I have to confess, this article is on some of the topics closest to my heart at the moment. Gender inequality, Women in Sports and Feminism are topics that still call for our attention—especially in the windsurfing world. Whilst globally more women than ever are taking part in extreme sports, I feel that there is a problem with the growth and development of women’s windsurfing. I don’t think it is a coincidence that this happens in a sport where most brand and marketing managers are male windsurfers. A lack of support for women within the sport creates an environment where female athletes are unable to evolve in the same way – or in the same numbers – as men, which in turn feeds back to the industry as justification not to support women equally. This vicious cycle is one of the reasons that the windsurfing world is not growing as it could be—and as it deserves to. I have seen so many extremely talented girls join the world tour and have to stop after a couple of years just because they lack the support they need.
Not only has there been more female windsurfers taking part in the world cup in recent years, but the level of professionalism and skill has also increased. This growth, however, has not been accompanied by an increase in support from the industry. Women receive on average 5-10 times less support for the same performance as their male counterparts. I find this huge difference incredibly difficult to justify. The differences in sponsorship and prize money are also huge. Women get a third of what the guys get in prize money, whilst having the same expenses and putting in the same hours of training and preparation as the men. The top 16 men get free accommodation at events, while only the top 4 women receive this privilege. Knowing this scares me. There is a growing momentum of women’s windsurfing at the moment, but it cannot last without increased support from the industry. If rider organisations such as the PWA send out the right message concerning the importance of female riders through the way they support them, I believe that we can help windsurfing continue to grow.
I am excited to be part of a new generation of young professional windsurfers, ready to do whatever it takes to bring the sport and our own performance to the highest possible level. I don’t want to just say ‘we get so little while the guys get so much’, because the male sailors are also getting nowhere near what they deserve in terms of time, money, passion and talent invested. We are a minority sport with small budgets, but as women we are a minority within this minority and I think we need to shout a bit louder about this. Looking at examples from other sports, I think it’s obvious that a better and more visible female presence within a sport helps widen its audience, as well as the possible participation pool. The best example is in professional surfing – since the WSL committed to parity in prize money and the women get to surf in better conditions and at more events, professional female surfing excellence has increased massively. And then there are more and more girls in the water at all the surf spots and more and more brands selling female only surf apparel. Allowing female windsurfing to grow will ultimately benefit and grow the sport as a whole, so it’s strange that so far the support has not increased. Growing the sport that we are all so passionate about will be positive for everyone involved, athletes in all disciplines and categories, men and women alike. (Other ways of growing our sport will remain a topic for another column on another occasion!…)