Surfers overcome the toll of sexism to win Olympic berth | Sports News

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By SALLY HO, Associated Press

LEMOORE, CALIF. (AP) – Johanne Defay from France was devastated when mega sponsor Roxy abandoned her just before she became a professional surfer in 2014, shattering her confidence and completely threatening her career.

“They were just like, ‘Oh, you don’t look that way, you know, for, like, pictures,” Defay said. “And I just felt like I just couldn’t do enough or fit in, like they wanted for their brand.”

Now Defay is heading to the Tokyo Olympics for surfing debut at the Summer Games, supported by a surprise victory over reigning world champion Carissa Moore in the high-intensity Surf Ranch competition last month.

While there is a lot of enthusiasm and renewed enthusiasm for women’s football, years of objectification, wage disparities and a lack of opportunities have taken their toll. Industry leaders from the professional World Surf League and developing USA Surfing say they’re determined to right the wrongs that have long held back women surfers in the male-dominated sport.

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Mental, financial and logistical barriers for women in surfing date back centuries.

According to Isaiah Helekunihi Walker, a surf historian in Hawaii, the Hawaiians who invented the sport saw it as an egalitarian national pastime that benefited all genders, ages and social classes. But the Christian missionaries who arrived on the island tried to ban surfing largely because of nudity – nude surfing was common in the early days of the sport. Although the locals largely defied the colonizers, the surfer girls saw their ranks decline disproportionately.

“When it comes to controlling nudity, it’s about controlling women’s bodies,” said Walker, also a history professor at BYU-Hawaii.

Even for Moore, the child prodigy who was able to beat the boys before she became – at 18 – the youngest World Surfing League champion in history, she said she also struggled with her image. bodily. Moore is 28 now and has spoken openly about starving herself as a teenager, only to binge later, and even once while trying to force herself to vomit.

“Everyone had this idea of ​​what a surfer girl should look like. And there were a lot of “hot lists” or the “cutest surf girl list,” Moore said. “I never made them, but then you see who actually made them and you feel, ‘Oh, I guess this is what I should look like. “”

Modern professional surfing in a previous iteration had a decentralized approach that left the brand sponsors with the responsibility of much of the logistics of the competition, which varied widely from event to event, said Greg Cruse, CEO of USA Surfing. And while it wasn’t an official rule or standard, there was clearly a preference for the men’s game.

Surf times are determined in the morning depending on the nature of the ocean waves, and it was no secret that men’s and men’s competitions would benefit from the best surf conditions, usually in the morning. The surfers took the leftovers, if they were invited.

“There would be the event directors and they would sort of schedule things the way they wanted and there would be a bias on the part of the outdated patriarchy. It has changed dramatically, ”said Cruse. “It took a long time for the women to complain about it.

A turning point came in 2013, when a new owner took over the professional league and the renowned WSL began to prioritize the normalization of competitions and the reconstruction of women’s events, said Jessi Miley-Dyer, a surfer. retired professional who now heads the WSL competition as vice-president. President.

In 2019, the WSL, as the leader in the $ 10 billion surf industry, also began offering equal prices for all of its events, making it one of the few professional sports leagues to reach the top. ‘salary equity.

“It was an important statement to make around the value of our athletes. More than anything, this is a testament to the emphasis on female surfing. We believe that men and women are equal, ”said Miley-Dyer. “That’s what you should do.”

The announcement was moving for many, including Miley-Dyer. In 2006, when she won a professional event, she only won $ 10,000 – one-third of what the top male surfer won.

“I cried because it means so much,” Miley-Dyer said. “I had retired too, so it wasn’t something for me, but it felt like something to me and for so many people like me.”

Next year will be the first time the WSL will include its female surfers in the famous Pipe Masters competition, allowing them to ride the Banzai Pipeline in Oahu, Hawaii, considered by many to be the best waves in the world.

The WSL is also committed to hosting the same number of events and in the same locations for both men and women, although competition at the highest level still has twice as many places as male competitors today – 36 – in relation to women’s football.

In terms of skills and experience, the damage done by decades of sexism has yet to be fully reversed.

Previously, girls could start training competitive surfing around the age of 11, while boys started as early as 4, Cruse said, adding that USA Surfing had bridged that experience gap.

And the surfboard makers, like many male leaders in the sport, believed that girls and women weren’t strong enough to paddle or ride powerful enough to perform jumps or aerial maneuvers, so they were given larger surfboards that are physically easier to use. rolling, but limited their ability to progress in more explosive movements.

So while the tunes have for years become the gold standard in men’s competition, it is rarely done by today’s top female surfers. Moore, the American surfer to beat at the Olympics, is among the first women to land a tune during the competition, a milestone she recently reached but which has undoubtedly electrified women’s football and its future.

“They started to demand the same kind of gear that allows you to generate more speed and turn harder and harder,” said Cruse. “Right now there is a group of girls arriving. Girls under 16 are better at the tunes than any of the women in the WSL. They already have the aerial game and this is the next level and there is going to be a changing of the guard.

For Defay, she persevered in her first year without corporate support. She recalls feeling humiliated when hearing others take for granted their private car services arranged by their sponsors after Defay arrived for a two-hour bus ride to save money.

She’s thankful to fellow pro surfer Jeremy Flores for helping sponsor her “insane” rookie season, as a nine-month season can cost up to $ 80,000 in travel costs alone.

From now on, they are equal, teammates in Japan in the French Olympic surfing team.

27-year-old Defay’s journey to the pros has made her hungrier than ever to prove her skills and worth at the world’s most prestigious sporting event. And she’ll do it with the body she’s grown to love, regardless of how a sponsor has judged her before.

Although Roxy did not respond to requests for comment on Defay’s past sponsorship deal, the surfer states this:

“I love my shoulders now and my butt,” Defay said with a smirk. “It’s just what it is and what makes me surf this way, so I’m trying to celebrate it.”

Follow Sally Ho on Twitter at http://twitter.com/_sallyho

More AP Olympics: https://apnews.com/hub/2020-tokyo-olympics

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