Surf­ing star’s big­gest goal is equal pay

Aussie star Stephanie Gil­more at van­guard of ef­forts to close gen­der pay gap, as As­so­ci­ated Press re­ports.

China Daily - - FRONT PAGE -

If Aus­tralia’s Stephanie Gil­more cap­tures the gold medal when surf­ing makes its Olympic de­but two years from now, it might not be her most mean­ing­ful win.

Gil­more, who is talked about as pos­si­bly the great­est ath­lete of all time in her sport, takes pride in be­ing on the ground floor in the fight for a prize that could have a longer-last­ing im­pact: equal pay for women on her pro­fes­sional tour.

The World Surf League put it­self in rare com­pany ear­lier this year with its de­ci­sion to be­gin pay­ing women the same as men, start­ing in 2019. While the Grand Slams and a few other tour­na­ments in ten­nis have com­mit­ted to pay­ing women and men equal prize money, the WSL is the first US-based global sports league to make that move.

The fight for equal pay be­gun decades ago by Bil­lie Jean King on the ten­nis court — and still waged daily in cor­po­ra­tions across Amer­ica — has now found a toe­hold on the beach.

“Sports are the per­fect plat­form to show equal­ity,” Gil­more said last week, af­ter cap­tur­ing her record-ty­ing sev­enth sea­son ti­tle. “In most work­places, what peo­ple make is com­pletely pri­vate. In ours, the prize money is pub­lic knowl­edge.”

When the 30-year-old cham­pion started surf­ing on tour, women typ­i­cally made around $12,000 for a win, while men — led by 11-time cham­pion Kelly Slater — would rake in around $40,000.

“Surf­ing was not a ca­reer path,” Slater re­called of his youth, in the HBO surf doc­u­men­tary Mo­men­tum Gen­er­a­tion. ‘‘It was just some­thing you en­joyed do­ing.”

Even next year, when women and men are both ex­pected to make around $100,000 for a vic­tory (men made $100,000 and women $65,000 in 2018), it’s hard for any­one but those at the very top to get rich rid­ing waves.

Com­pe­ti­tions are only a piece of the puz­zle. Spon­sor­ships, film­ing and freesurf­ing (essen­tially ex­hi­bi­tion per­for­mances) make up the rest.

Could the Olympics change that? It’s a de­bate cours­ing through the sport that is now ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some of the same grow­ing pains as other so-called “life­style” sports, such as snow­board­ing. Two decades since their sport’s Olympic de­but, snow­board­ers have ac­cepted the Games and ben­e­fited from the plat­form they pro­vide.

“It’s def­i­nitely new ter­ri­tory, and some peo­ple are a lit­tle un­sure about it,” Gil­more said. “They think it’s not authen­tic surf­ing. I think it’s kind of cool. I grew up watch­ing (Aus­tralian 400-me­ter sprint cham­pion) Cathy Free­man, think­ing, ‘I want to go to the Olympics.’ But I thought that, as a surfer, I’d never get that chance.”

Now she will.

Gil­more grew up only 400 me­ters from the beach. Her fa­ther loved surf­ing, and Gil­more and her sis­ters “re­ally had no choice” but to learn how to ride, she said. By the time she was 11, she knew this was what she wanted to do for a liv­ing.

The mo­ment that trig­gered the run to her sev­enth world ti­tle came at the same beach where she learned how to surf.

Gil­more fin­ished a dis­ap­point­ing fifth in this year’s sea­son-open­ing event in Aus­tralia. Three years had passed since her last sea­son ti­tle, and she was be­gin­ning to won­der if her best days were be­hind her.

“It sort of killed the con­fi­dence and made me think, ‘Do you still want this? Do you still have it?’” Gil­more said. “I got quite over­whelm­ingly emo­tional. And that’s when I re­al­ized, ‘You ob­vi­ously still re­ally care about this.’”

Gil­more re­fo­cused. She won three events in 2018 and fin­ished se­cond in three more. Af­ter the sea­son’s fi­nal event in Maui last week, she had cap­tured her sev­enth ti­tle, which ties her with an­other Aus­tralian, Layne Beach­ley, for the most for a woman. Only Slater, with 11, has more.

Al­ready a house­hold name in surf­ing, an Olympic gold medal would clearly go a long way to­ward ex­pand­ing Gil­more’s pro­file.

In many ways, though, she has al­ready had an im­pact be­yond her sport.

“Women like Stephanie are com­pet­ing in the same con­di­tions, on the same waves, show­ing the same brav­ery as the men,” said the WSL’s CEO, So­phie Gold­schmidt.

“It’s in­cred­i­bly in­spir­ing. They are pos­i­tive role mod­els, push­ing bound­aries and gain­ing au­di­ences. But it’s not where it should be. There’s still room to grow.”

TOM SERVAIS / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Aus­tralia’s Stephanie Gil­more rides the waves at a com­pe­ti­tion in Tavarua, Fiji last year. The seven-time world cham­pion has been at the fore­front of a suc­cess­ful push to se­cure equal pay for women on her tour, the World Surf League.

Stephanie Gil­more, Aus­tralia’s seven-time world surf cham­pion

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