The Great Gender Divide

The ‘boogie chicks’ in Chile recently.

The ‘boogie chicks’ in Chile recently.

It’s no secret that we live in a world that is fairly male dominated and let’s face it, us fellas have it considerably easier than our female counterparts in many aspects of life. Whether it be pay gaps, representation in parliament or on TV, the girls always seem to be drawing the ‘short straw’.

There appears to be a shift beginning however that is putting a dent in the door of our long reigning ‘Boy’s Club’.

Whether it be Hollywood blockbusters showcasing female heroines like Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, or the girls of the AFLW and WBBL showcasing their sporting prowess in front of thousands, as well as many more via our television sets – the world is changing.

The tide however has yet to fully turned for the girls of our sport. There’s a clear divide between the male and female participants in bodyboarding. This divide is evident in the form of prize money, sponsorships, competitive opportunities, and some argue ability. We recently saw some of the women compete with the men at the Mike Stewart Invitational at Pipeline, which for some was seen as a positive step for women’s bodyboarding, but for others as detrimental to establishing female bodyboarding in its own right. You need look no further than the comments on Lilly Pollard’s Instagram posts to see the differing opinions on the gender divide within our sport.

As a follow up to our chat with outspoken legend and absolute ripper Lilly Pollard about what needs to be done for bodyboarding to launch itself through the lip and into the 21st century when it comes to gender equality (excuse the corny metaphor), we wanted to find out more about this division and thought it best to reach out to all corners of the spectrum of thought.

We spoke to Women’s 2017 champ Joana Schenker to get another ladies’ perspective, Joshua B. Kirkman for a bloke’s point of view and Terry McKenna to find out about the viability of equality in the competitive side of our sport.

We have no doubt this article may ruffle some feathers, but that’s life…


Terry McKenna (APB World Tour Manager)

MM: Do you ever feel as if women are treated differently when out in the water? Positive or negatively?

TM: Not really, if anything they’re pushed onto sets and encouraged to charge. I think that the women that follow the APB Tour are one of our greatest assets, in fact I’d say that extends to any girls that ride a bodyboard.

MM: Do you think it is viable for the women’s world tour to be on the same scale as the men’s in terms of venues and prize money?

TM: Absolutely, and that’s exactly what we are pushing for. Unfortunately, the numbers of competitors are quite low so it’s difficult for promoters to justify the investment, as the entry fess usually make up a significant portion of the budget. We are trying to change the mindset of the promoters so that this isn’t the case and they embrace the women for all of the amazing attributes they display.

Former World Champion Alexandra Rinder at home in the Canary Islands.

Former World Champion Alexandra Rinder at home in the Canary Islands.

MM: What would need to change to make the Women’s Tour on par with the Men’s?

TM: A dedicated sponsor for the women’s tour to subsidise the shortfall in entries for promoters. Someone like Ella Baché would be a great fit for this type of sponsorship.

MM: Do you think bodyboarding brands are hindering women’s bodyboarding through lack of sponsorship and representation of female athletes?

TM: No more than the Men’s. The industry as a whole simply can’t support the sport or the tour/athletes. We must think outside the square and get creative to find other forms of sponsorship.

 
The industry as a whole simply can’t support the sport or the tour/athletes.
— Terry McKenna
 

MM: Where do you hope to see women’s bodyboarding in the next 5 years? 

TM: I’d like to think that the women will have a sustainable tour that can showcase their incredible talent, at venues of consequence.


Joana Schenker (2017 APB Womens World Champ)

MM: Do you ever feel as if you are treated differently out in the water because you are a girl? Positive or negatively?

JS: Yes, I have definitely been treated differently for being a girl in the water, and I have had both good and bad experiences with it. Although, the bad ones are rather rare.

From my experience, it depends a lot on where you are, but mostly the rule of arriving respectful and friendly to any line-up is still the most important, for men and women the same. I think girls are easily welcomed in the water but not taken as seriously when they paddle for a good wave. As far as I can remember, the worst times where always at actual world tour events, free surfing the days before a competition. For example, I remember trying to surf in Arica before the contest (because I had never been there before) and it was impossible to even get one decent wave with all the hassle and crowd from the male competitors. So, I just entered the comp with zero training.

 
it was impossible to even get one decent wave with all the hassle and crowd from the male competitors, so I just entered the comp with zero training.
— Joana Schenker
 
Photo: Tim Wendrich

Photo: Tim Wendrich

MM: Do you think that the women’s world tour should be given the same opportunities as the Men’s tour? In terms of venues and prize money?

JS: Yes I absolutely believe that!  If we look at this sports history, we had way more women on the world tour a few years ago and, prize money was bigger back then too. To grow any sport or division investment needs to be made. In the women´s division the opposite has happened over the last few years and we can clearly see a decrease in entry numbers on tour. 

But one important fact to acknowledge is that even with this decrease, the girls that are on tour, are charging, and I think the level of female bodyboarding has never been so high. I know change overnight is never going to happen for us, but it’s so important that bodyboarding gets on the equality path, It’s happening everywhere and I see so much potential in the women’s division, not only in terms of what we can do in the water, but I think the marketing and financial value of us has been completely overlooked for years.

 
The girls that are on tour, are charging, and I think the level of female bodyboarding has never been so high.
— Joana Schenker
 

MM: Do you think bodyboarding brands are hindering Women’s bodyboarding through lack of sponsorship and representation of female athletes?

