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A New Wave for Women’s Surfing

By Frances Howe, LLB

Two-time world champion Tyler Wright has made surfing history with her recent Maui Pro win at Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii. The event was the first time that the World Surf League Women’s Championship Tour has held a competition final at Pipeline. The Maui Pro began at Honolua Bay as normal on 4 December 2020. Following a shark attack which claimed the life of a surfer on 8 December, the event was postponed and relocated islands from Honolua Bay on Maui to Banzai Pipeline on Oahu. Before this event, the women’s tour had not been allowed to host an event final at the wave.  

Banzai Pipeline is located on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. Pipeline is one of the most renowned waves both as an opportunity for surfers to barrel as well as the notoriously shallow reef. According to Tracks Magazine, at least seven surfers have lost their lives to Pipeline since 1989. 

Wright beat four-time world champion Carissa Moore in the event final earning her the number one spot on the championship tour. Following the event Wright took to her Instagram on 24 December and wrote ‘To all the women who pioneered and put skin in the game for equality, knowing that this day maybe wouldn’t come in time for their competitive careers. Thank you.’ The historic event comes two years after the World Surf League (WSL) announced that it would pay its female surfers the same as their male counterparts. 

Wright also made history at the competition by becoming the first surfer to wear a Pride flag on their jersey at a championship event. Wright wore both the Australian and Progressive Pride Flag on her jersey. The Progressive Pride flag adds black and brown to the traditional Pride flag to represent marginalized members of the LGBTQ+ community. She is only the second surfer to wear a distinctive flag on the championship tour, following Soli Bailey who became the first by wearing the Aboriginal flag in 2019. Wright posted a photo of the jersey on her Instagram on 7 December and wrote ‘As a proud bisexual women of the LQBTQ+ community as well as an Australian, I’m delighted to be able to represent both this year on my competition jersey.’

“why are we forcing our female athletes to travel to foreign lands to compete?”

The event final also comes one year after the Honolulu City Council voted to promote women’s surfing equality. On the topic of the vote, renowned big wave surfer, Heala Kennelly, spoke to Jason Lock of Magic Seaweed: ‘the men have five qualifying events on the North Shore this winter season: the women have zero. So, what this means in layman’s terms is that if you are an aspiring pro surfer, who wants to qualify for the professional circuit and you are a male, the opportunities are here for you. If you are a female, however, you will need to travel to qualifying events in foreign countries at your own expense.’ Kennelly continued, ‘Hawaii is the birthplace of surfing and the North Shore is referred to as the Mecca of surfing. So why are we forcing our female athletes to travel to foreign lands to compete? I consider this to be a travesty. I also consider this to be gender-based discrimination which goes against our Hawaii State Constitution and federal law.’ Kenelly is known for trailblazing women’s surfing at Pipeline.  

Wright’s win is the first of the 2021 championship tour following the cancellation of the 2020 season. The next tour event was set to take place on 19 January at Sunset Beach, Oahu but has been postponed due to Covid-19. The Australian leg of the tour is still scheduled to open with the Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach in Victoria on 1 April 2021. 

Photo Caption: Tyler Wright takes on the notorious Pipeline (Credit: WSL/Keoki Saguibo).

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