It all started in early May when I heard that a longboarding event had run in Noosa, Australia, that had unequal prize money for the men’s and women’s divisions. They justified the inequality by saying that the prize money was allocated pro rata, based on the number of entries - the women’s division had fewer entries, so they received less prize money.
When I got home to Equal Pay for Equal Play headquarters, which is a campaign for gender equality in sports I co-founded in Sydney, we investigated the matter, and sports journalist Kate Allman covered the story in a national newspaper. The response was controversial, Noosa Malibu Club, who ran it rejected the assertion, saying that the “men’s division” was actually an open division that women could enter too, so women actually had more opportunity to win more prize money because they could enter both the women’s and the open division. In reality, the division had 21 men entered and one woman - the only woman who entered was the president of the club’s own daughter. The president of the club is said to have created the pro rata prize money system.
This felt like a stalemate. It was unfair, but they seemed to have gotten away with it on a technicality. A month or so later and Longboard World Tour surfer Kirra Molnar noticed an announcement made by an event called the Kirra Klassic set to be held on the iconic break of Kirra on the Gold Coast that had added an “open pro” division with $5500 prize pool and no money for the women’s division. Kirra sent me a screenshot, alarmed - was this a thing now? Surf contests were circumventing equal prizemoney requirements by scrapping the women’s division altogether, calling it an open division, and justifying it by saying that it wasn’t unfair because women could enter. In practice, the chances of women winning the prizemoney are significantly reduced when we compete against men - the playing field is not level. Women’s surfing should be celebrated for its own uniqueness, not be compared directly to men’s surfing. The reality of open’s divisions is that while we have fought for years for equal prizemoney, in an open division, we face the scenario of women potentially not winning any money.
So, while the experience of calling out the Noosa event felt like it hadn’t progressed the issue too much, I felt like we had to do something about this upcoming event. I contacted the sponsor of the division, who I knew, and asked him if they would consider having a women’s pro division with equal prizemoney. He said they didn’t have the funds, so I suggested splitting the money they already had, but this also didn’t seem to be an option. I looked at the event online, and no one had entered yet, so I had an idea. If it’s an open division, where anyone can enter, why not fill it up with women?
I shared on my Instagram story asking if anyone in the Gold Coast area might be interested in entering. A few people responded, so I started a group chat of women I thought might be keen and put the idea to them. The entry fee was $250AUD, which is steep for anyone and especially steep for someone who wasn’t really thinking about doing the event previously. I sent some messages to some wonderful brands, namely Salt Gypsy, Heaps Normal, Atmosea, and Childe, asking if they would consider contributing some money to cover our entry fees. They all wrote back very quickly, pledging money. Meanwhile, the group chat was growing and growing.
We needed to fill sixteen places, and they were going fast. The group chat had grown to 60 people, all cheering each other on as we entered. Over the period of a few hours, the division was almost full - I felt like an auctioneer counting down the places. Finally, in the late afternoon, the places were all taken. “WE DID IT!!” I blasted in the group chat. I looked again: one guy had entered. So we had 15 women and one man.
The conversation was going wild. What should we do?? Thankfully the guy who had entered was someone lots of us knew, Clinton Guest, and he is not the kind of guy to reject us doing something like this. A few of us messaged him privately, and then it was resolved to add him to the group chat.
As the sun went down, I thought it was a good idea to share what had happened on social media. I was floating along on this bubble of what we had just done and cracking up at the fact that it had been so close to working. I updated the world, and the video of my update took off around the world of Tik Tok and Instagram, and the days that followed saw our little plan to fill up a division take center stage in Australian mainstream news.
At first, the organizers responded positively. Then they came out and said some pretty derogatory stuff about women’s surfing on some major news platform, and the online world got topsy-turvy. It was strange to see a version of myself I had no control over, designed by others on their keyboards, take flight online. While the vast majority of people expressed their support, there were some serious attacks on my character done by people I knew who were involved in the event and other big longboarding events. People were claiming I had rigged the event by getting people to enter who were worse surfers than me (1993 World Champ Pauline Menscer, former Longboard World Tour surfers Emily Lethbridge and Kat Hughes, and professional surfers Pacha Light and Kirsty Delport), someone reported me to the governing body because they claimed I had entered and paid for every spot in the division and so on. Who would have thought a group of women entering a division we were allowed to enter would be so controversial? It was as challenging as it was joyful.
Somewhere in the midst of the media, a sponsor called Haus of Ambrosia heard the coverage, reached out to the organizers, and put up the money to give us our own division. So they renamed our division and opened up a new division for the men who hadn’t gotten a spot. We had done it - we had our own division with equal prizemoney.
Fast forward a month, and on the last weekend of July, we convened on Kirra Beach for the commencement of the event. We had surfers of all generations, from up and down the coast, and we were hyped. The waves were windy and crumbly, but at least it wasn’t flat. Over a two-day event in the hot Queensland winter sun, we cheered for each other on the beach. Even the strange commentary that went on over the speakers couldn’t dampen our spirits. Eventually, Emily Lethbridge took out the event, and the moment went down in our collective history as women surfers as a mark of what we can achieve when we work together. And in the end, Clint Guest won the men’s division, and we could officially mark it a success.
Pauline Menczer 2nd place
Kirsty Delport 3rd place
Kat Hughes 4th place
Lucy Small a graduate of a Master of Peace and Conflict Studies, has used surfing as a point to pivot from in order to understand better the complex world in which we live. Dedicated to telling stories and showcasing the vast tapestry of experiences across surfing communities, you can find Lucy’s work in publications such as Pacific Longboarder Magazine, Surfing World Magazine, Tracks Magazine, and most recently, her film Below Surface. In 2021 Lucy was in the spotlight after calling out the organizers of a surf contest for awarding less than half of the prize money of the men’s division winner to the women’s winner in a video that went viral, leading Lucy to launch a campaign for gender equality in sport called Equal Pay for Equal Play. Lucy was the first longboarder on the cover of Tracks Magazine and has appeared in news segments across the world.
Photos courtesy of Clementine Bourke, Lucy Small, and Murilo Mattos
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