The change came after a September decision by the World Surf League that male and female competitors would be paid equitably in all WSL events. The top-tier pro-surf tour is now one of the only U.S.-based sports requiring equal pay for men and women.
The move was long overdue. Prior to the decision, in 2018, the 36 male surfers on WSL’s World Championship Tour were competing for $607,800 in prize money, while the 18 women on tour competed for just $303,900. The league’s reasoning for these amounts was that the average earnings between male and female surfers were the same—which they were—but the allocation of prize money wasn’t broken down evenly. So when Stephanie Gilmore won the 2018 Rip Curl Pro, she earned $65,000 for her victory, while Italo Ferreira got $100,000 for his.
Income earned for a majority of the league’s top female athletes comes exclusively from competitions and sponsorship deals. However, the move for equal pay might be most crucial for young, aspiring female surfers on the World Qualifying Series, where surfers compete in various events to earn points that could lead to a spot on the prestigious (and well-paid) World Championship Tour. Many surfers on the series don’t have big-time sponsorship deals yet and rely heavily on prize money and their own savings to fund their efforts. With larger purses to compete for now, female surfers will likely be encouraged to pursue surfing as a professional sport, knowing that the financial cost of their attempts to reach the championship tour will be less daunting.