Since the WSL has announced their transgender athlete policy end of February allowing transgender surfers to compete in the division of their gender identity a huge debate arose.
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The transgender athlete policy
The ISA released the policy first in October 2022 and was later on adapted by the WSL. The policy allows transgender women to compete in the women’s division without requiring them to undergo gender confirmation surgery, and transgender men can compete in the men’s division. The decision was made after consultation with medical experts and advocates for transgender rights.
Athletes who are assigned male at birth are required to maintain a testosterone level less than 5 nmol/L (nanomoles per liter) for 12 months previous to competing in a women’s event. Testosterone levels of assigned as women at birth range between 0.5 to 2.4 nmol/L.
Mixed reactions from the surfing community
The policy has been met with mixed reactions. At the forefront of opposition to inclusion in professional surfing is Bethany Hamilton, who said in a statement on February 4 that she will not compete or support the World Surf League (WSL) if the new transgender policy is implemented. Some professional surfers share their concerns that the inclusion of transgender people could jeopardize the fairness of competition. Mainly because of the physical advantages that transgender women might have over cisgender women.
Bethany Hamilton proposes to create a separate division for transgender athletes. Her last sentence in the statement reads, “It’s hard to imagine what the future of women’s surfing will look like in 15 to 20 years if we allow this major change.”
Milestone for equality
Regardless of the the debates, the new policy is a positive step towards inclusion and equality in professional surfing. It sends the message that everyone should have the opportunity to participate in the sport regardless of their gender identity.
Currently, there is one transgender athlete, Sasha Jane Lowers, who competes in longboarding in the women’s division. Why should she be excluded or placed in a different division?
If we want to work toward more equality, a person who identifies as a woman or a man should not be placed in a different category. Just imagine the psychological impact of undergoing a procedure such as hormone therapy to surf in the division with which you identify, and then being denied admission on the grounds of fairness.
To echo Bethany Hamilton’s statement. Yes, it’s hard to imagine what women’s surfing will look like in 20 years. And if you look back at the milestones of the last 40 years, a lot has been accomplished for more equality in surfing. But it shouldn’t stop there. Given feminism’s goals of ending sexism and oppression, we can’t stop now. Many groups like transgender and non-binary people still don’t have the same surplus and opportunities. And transphobia and feminism don’t work together.
Beyond professional surfing
Looking at the surf community, a policy that is inclusive of transgender and non-binary people is important. It can send a positive signal for more inclusion in lineups around the world.
As Stab Magazine wrote, not only has WSL adapted the ISA guidelines, but so have 109 surfing associations from around the world. This means that the rule also affects children and teenagers in amateur competitions. So a 16-year-old transgender girl can compete in her national surf event (if the federation has applied the policy). And this is what Brendon Buckley of Stab says: “This affects thousands of surfers at all levels of surfing”.
Conclusion and statement:
As with all new policies applied, over time they can evolve, taking into account experiences and opinions.
We stand for equality in surfing and therefore support transgender people in professional surfing. And we do so in the category that corresponds to their gender identity. In addition, we also support non-binary people in choosing their category.