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The First All-Female Surf Club Makes a Splash for Feminism in Sri Lanka

The disparities in women’s sports are a huge issue for feminists in the United States, with topics such as sexual abuse of athletes by coaches being brought to light by the #MeToo movement and Title IX being passed into law. But these issues are universal as well.

Female athletes are often looked down upon for being too masculine. They challenge gender roles across the globe and prove you can be both strong and beautiful. In Sri Lanka, the first all-female surf club was formed, making history and big push forward for feminism in the country.

Surfing is a sport that doesn’t get much media coverage, but, it is culturally significant to the places where it is prominent. Living in Southern California, surfing was a big part of the culture and many people of either sex surfed. But I often noticed that more men than women surfed and I would always feel uncomfortable surfing because I was worried that the boy surfers would judge my skill.

I also noticed, when surrounded by other girl surfers, I would feel comfortable and confident. That’s why having an all-female surf club is so important. It encourages more girls to surf as they see a real life example of other women surfing, and creates a safe environment for them to learn and have fun.

The all-female surf club in Sri Lanka was founded by Shamali Sanjaya in Arugam Bay. In Sri Lanka, it is not commonplace for women to surf. Women are supposed to either stay at home or go to school, and married women stay at home and take care of their husband and kids.

Sanjaya started surfing consistently when she met Californian surfer Tiffany Carothers. Carothers is a volunteer from Surfing the Nations, an organization whose goal is to make an impact on local and international communities through surfing. For example, Carothers organized an event along with the help of some Australian surfers to get women out in the water. The event was successful, but received huge backlash from the community. Sanjaya also received criticism from her family and the girl surfers were often teased when they were out in the water. 

Overtime, the community began to accept and support the female surfers and it created a positive impact for the women in the community. In late 2018, the Aragum Bay Surf Club became the first officially registered female surf club through the Surfing Federation of Sri Lanka. These women continue to inspire and make a big difference internationally, creating a big wave of change for women in sports.

File:Bethany Hamilton surfing.jpg
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia Commons 

Surfing empowers women from around the world. The World Surfing League recently became the first US-based global sporting league to offer equal pay to male and female competitors.Women’s activism has been a huge contributor to this decision, meaning the women in Sri Lanka contributed largely– even from across the globe.

Recently there has been a huge push for equity in surfing. The Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing has played a big role in this fight. Female surfers everywhere have been pushing for equal pay, sponsorships, equal media coverage and the desexualization of female surfers.

Female surfers are among the most sexualized athletes. The tan, long legged, beautiful blonde is what you first picture when you think of a woman surfing. But many women are fighting to change that stereotype. A huge effort came when women petitioned and protested against the surf brand Roxy’s highly sexual ads labeled, “all sex, no surf” by people opposed. After this event, Roxy’s marketing has taken a step in the right direction, creating ads that focus more on female surfers athletic ability, rather than their bodies.

All of this activism together has created a tidal wave of impact for women in surfing. The first female surfing club in Sri Lanka has positive impact on women in the United States and other countries, and vice versa. Women pushing for the equality they deserve is what has changed the face of surf culture, and is what has brought about tangible progress in the surf community.

Photo: Maxwell Gifted via SURFER

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