A wave of disbelief is sweeping the NSW surfing community as surfers swallow the news that a Northern Beaches longboard competition paid women less than half the prize money of the men.

The competition – dubbed optimistically as the Mal Jam “Pro” – was held at North Curl Curl on Saturday 24 April and was hosted by local club Curl Curl Longboarders. The winner of the women’s division, Sydney longboarder Lucy Small, was paid $1500 while the men’s winner on the same day was awarded $4000.

Footage of the prize ceremony went viral on Instagram when Small took opportunity to call out the inequality.

“Thank you to the sponsors for the money they’ve put into the event, but I would say it’s a bittersweet victory knowing that our surfing is worth half of the men’s prize money,” she said, holding her cheque for $1500.

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A post shared by Lucy Small (@saltwaterpilgrim)

In a positive turn of events, however, Tracks can confirm that Sydney-based surf retailer Global Surf Industries on Thursday quietly stepped in to rectify the situation after hearing an interview with Small on ABC radio. The brand paid $4850 to Curl Curl Longboarders on Thursday – the amount needed cover the pay gap across all women’s prizes – and hopes the money will be distributed to the women next week.

“The money’s already in the club’s account,” said Mark Kelly, CEO of Global Surf Industries. “I just thought, we’ve had a pretty good year and here’s a way we can make things right.

“I thought the days of women being paid less were over, to be honest. The World Surf League went to equal pay in 2019. There are a lot of women’s brands steering the surf industry." 

The initial video, which Small posted on her personal Instagram account after it was deleted from the Curly Mal Jam page, sparked public outcry. She has been fielding inquiries from numerous media sources after an article was published on the front page of The Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday.

In an interview with Tracks, Small said she had received a flood of support from surfers and other athletes via social media, thanking her for calling out the sexism. But she was adamant that “this sort of thing happens all the time in surfing”.

“It’s so easy to point a finger at Curly Mal Jam and call out the sexism, because it’s clear and obvious and it hit the media, but the sexism in the surf industry is bigger than that,” she said.

“I know of another event earlier this year, the Noosa Logger, where men got double the prize money of the women. Women are usually given fewer places to compete in events, so they have less opportunity than men.

“You [a female writer at Tracks] are the only person to have contacted me from anyone in the surfing media. I think that goes to show the sexism in surfing is rife and endemic, it’s a bigger problem than one event, one pay cheque.”

Vice President of Curl Curl Longboarders, Phil Nicol, told Tracks the unequal prize money allocation had not been dictated by sponsors, but was a club decision that had dated badly.

“We have offered more money to men than women since we started the event in 2011, so it’s probably just tradition,” Nicol said. “To be honest, we’re a committee of five blokes over 50 and we didn’t even think about it. We’ve since been belted for it, and rightly so. We’re feeling quite contrite.”

However, Nicol also doubled down on the decision by reflecting the club felt “there aren’t many women longboarders around”, and that “women don’t really like surfing North Curl Curl because it’s a bit crunchy; a tricky wave”.

When Tracks queried whether the women were considered equally competitive as the men in competition, Nicol responded:

“Like women’s tennis, it’s lovely to watch. They’re really elegant on the waves. They’re just not as radical as the guys.”

Northern Beaches local and WSL longboarder Matt Chojnacki – who is ranked number nine on the WSL men’s longboard tour – said such attitudes were not reflective of the longboarding community generally.

“Of all the genres of surfing, longboarding is perhaps the most equal for both genders – it’s more of an artistic expression and women tend to be incredibly talented at it,” he said.

“I also know two women personally who tried to register for this competition but were told, two weeks prior to the event, that the numbers were full. So, there are definitely enough women longboarders out there.”

Chojnacki pointed to a 2017 event held in Mexico, the Mexi Log Fest, as the first longboarding competition to offer equal prize money to men and women.

“If a developing country can offer equal prize money to men and women at a professional event back in 2017, I’m pretty sure the Northern Beaches can afford to.”

Lawyer and Vice President of the Australasian Lawyers Surfing Association, Jess De Simone, said the prize money discrepancy was unjustifiable, and she “couldn’t believe this was still happening in 2021”.

“I was horrified when I saw that Lucy received less than half the prize money, especially in the same year that the Girls Can’t Surf documentary was released and there’s been a greater focus on and celebration of women’s surfing,” she said.

De Simone said she had written to Surfing NSW requesting a meeting to develop a framework to encourage clubs to offer equal prize money for men and women. Options could include Surfing NSW only associating with events that award equal prizes.

She also pointed to California as an example of a potential long-term solution: the US state unanimously passed an “Equal Pay for Equal Play” law back in 2019, after women big wave surfers were competing at Maverick’s and being paid less than the men. The law now makes it illegal in California to pay women and men different prizemoney in athletic events.

More to come.