Interview by Rebecca Parsons

The 2017 Red Bull Heavy Water event was one of the most controversial SUP races to date. A lack of female invites sparked a worldwide equality movement with women from all corners of the globe taking a stand. At the forefront of it all was Annabel Anderson.

This year, women are invited to the party, although we’re not sure who or how many yet.

Here, Anderson shares what exactly went down in 2017 and how we, as a community, can move forward and grow from the experience.

Tell us about the controversy that was stirred up by the Red Bull Heavy Water event.

We all know that Ocean Beach throws up significant and critical conditions that only a few are skilled enough to cope with (likewise men). But it was the absolute ignorance on behalf of the event director to choose not to invite women. A last minute invite to one or two females 48 hours out from the event is not only an insult but proves that female invitees were an afterthought.

As I asked on Instagram when I broached the subject that opened the flood gates: "This week the boys get to compete for $50,000. The girls didn't get invited. The question is, in 2017 are we prepared to accept this?" (See the post) As we now know and continue to see across many movements, we are absolutely not prepared to be discriminated against due to gender as a society. It was a highly pivotal moment for the sport and will be remembered as a turning point for the better.

Why do you believe women are qualified to compete in events like Red Bull's Heavy Water event?

Dare I say there have likely been some men that got sent packing back to the beach with a DNF beside their name? But does their skill and ability ever come into question?

There have been multiple events held where girls have competed in big conditions (6'+) and shown that they have the skills and finesse not only to survive but to excel. There have been multiple Stand Up World Tour/APP Events as well as many others that have lived up to being 'heavy', 'critical' and 'dangerous'. When we raise the bar, we raise the level across the board.

Tell us about the 'I Paddle for Equality' movement.

This was something that came about to harness the power of the response that was generated by my original Instagram post. Conversations were being had and it was evident that people wanted to say more. Harnessing the collective conversation into a campaign that stood for change and the need for equality, while allowing individuals to each put their own personal face to the campaign resonated far and wide. As the first posts were made, others joined in, more followed, and it became a movement of females (and a few brave men who stood up to support the women in their lives) who all want to make things better and share the collective interest of the sport and it's future. It demonstrated the power of social networks and how they can be used in a positive manner to bring unity and raise conversations that need to be had.

You're one of the most well-known and respected females in the sport. How do you take on that role as a role model to the younger generations of female athletes?

This is more a case of demonstration of actions over and above anything else. It's how I present myself as an athlete and how I present myself in various forms of media and in person. I want girls to know that first and foremost they are individuals that can have a lasting impact on the world. I want them to be known for their talents and actions rather than gaining attention from the provocative images of their assets. If you want to be respected as an athlete, you must act like one.

How can men in SUP support steps toward equality?

I don't think you can expect this to happen naturally but that it will happen naturally over time as societal attitudes change. The more that kids grow up being treated equally with equal opportunities, they will know no different. It will be come the 'new' normal. When they do see something that doesn't look 'fair and equitable' they will ask 'why?'

Right now the biggest proponents of men supporting steps towards equality in sport are fathers with daughters who see this first hand. By having fathers supporting daughters and adding brothers, uncles, significant others, and supporters to this we will start to make great societal change by them saying 'that's not fair, we need to change this'. It's like having a societal audit and compliance committee check.

What is your hope for the future of SUP?

That we no longer need to be having these conversations and can get on with the good stuff.

Read Part One