Last Friday the second annual Red Bull Heavy Water hosted one of the gnarliest standup paddle races to date. A highly coveted title sponsor, a $50k prize purse and an elite field of competitors aligned with near impossible conditions (15-foot swell and formidable wind chop) in San Francisco for a showing that reflected progress in almost every sense and set a new precedent for what’s possible in competitive SUP. But there was one important piece that Heavy Water failed to adequately address: equality.
While the invite-only event featured a laundry list of the sports top male athletes, women were not accounted for on roster. Organizers claimed to have consulted female representatives of the sport during the planning stages to reach a consensus on the decision, but on Friday morning as the race got underway an organized group of female paddlers spoke out on social media with hundreds of posts telling a different story—one demanding inclusiveness and equal opportunity for all standup paddlers moving forward. Here’s what some of the leading voices had to say about the #ipaddleforequality movement. –MM
(#ipaddleforequality) raised the wider issue that myself and other females have been challenging for many years—to be treated with the equality of opportunities that are extended to our male contemporaries both inside of competition and out. The #ipaddleforequality movement is indicative that as a society we are now demanding equal opportunity and parity as core values in our society, and that we must consider the impacts of our decisions when we are in a position of potentially excluding any one or more particular groups.
On the whole we must be mindful that as a sport we are streaks ahead of some other codes when it comes to the opportunities that females have to compete. We have solid platform to build from and my hope is that event organizers, sponsors, the industry and media see this as the opportunity to lead by example moving forward. While this has morphed into a degree of subjectivity around what “equal opportunities” means, females who want to be a part of these opportunities moving forward must realize that they must be of the skill, performance and capability level to do justice to their inclusion.
This movement has shown myself and hopefully the world, just how unified and determined the female SUP athletes can be. It also shows that we're serious about succeeding as professional athletes, and that we want the next generation to succeed as well by building a strong foundation for them.
I want to make it clear that this movement is not about "us vs. them" in regards to the men. They are amazing athletes who continue to inspire me and I'm in awe of their performances in San Francisco. It is my dream that the opportunities and rewards available to the men regularly, will one day be available to the women without question.
Women's competitive standup paddling has come a long way in the past ten years. The participation has grown immensely on the amateur, professional and junior side, not only in numbers, but in depth of talent. From the early years we as women have had to advocate for fairer race starts, our own races (not mixed in with men that might possibly impede our performances), and better prize money. The result of those efforts has been events like PPG and Gorge Paddle Challenge (and others) granting equal prize purses and separate races. Without that push, and the forward thinking of those race organizers, it may not have happened. I also pushed to have our own Women's SUP Surf APP Tour, after years of it being only men, and it was granted and for that I'm grateful. However there are still many events worldwide with big discrepancies in prize money distribution, race starts, board class (a tough issue to tackle given various demographics globally), and it would be great to see more races follow the example of races like PPG.
One thing I know is that nothing changes if nothing changes. For some, change is uncomfortable, but that doesn't mean it's bad. At the end of the day, for myself this movement comes from a place of love for my sport, its athletes, and my desire to see others succeed.
I personally believe that everybody should have an equal opportunity, regardless of the situation. For me, that is what (#ipaddleforequality) should be about. This should be broad spectrum to include everyone and everything in our sport to open up equal opportunity for both men and women. Maybe today everything isn't equal, but I believe that as our sport grows we can create an equal playing field for men, women, girls and boys, to all have fun competitively and recreationally on the water.
I hope for a lot of things, but mainly for everyone to feel respected for the courageous athletic feats that standup paddlers do on a daily basis—both men and women. I hope that more women seek to compete in standup paddling because they see it as a fun and fair sport. The only way we will achieve this is to all work together.
The movement was simple: it’s about inclusion. Period. Didn’t matter what board size or if there was any prize money involved, just inclusion. The “right” to participate if we so desire. For me it hits a personal note because people like Tanvi (Jagadish) are fighting for women’s equality where it’s a big issue. For it to even be an issue in America is embarrassing.
I hope the women who want to paddle that event are let in. Sadly, I don’t see much other change rising from this. For some reason, women have a hard time making a living in athletics, and it’s not limited to SUP. Basketball, Olympic canoe, mountain biking … the list goes on where women are treated as second-class. Maybe people think we’re not as entertaining to watch as men? I disagree and honestly don’t know why it is. We’re working as hard, traveling just as far and dedicating just as much of our lives to sport as any man. So why we wouldn’t be given equal everything is beyond me.
The #ipaddleforequality movement hit home for me especially as one of the earlier females in the sport; I've been involved in SUP at all levels from it's infancy until now. In this case, the event organizer failed to realize that women are a huge influence in our industry as racers, recreational specialists, coaches, retailers and supporters. My wish would be that the organizer would, at the minimum, release an acknowledgement statement to the public addressing their awareness of our community's concern. Many men are equally (passionate about this).
The movement also resonated with me as I've always been the only girl on the track in dirtbike racing, or the only woman in my former all "male dominated" orthopedic career. I've never gotten any special treatment or been asked to perform at a lower level. Nor did I ask for a special category to race in or ask if I could ride a smaller dirtbike with less cc's, nor did I ask the medical company to go easy on me. I showed up and performed. I've worked and paddled with some of the top SUP athletes, men and women from around the world. There is absolutely no difference in their fire, their spirit, their desire and their mental strength, or their physical strength.
Going forward, (I hope to see) equal payout, equal board lengths, same courses, same recognition.
This movement to me highlights the struggle for equal opportunity that has been going on for many many decades, and I would love to see organizers encourage women to compete in gnarly events rather than exclude them. I hope the landscape will change into a more unified one going forward. I don't think we need our own events, I just think it'd be great if we could be included in the ones that already exist … even if there is 15ft swell!
More on #ipaddleforequality
See how the 2017 Red Bull Heavy Water went down.