Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Can Irish women make a living from surfing ?

Waterford surfer Grace Doyle    - when we spoke in Tramore

The World Surf League (WSL) has announced equal prize-money for female surfers at their events, and in a sign of how messed-up sport is everyone is delighted and grateful. It's a great thing, but so rare. I spoke to the Irish Surfing Association about how far women surfers have come and how far they have to go.

Surfing now joins other outliers in the sports world like tennis and dressage in recognising women put in the same effort as men. The joy in the video below from WSL on Instagram is only to be expected - who wouldn't want a pay raise?

What surprised me was how I reacted to the video. I thought it would be a feel-good happy moment, and it is but I'm also struck by how grateful the women surfers are to be seen, and be paid. It's a great thing for them, and the next generation of surfers but how much more is needed?

Over the summer I spoke with Zoe Lally from the Irish Surfing Association to prepare for a story on Grace Doyle (above in the photo!). Grace turned professional this year.

From a different generation Zoe had stories about women not even getting on the water.

She says: "It's a male dominated sport still, but the number of women is much higher now than it used to be. I competed myself before so we do know to push the women more now. When I was competing women would get the worst waves, in the past the men's competitions would wait until the waves improved.

"Now it's equal."

The ISA sends teams to events like the World Surfing Games all round the world and since 2016 can hope to send teams to the Olympics. Tokyo2020 will be the first.

But Zoe says they weren't always gender-balanced. She says: "Since surfing got into the Olympics things have changed for women. In the past teams were not well-balanced, you might have two women and six men or two and four.

"Now you have gender quality, so there are in September three women and three men going to the World Games. We are getting women ready for European competitions."

And she points to the growing number of girls involved, saying: "In Ireland now you would often have as many girls as boys at Junior events. The competitions are still not all open to girls, only the Under-18s  is for boys and girls. It is  being changed at world level so we are pushing for it to be changed at European level too."

Grace Doyle surfing in Indonesia - pic supplied

Zoe says you need the competition experience from a young age to be successful at elite level later. The ISA run training days just for women, trying to get more women involved. One of the top coaches is a woman, and they even run mothers surf days. One step at a time.

Now with the option of making a real livelihood from the sport ahead if you can make the WSL, as well as Olympic medals and the strong gender focus from the IOC - it can only be good news for women surfers in Ireland and elsewhere.

Grace Doyle competes for Ireland at the World Surfing Games on Sept 18th. Read about her journey so far in this newspaper interview I did with her: New wave of Irish women surfers

Follow Grace Doyle on Instagram @graciesurfer

Find out more about the Irish Surfing Association.


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