Women partaking in the sport of surfing is not new information. It’s not a revolutionary concept, but it’s treated as such – especially the marketing and advertising behind it.
If one had never heard of a woman surfing, and decided to make an estimation of the concept simply by digesting the available representations of women in the sport, they would come away with the conclusion that all female surfers are thin, tan, hairless – in other words, a very narrow interpretation of what “flawless” means.
Many female (and male) athletes, fans, and members of the industry see this as a problem. The neglect to show the women’s surfing community as the multifaceted, varied, dynamic population that it is, is a subversive problem that has vast implications for who participates in the sport, who buys into the industry, and trickles as far down as who even develops an interest in surfing. This is corroborated in the STATE OF SURF Q1 Report, and is a sentiment echoed throughout many industry circles.
Professional surfer Lauren Hill knew this was a problem. Unlike many, she decided to speak out about it. With support form Sanuk, Hill produced a short film, Pear Shaped, that provides a satirical look at the daily struggles females in surfing go through.
Transworld Business recently talked to Hill, and Adam Walker from Sanuk, about the importance of Pear Shaped, of speaking out, and proactive solutions that men, women, and the industry as a whole can take together to rectify the representation of women in surfing.
Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Lauren, you obviously have an opinion on women’s surfing, and the unfair standards that women are oftentimes subjected to. What was the tipping point that inspired you to take action and make this video?
LH: There are a couple of the reasons I created Pear Shaped; to get at some of these image issues in women’s surfing – to address the insidious nature of social media, the pressure to be tanned, hairless and flawless – and to show how very far off most representations of women’s surfing are from the everyday realities of being a woman in the water. I’ve been writing about these issues for a long time, so I wanted to try a different approach.
The whole idea was sparked by an Instagram post I did last year, asking people to share their most humiliating surf-related moment. The name, Pear Shaped, is Aussie slang basically for when ‘shit hits the fan.’ Also, I have to say, my hat is off to the folks at Sanuk for daring to support such a left of center project.
Adam, you actively supported the Pear Shaped project from the beginning. What do you think it means to you personally, and to Sanuk as a whole?
AW: Personally, it is such an immense joy to collaborate with Lauren – especially on a project like this. She’s such a refreshing, shiny soul. It’s a true treat to tap into her energy, humor and world views. For Sanuk, “Pear Shaped” provided us with a unique platform to help spread a positive message, push a few boundaries and keep it real. It was chance for us to spark up legit conversations and, at the same time, not take surfing (or ourselves) too seriously.
As Lauren points out, many brands in the surf industry either knowingly or unknowingly neglect to market women in a cohesive, well-rounded way. By partnering with Lauren on this project, is Sanuk hoping to negate what is at the moment the status quo?
AW: Absolutely. It’s an opportunity to rattle that cage in an genuine way and help inspire positive change for the way women are represented in our space. Lauren hit the nail on the head: brands in our space set standards. We can influence culture – and vice versa. It’s a beautiful thing to help bring balance to the equality equation and use our storytelling vehicles to celebrate truths of all kinds.
What has the response been to the project so far?
AW: Holy smokes! What a positive outpouring. We all know the Internet can be a pretty treacherous place for those that dare to put themselves out there… So it was so gratifying to see the film catch fire and its message strike a chord with all walks of life. Women and men alike came out of the woodwork to voice their smiles. Massive kudos to Lauren for caring, daring and sharing!
What kind of proactive action do you think women (and men) can take to help stem the sexualization and objectification of women in surfing?
LH: Our endemic brands and media houses have such a huge role to play here, since they set the standard for normalizing what it looks like to be a surfer. Our culture has been built and shaped by and for youngish white men – and they’ve done lots of wonderful things – but the image of women’s surfing is still kind of a hangover from that homogeneous point of view. There’s enough women who surf now to justify putting in the time and marketing dollars to move ahead.
And inclusion will make such a difference. I’d like to see more women included in the shaping of mainstream (surf) media — more female writers, photographers and decision makers. More women in decision-making positions at the brands. Simply including a range of perspectives could allow for considerable progress.
What else do you have in mind to help break down the stigma of being a female surfer?
LH: I feel like the ‘stigma’ of being a female surfer has mostly washed away over the last decade or so. What we’re left with is a little more insidious; not so overt. But we’re still not seeing very much quality representation of women’s surfing in mainstream surf media.
I’m watching too many brands still miss the mark in their marketing – using super talented waterwomen, who also happen to be conventionally attractive, and they’re having them do bikini campaigns with zero surf or water imagery. And then other brands have reverted to just using models again, instead of using their female athletes to sell product, like the men’s brands do. Can you imagine selling boardshorts by using an unnamed male model?
Not only is it boring as a consumer, it also shows a real lack of imagination and a disconnect from the aspirational nature of our sport.
How do you think changing the way women are marketed will affect the surfing industry? How can brands and retailers change their messaging to speak to “real women”?
LH: I don’t think that a singular idea of a “real woman” exists. The key is just inclusion – making diverse bodies and ideas, skin colors and approaches to riding waves more prevalent. Just as we’ve seen the re-popularity of the log and the fish make room for more surfers (and consumers), including diversity in the marketing of women’s surfing will mean more women feel welcome into the surf space, be it in the line-up or in the local surf shop.
When you don’t see yourself, or your experience of surfing, represented authentically in your media, it’s easy to feel really disconnected from the culture, like an outsider.
Women make up something like 30% of the surf market now – and I’d venture to guess that we make up a much larger percentage of buying power. And yet, women’s marketing budgets continue at a fraction of men’s – even though women make up a large percentage (occasionally even beyond 50% in some endemic brands) of purchases.
There’s still a lot of hesitancy to admit that women and men are different. As long as we’re comparing, we’re blocked from just celebrating that difference. Can some women mimic men’s surfing? Definitely. But I think that, generally speaking, women surf differently, and often with different motivations than men. Surf culture is still pretty much a sword fight, so most everything we ‘understand’ about surfing as a culture has been written, photographed or judged from and for a masculine perspective. I think we’re in the process of fleshing it out, finally.
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