Op-Ed: Heavy Water and the Women

Lisa Schell Columns, Events Leave a Comment

I don’t often write about things that are political. Or super controversial. We like to say it’s a Stoke Only Zone here at the Mullet.  But there is some serious stoke missing in our world this week and lots of people are talking about it. Indeed, we must talk about it.

Equality

Thanks to a social media post by the world’s top female paddle athlete, Annabel Anderson, the paddle community – and perhaps beyond – is now acutely aware that pro women were not invited to the Red Bull Heavy Water contest this week in the San Fransisco Bay Area. The event is described this way on its website:

“Red Bull Heavy Water, arguably the most intense stand-up paddling event in the world, will return as part of the 2017 APP World Tour circuit, with an event on Friday, Oct. 20. The location will guarantee 32 of the world’s best SUP athletes, waves over 10 feet high and consist of an open course stretching 12 km (7.5 miles) from Ocean Beach and finishing just past the Golden Gate Bridge.”

Women have competed in other events that were part of the APP circuit. But this is the second year in a row that they’ve been denied entry into Heavy Water.   There are all kinds of explanations going around about whose decision it was to keep this event male only. And about a last minute effort to get some women into the race.  I don’t have any first-hand info on that.  It may or may not have actually been Red Bull’s ultimate decision. But, as title sponsor, that brand is inextricably linked to the debate.  As is its organizer, the Association of Paddlesurf Professionals Pro Tour.

While the controversy developed, the guys participating put on a great display of athleticism and it underscored what a great year Casper Steinfath (First Place) and Travis Grant (Third Place) have had. Maui’s young Ryan Funk had a break out event and came in second.  Not to take away from their achievements in any way.  Pro paddle athletes, as amazing as they are to those of us who love and follow and live and breathe the sport, do not make gobs of money. With a prize of $20,000 to the winner, this event buys a lot of groceries. It’s a big deal.

But the women didn’t even get a chance.

Maybe it’s the overall climate we live in right now, where there is renewed focus on the way women in general are treated, that makes this so poignant and home hitting. And thanks to Annabel, it’s another hashtag that’s gaining traction:

#IPaddleForEquality

And it applies not only to this ocean event in the Bay Area, but it extends down to other races too, and the movement to make sure purses are the same for both men and women. It includes the discussion about limiting women to paddling shorter boards in competition. And even to the fight to get balanced media coverage of races and results where men and women are competing together.

All kinds of information and reasoning  and explanations are just a Google search away about the marketability of women’s sports in general. How many times have we heard marketing people say women’s events just don’t make as much money as the men’s events.  They don’t get the sponsors, earn the TV ratings, don’t get the social shares, and thus don’t sell ads. Which inevitably morphs into this ‘splanation: Women don’t want to watch women do sports. Or they don’t have time to watch. (Because they are holding down full time jobs and taking care of a family so….they have no time.)

I don’t see how that kind of argument is even applicable here. It’s not.

So, I am going to follow Annabel’s lead and call BS.

There is no good reason why the pro women should have been excluded from this event. Just like there is no reason to exclude women from Chattajack, or the Gorge Paddle Challenge or Molokai to Oahu, which of course, they are not.

Some people are rationalizing that women wouldn’t have wanted to go out in those conditions anyway. So why invite them? Well, Terrene Black, who currently sits atop the APP’s tour leaderboard has publicly said she would have would have gone and indeed told the organizer she wanted to compete this year. “There are plenty of us that have proved ourselves capable,” she posted. “Just because half the men couldn’t make it out does not mean the women can not. We are smart, we are strong and we are just as capable. I would’ve loved the opportunity to test myself.”

And by the way, Black is a professional ocean lifeguard with 15 years of ocean paddling experience.

Someone in a Facebook thread I read about the whole controversy – a male – actually postulated that “girls” shouldn’t be allowed at intense events like Heavy Water because they categorically don’t have the experience or the skill or the strength.  That adding women to the roster would create a nightmare for event staff and rescue personnel.  No, no, now is not the time for that.  But that same poster said he does support equality for women.

Uh huh.

Excuse me, but…how ’bout the women charging in the carnage at Salt Creek during that last BOP?

Excuse me, but….have you seen the women in a raging Mason’s Inlet during the Carolina Cup???

Excuse me, but….have you seen Annabel Anderson???? Have you seen Andrea Moller???? Or Candice?? Or Fiona????? April Zilg???? TERRENE BLACK!!!!

You want to talk about skill, strength and power — both physical and mental.  What the pro women athletes can do and endure is amazing. It is every bit as amazing as the guys.  It’s every bit as exciting to watch.  Anytime, anywhere.

And do not tell me women can’t surf 14 foot boards in big conditions.  They can. They do.  Some of them even surf bigger boards.

Conversely, don’t tell me they can’t handle 12 foot boards in big conditions. That’s just as bogus.

Oh and by the way, that’s the same stupid argument that once kept women from fighting fires, being police officers and flying fighter jets.  Oh, and voting.

So enough of this nonsense.

As races, big and small, are struggling to stay in the black and on the calendars, this is not the kind of message to be sending, no matter what the so-called reasoning behind it. Especially in a sport that prides itself on its inclusivity and sense of ohana.  Unless of course you want to (continue to) alienate one great big demographic that you need for your industry/sport to thrive.

Enough of the soap box…back to stoke, and Chatta-this and Chatta-that…for now.  This is a conversation that needs to continue until race organizers and their event sponosors get it and fix it. Thanks, Annabel, for getting this started and for all the pros and Jane and Joe Paddlers out their who’ve joined in support.

And by the way,  I cannot wait to see all the awesome women who are going to crush those 32 miles down the Tennessee River Gorge next week!

#IPaddleForEquality

 

Lisa Schell is Managing Editor of DistressedMullet.com and is an avid sup, outrigger and (sometimes) prone paddler who will race Chattajack 31 for the fourth time this year, and then resume her passion for downwinding and paddle surfing….you can reach her at Lisa@mullet.co

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