the same prize money as male surfers. (Photo by Morgan Hancock/Action Plus via Getty Images)

The World Surf League is making a bold statement about equality in sports. The WSL announced on Wednesday that starting in 2019, both men’s and women’s surfing events would be awarded equal prize money. This unprecedented step makes the WSL the first and only U.S. based sports league to achieve equal pay.


Sophie Goldschmidt, CEO of the WSL, said in a statement that this was part of a plan to elevate women’s surfing the the level of men’s surfing, and it’s been in the works since new ownership took over at the WSL in 2013.

“This is a huge step forward in our long-planned strategy to elevate women’s surfing and we are thrilled to make this commitment as we reveal our new 2019 schedule. This is the latest in a series of actions the League has undertaken to showcase our female athletes, from competing on the same quality waves as the men, to better locations, and increased investment and support.”

The change means a lot to six-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore. She wrote in the Players’ Tribune about the lesser treatment she’s received as a female surfer. Even after winning four straight world championships, she wasn’t given the same respect as male surfers who had accomplished less — both in the water and with sponsors. Of female surfers, she says “we were basically just a sideshow.”

But now that’s changing. On the WSL website, Gilmore discussed how overjoyed she was about the WSL’s new equal pay mandate.

“Incredible, and I am thrilled. The prize money is fantastic, but the message means even more. […] I hope this serves as a model for other sports, global organizations and society as a whole. My fellow women athletes and I are honored and inspired to reward this decision with even higher levels of surfing.”

Male surfer Kelly Slater also wrote at the Players’ Tribune about the change, and he was extremely supportive of his female colleagues. Being raised by a single mom, the only female firefighter in their county, helped him see from a young age how women could be treated differently for doing the same job that men do. He’s proud of the WSL for taking the first step toward “real equality in the water,” and said so on the WSL’s website.

“The women on the Tour deserve this change. I’m so proud that surfing is choosing to lead sports in equality and fairness. The female WSL athletes are equally committed to their craft as the male athletes and should be paid the same. Surfing has always been a pioneering sport, and this serves as an example of that.”

As the talented women of the WNBA fight for higher wages in their sport, the WSL is laying down the gauntlet. They believe that women’s surfing is just as important as men’s, and shouldn’t just be awarded the same prize money, but elevated to the same level. The WSL is the first U.S. based sports league to achieve pay equality — who will be next?

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Liz Roscher is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email her at lizroscher@yahoo.com or follow her on Twitter at @lizroscher.

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