Interview by Rebecca Parsons
"SUP has made a lot of moves towards equality for men and women in the sport. We have started to take some much needed steps in a positive direction and we must remember that while we are making progress, we cannot stagnate that progress by resting on our laurels and hoping it will get better by itself." –Annabel Anderson
Annabel Anderson is well-known in the world of SUP racing. She's a dominant force on the water and isn't afraid to speak her mind off of it. She believes in equal rights for men and women and thinks everyone should get what they deserve.
Last year, she was at the forefront of a global equality movement that got people's wheels spinning and ignited overdue conversations. We caught up with Anderson to get her thoughts on the progression of our sport, as well as issues that still need to be addressed. –RP
SUP: What are some positive steps the sport has made towards equality?
AA: Some positive steps include allowing females to race on equivalent board lengths where appropriate. The caveat to this is that not all females have access to 14-foot or unlimited length boards that 'fit' their physiological size. It will be up to the industry and manufacturers to cater to these needs as we move forward.
It is becoming increasingly common for the podium positions at major and regional events to recognize males and females equally when it comes to financial reward. There have been some stern conversations for many years as to why this is important and slowly the recognition of the benefits to making the podium equal is filtering through.
SUP: What are some key issues the sport still needs to address?
AA: There is an overarching need for transparency that is not only filtering through business but also through sport. We see this with the conversations around 'pay equity'. This directly relates to key issues that this sport faces—there is a serious lack of transparency when it comes to what boys receive and what girls receive at the professional level. It's 'taboo' territory that no one wants to talk about. Let's be transparent, as it will mean the world for those girls going into negotiations knowing that they are playing on a level playing field.
We also need to look at how we portray females, the opportunities we give them and how we present them in media. If you are to look at the percentage of stories, media profiles, advertising and coverage of professional men versus professional women, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to acknowledge that it is seriously biased in one direction. When the media tone changes, so do the conversations we have around women. It opens up fresh opportunities, brings tangible media value to sponsors and helps individuals build equity in their personal profiles.
There is also a responsibility that then falls back on the women themselves. It's about being proactive and not reactive. It's about asking for the opportunities, backing themselves, saying that they have the skills to live up to the same value that our male contemporaries are worth, to be as professional and to demand transparency and equity where appropriate. If we don't ask, we won't get.
SUP: How do you think female representation and equality in SUP compares to other sports?
AA: Overall, I think our participation is a lot higher than other sports enjoyed by men and women. When we compare it to surfing, for example, it must be taken in a like for like context. Like the girls on the WSL Championship Tour, SUP's top females can inspire through the demonstration of powerful and inspiring athletic performances. Converse to surfing, there is an amount of 'objectivization' of females and how females are presented in media and advertising with a focus on 'tits & arse' as opposed to athleticism.
I'll agree, it can be a fine line between the two but we all know the difference between a butt shot and when a girl is shredding in the tropics laying back a sick lay of the rail and happens to be clad in a fitting bikini bottom. It is something that is getting better as the conversation changes but in the early days of SUP it was most definitely models over athletes.
SUP: What are men receiving that females aren't?
AA: It's not only about the tangibles that these guys are receiving but the opportunities. Would a girl be given the same assistance, freedom to travel, and opportunity to prove themselves with no quantifiable results to their name? The answer is likely no and most likely because as a society we seem to treat our expectations of girls differently than we do boys.
There are always exceptions to the rule and in this sport we have seen the role that Red Bull has played in allowing a level playing field for young female talent which is equitable to boys—but that is leadership that is happening outside of the actual industry. So from opportunities to expectations, financial assistance to attention and media profiling, what guys are receiving is fundamentally different than that of girls.
Look for Part 2 of this interview coming next week!