JS: Yes, I agree that bodyboarding brands could do a hell of a lot more for the women in the sport. But then again, there is not that much money available within the bodyboard world anyway, so more than actual financial support, I think bodyboarding brands are failing where they could help out the most, which is: content creation, good media content, quality photos and footage from the girls. This would help them out a lot in getting to sponsors in the mainstream.

I guess being more inclusive would already be a huge step. Simple things like a brand going to shoot somewhere, invite a girl; the media team not leaving the beach or having a lunch break when the women’s division hits the water... these are easy things.

MM: Where do you hope to see women’s bodyboarding in the next 5 years?

JS: I would love to see way more women on tour, more women being professional athletes and actually being able to surf for a living. I would love to see women’s bodyboarding having its own rightful place and being respected and valued for it. Not being always in comparison with the male division.

We don´t have to be the same or do the same.  Women have this little advantage of being able to be feminine and still do some crazy stuff, so once we can use this to our advantage there is so much potential to be unlocked, also from a commercial point of view.

Joana Schenker. Shot by Nuno Fontinha

Joana Schenker. Shot by Nuno Fontinha


Joshua B. Kirkman

MM: Do you ever feel as if women are treated differently when out in the water? Positive or negatively?

JK: In my experience, I have noticed women are usually down the ‘pecking order’ and it isn’t cool. But hey, lots of things that aren’t cool happen in line-ups. I look forward to more wave pools so that we have to wait in line (literally) and behave ourselves better when it comes to waves.

JS at home. Photo: Salty Frames

JS at home. Photo: Salty Frames

MM: Do you think that the Women’s world tour should be given the same opportunities as the Men’s tour? In terms of venues and prize money?

JK: I 100% believe that it is currently unacceptable the way the tour is structured when it comes to Men and Women. Of course, it is unacceptable for ethical reasons, but to be more pragmatic about things, I think it is a strategic mistake by the APB and other governing bodies (mostly run by men) throughout bodyboarding history to prioritize the men ahead of women when it comes to event design and prize money. The way I see it is that the women might be the best pathway towards greater success for the sport that has never been truly understood.

 
I 100% believe that it is currently unacceptable the way the tour is structured when it comes to Men and Women.
— Josh Kirkman
 

The sport has had predominantly Australian men leading the sport for decades and the women have been a distant afterthought, not in a malicious way, but just based on a false assumption – men’s bodyboarding, in all its extreme awesomeness, has been regarded as ‘the way’ to gain mainstream success and financial reward for bodyboarding. After a few decades of this approach though, has there been such an outcome? No.

This experiment has been repeated for decades with the same result – a declining professional sport and while the APB Tour has rebuilt considerably since the collapse of the IBA (and well done to everyone involved in that), I don’t see much more growth ahead that is sustainable without a significant shift in strategy.

My big idea concerning women in bodyboarding is this: lead with the women for a few years.

There are potential sponsors out there who love to put money into activities and initiatives that celebrate women. If you lead with the men, you don’t get access to such brands. The fact is that, in a world where social media engagement is the currency, the female bodyboarders are much better at bringing in audiences through Instagram and having engagement on the content they produce. The women seem to also be much more proactive when it comes to initiating things that increase participation in the sport. You only need to look at what Lilly is doing with her coaching, and Joana with her outreach work in Portugal to see that they aren’t just spectators, but leaders. We need to let them lead.

MM: What are your thoughts on how the APB currently handles the Women’s Tour?

JK: They do their best, but they are operating under the assumption that the growth of the Men’s tour in high quality/extreme venues is the way forward. This approach has never resulted in mainstream success. The women offer a potential pathway to mainstream success in my opinion.

Joana Schenker Boosting. Shot by Francisco Pinheiro

Joana Schenker Boosting. Shot by Francisco Pinheiro

MM: Do you think bodyboarding brands are hindering women’s bodyboarding through lack of sponsorship and representation of female athletes?

JK: I think most bodyboarding brands are not powerful enough to support any professional riders in a meaningful way any longer (as in, they pay salaries that are big enough for people to have a stable life). I don’t blame bodyboarding brands for anything, they are doing their best and executing on their own unique strategies. They are just trying to make great products and compete in a tough market.

MM: Where do you hope to see women’s bodyboarding in the next 5 years?

JK: I hope to see female representation in the administration of the APB, as in a female CEO. No offense to Alex Leon and the people who have been guiding the sport forward from the IBA days, but I do think a female leading, ideally from Latin America, would be a really good start. It’s a tangent, but bodyboarding also has a cultural diversity problem in the administration level too which needs addressing. Australians have always been comfortable taking the lead when it comes to the sport and it is good that they like to get their hands dirty, but we need to have an administration level that is more diverse culturally.

Back to the women though: there are many women out there who are more than competent enough to be a part of the operations of the sport and I think such a change would lead to the dismantling of unconscious bias.

If there is not equal prize money in 5 years, well, we can hang our heads in shame. Bodyboarding will be a joke if men continue to be awarded prize money checks that are significantly higher than the women. The APB certainly wouldn’t have a social licence to operate if this inequality persisted. But I should say that I am feeling good that this will come to pass soon.

 
If there is not equal prize money in 5 years, well, we can hang our heads in shame. Bodyboarding will be a joke...
— Josh Kirkman
 

I hope that in 5 years’ time, there is a rebound for the sport in general, and I do think that if priority and resources were put into women’s bodyboarding (even at a cost to the men) then this reality might come to pass. It won’t be easy, and some guys won’t be able to handle it due to their cultural programming, but it will be the right thing and a positive change for the sport when true equality is achieved.