Believe it or not, the above photo is a promotional image for a women’s professional sporting event. It’s definitely more soft porn than the hardcore women participating in this year’s world championship Roxy Pro Biarritz surfing competition.
Women’s surfing has always drawn controversy when it comes to gender equality, so when Roxy released this promo video a couple of weeks ago, it sparked outrage among the women competitors and their fans.
The “sexploitation” of the woman’s body begs the question, “Why have a video promoting a surfing contest that doesn’t actually show any surfing?”
We reached out to Women You Should Know champion surfers and humanitarians Easkey Britton and Emi Koch for their take on the controversy.
Fight the Beautiful Fight: “Role” Before Model By Easkey Britton and Emi Koch
What do you think of when you think of surfing? What are the images that it conjures up, the feelings it inspires in you? Clearly, the women’s surfing brand Roxy thinks it’s expensive hotels, skimpy bikinis, faceless surfing heroes, the latest mobile accessory, flash cars and a waveless beach.
There was stunned shock when Roxy released their official teaser for this event. This was supposed to be a promo piece for what is the equivalent of the women’s French Open in tennis, the only stop on the women’s World Championship Tour in Europe, where the top 17 female athletes battle it out for the world number one position, not a commercial for Victoria’s Secret.
Stephanie Gilmore, the champion surfer featured in the video, is highlighted as a stunning model rather than as the stunning role model that she truly is. In 2010, at the age of 22, Steph was violently attacked by a stranger outside her apartment. She was out of the water healing for six weeks and when she got back on her feet, to capture yet another champion title, the world cheered alongside her. So, you know the surf industry is really hurting when rather than focusing on Steph’s badass attitude, a leading women’s surf brand just highlights the 5x world champion’s ass.
Criticisms of the video from the field include the blatant product placement, and most important of all, the fact that the surfer does not even get to ride a single wave.
Association of Surfing Professionals world tour competitor, and former women’s world No. 2, Bec Woods shared “This was the promo for a major World Tour contest? Without a surfing shot what exactly do the non-surfing crowd believe they would be coming to see?”
The brand has posted a wordy, unapologetic response to the criticism on their Facebook page, it starts off like this: Whether you are athletic, smart, funny, sexy, daring, confident – we support whatever combination you choose to be. Women are complex and multidimensional. To ignore this fact is to ignore who we truly are.
We have some serious issues with this “statement”. First, it’s a tall order for any woman to feel athletic, smart, funny, sexy, daring, confident. It’s what we may aspire to be, but what if we think we are not any of these things – will we still be supported if we feel we cannot measure up to a combination of these qualities?
And what is it to be sexy? Is sexy not being free to express your passion, doing what you love, rather than fitting some image of what the commercial world and fashion industry deems to be beautiful?
The debate this video has sparked is much bigger than the realm of surfing. It is the much larger and global issue of female objectification, and that is at the heart of the matter.
In an era where the rate of body related illness, issues and insecurities for young girls and women are skyrocketing, for a brand like Roxy, whose target market is predominately young women and girls, using female objectification as a matter of marketing is dangerous territory and just wrong.
The shortsightedness of Roxy’s vision and representation of surfing is also disturbing. Surfing has gone global, reaching the most unlikely corners of the world, crossing cultural and social boundaries. There are still many women who do not have the freedom or rights to do what they want, to wear what they want, or to be free and play in the sea. Surfing connects, it does not discriminate, and it offers freedom, escapism and pleasure - that is the true beauty and power of this sport.
Girls can use more female role models, women they can relate to and who share a passion for surfing. Our hope in moving forward is that everyone in the industry will do his or her part to put the word role back before the word model. Gilmore is more than her butt. Roxy, please turn that into a campaign, because the way it stands now, the company is unfortunately made out to look like the ass in this situation.
UPDATE: When Easkey and Emi submitted this piece to us, the competition had been delayed due to the lack of surf. Yesterday, it was announced that Roxy Pro Biarritz was officially cancelled and rescheduled for September. The irony isn’t lost on us! Let’s hope they do it right next time around.
About Easkey Britton
Easkey is Ireland’s no.1 professional female surfer and 5x national champion. She has pioneered women’s big-wave surfing in Ireland and surfed the biggest waves ever ridden by a women in Ireland. Recently, she has become known as the first women to surf in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Easkey likes to share her passion and experience for life and surf with local people in the places she visits. She is currently completing her doctorate in marine conservation and promoting her film, Waves of Freedom, a documentary exploring how surfing can empower women in places like Iran.
About Emi Koch
Emi Koch, 23, graduated Georgetown University with a degree in Psychology, focusing on Anthropology and Justice & Peace Studies. A native Californian, Emi is the founder of Beyond The Surface International, a global surfing for youth empowerment and community development platform. Emi is a team rider for Billabong Girls and returned from India this summer after filming the upcoming documentary, Beyond the Surface. A story of six women traveling through Southern India, documenting the ways in which surfing, yoga, and ecological creativity bring hope and fuel change for local people and the Planet.