Carrying on a tradition of pro surfers taking a stand.
Tyler Wright’s 439 second knee and raised fist in support of Black Lives Matter was the moment that put the WSL’s Tweed Coast Pro on the radar of mainstream news. The fact she also won the event ensures that the moment will linger a little longer.
Professional surfers making political statements have been few and far between.
The most notable of course was Tom Carroll and Cheyne Horan who both boycotted the South African leg of the tour in protest against apartheid in 1985. Carroll’s decision to take “a basic humanitarian stand” as he put it came at a time in his career when he was the reigning ASP World Champion.
A decade later, Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke said of Carroll’s stand that he knew of “no example in the history of Australian sport where a champion has been prepared to put principles so manifestly in front of his or her own interests.”
Despite the boycott of South Africa, the then ASP continued to hold annual events in South Africa throughout the apartheid era, unlike most major sporting bodies (the IOC & FIFA expelled South Africa 1964-88).
Wright’s decision to make a statement at the Tweed Coast Pro has come at a time when “call-out culture” and “wokeness” is a defining feature of our online conversations. “Woke” is described as alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice, along with being aware of what's going on in the community.
However, that’s not to say Wright’s statement isn’t genuine. The BLM movement in Australia has gained serious attention as athletes, celebrities, and regular Australians protest are push for indigenous recognition and use their voice to call out racism that has plagued First Nations Australians for generations.
The 439 seconds Wright dropped a knee and raised her fist represented one second for every First Nations person in Australia who has lost their lives in police custody since 1991. A mind-boggling and shameful statistic.
The WSL fully endorsed and supported Wright’s political statement at the Tweed Heads Pro and many other professional surfers sent messages of solidarity.
“The WSL is in full support of Wright and everyone around the world who are making their voices heard against racism and injustice,” said the WSL in a statement. “Surfing is for everyone and the WSL stands in solidarity to proactively work against racism and fight for true equality.”
Whether similar political statements will be made by American pro surfers when the WSL’s US events do the rounds in 2021 remain to be seen. Could a boycott occur in Hawaii by Hawaiian athletes? Would any pro dare rock a MAGA hat in a post-heat interview?
There will always be critics who see athletes taking a political stand is simply virtue signally in the guise of moral purity. But using your voice as an athlete to send a message for good is surely worth celebrating at a time when the world feels so divided.