Liquid Lines

Local Summer a Local Bummer, Flo Go Away and Equal Pay in Pro Surfing

By JON COEN | Sep 12, 2018
Photo by: Jon Coen With the morose weather and impending East Coast landfall of Hurricane Florence, this has not been the best of Septembers.

Every year we await the coming gift of September, the promise of summer weather minus the crowds. Each year, we yearn for temps to drop a few degrees. We look forward to glorious weekdays on the empty beach and hanging at a favorite spot that’s got a line out the door all summer. Business owners relish days of steady patronage and a chance to chat with customers, relieved of August’s pressures.

This year, I’m already calling September, or Local Summer, or whatever, a giant pile of horse crap.

I mean, it started out OK. The masses left the Island on Labor Day. Tumbleweed Tuesday had a clean, little wave. Getting around the Island was easy and life was good. But it sure was hot, and about as humid as you could stand. Last Thursday was 94 freakin’ degrees, which caused schools to close and then the chatter of folks typing, “We never had days off from school when I was a kid,” on tiny keyboards from air-conditioned cars and offices.

But then, like so many weekends of 2018, the weather turned to junk. Saturday and Sunday were the opposite of late-season suntan utopia. They were cold, wet, windy and miserable. A traditionally strong economic weekend went down the storm drain. Every outdoor activity from a beach picnic to a canoe trip was washed out by the rain and hard onshore winds.

Now normally I wouldn’t be so whiny about a fall weekend with northeast winds. But normally that would result in a crisp Monday morning with a 5- to six-foot swell and steady northwest flow.

But the low-pressure system, which was invigorated by the remnants of Hurricane Gordon, would give us no such pleasure. With 8 feet of swell in the water, the wind never went offshore. In fact, it hasn’t relented until midweek and there will be no real cleanup. The wind died Monday night, leaving an unexciting, disorganized shoulder-high swell in the water.

And while we’re on the topic, Hurricane Flo can kiss our collective butt. Short of a direct hit and I’m not even certain that scenario is out of the question, we’re getting hosed. We had days and days of surf that never cleaned up while the Flo swell arrived. And that’s nothing when you consider what’s about to happen to North Carolina and wherever Flo decides to park her unwelcomed sog the next few days.

Hopefully we’re not looking at yet another washout weekend and weather not really clearing up for a few days after, which will basically bring us to the end of September and the whole month known for its post-season magic will have been post-season tragic.

FLOW ME: I guess technically hurricane rules apply right now. If you recall, after Sandy, even our sometimes uptight little sandbar was OK with a fundraiser called “Sandy Blows,” so I’m going to evoke those liberties again.

Hurricane Florence was just so perfectly fitting for tropical season 2018. After such insignificant tropical swell in July and nothing in August, we finally had a storm. And the earliest models had Flo taking a nice northerly curve, a track that would send waves without threat to land, especially after last year’s tropical damage tally. And don’t think anyone has forgotten about Oct. 29, 2012.

We’ve been watching this system since the end of August when it came off Africa, and on Sept. 1 it became a named storm. Keep in mind, at that point the whole East Coast was looking at it as a potential wavemaker and the original track didn’t even have it reaching Bermuda. But everything the computers predicted for Flo proved to be wrong as she went from a tropical storm last Tuesday to a Major Cat 4 last Wednesday. She downgraded back to a tropical storm, but by Monday, she was back to a Cat 4 and got even stronger overnight.

The fact that we’re not getting good surf is minor in the big picture. The bottom line on Flo is beyond serious as a possible Cat 5. By late week, she will very likely be tearing a hole into the Carolina coast.

To give you some perspective, the highest recorded storm surges during Sandy were 9 feet and that was only in a few spots. Winds have been upwards of 140 mph. Surfline has swell forecasted up to 50-foot hitting Hatteras. Early forecasts are calling for a possible 15- to 20-foot storm surge wherever Flo hits. People have now been evacuating for days.

Meanwhile, there are two other named storms out in the Atlantic, one of which is headed for the Caribbean.

And of course, the Carolina impact is going to hurt a lot of us here around LBI as we have a pretty deep connection, especially with the Outer Banks. For many surfers and fishermen, it was our first surf trip and it has a special place in our hearts.

But beyond the nostalgia and our possible fall trips to Hatteras that will likely be canceled are our family and friends, those who will have homes and businesses ruined. We have so much in common with these people. This could prove beyond catastrophic before the rain events even begin.

EQUAL PAY FOR EQUAL WORK: It was a big week for surfing on the world stage. Not only did we see the first-ever tour event run in an artificial wave (well, second if you count Dorney Park in 1985) and won by Brazil’s Gabriel Medina and Hawaii’s Carissa Moore, but it was a huge week for equality.

The World Surfing League men’s and women’s schedules are not the same. Even when both have events run in coordination, the surf is never truly equal. The events take place in the ever-changing ocean so the tides, wind and swell are always going to be different. It would be impossible. And it’s certainly fair to say that the women usually get the less optimal conditions. So it was a breakthrough this week that thanks to Kelly Slater and his team of engineers, the ladies had the exact same playing field as the men at the Surf Ranch Pro.

But that wasn’t even the big equality news. Starting in 2019, the Women’s World Championship Tour will be nearly identical to the Men’s Tour aside from one less event – the Tahiti Pro at Teahupoo and an alternate Hawaii venue to the Pipe Masters.

But the really big news is that surfing will be the first U.S.-based global sports association to offer equal pay for both genders. And that goes for prize money across the WSL Longboard Tour, the World Junior Championships and includes the Big Wave Tour.

This is, in all respects, a bombshell, and wound up being quite timely in light of the tennis sexism debate around the Serena Williams’ U.S. Open incident. The U.S. women’s soccer team was paid far less than its counterpart in 2015 when the women won the World Cup, while bringing in more revenue. That wasn’t a case where they deserved equal pay, but more than the men.

Apparently surfing’s equal pay movement has been in the works for some time. Last week, six-time Women’s World Champ Stephanie Gilmore wrote, “I’m proud to be a surfer. Proud to be a female surfer. I feel like the momentum in our society to have this conversation is incredible – because it’s not just in surfing, or in sport, that women are fighting for equality in the workplace. It’s everywhere. And for this announcement to come now, and for it to happen during my career – and then to have the support of so many male surfers, including Kelly Slater – is unbelievable.”

Before I go any further as a male writing about this situation, let me state that the girls rip. Every single female from the women’s juniors and up makes me look like a manatee after hitting the old Ming Dynasty buffet on 72. And sorry to deflate any male egos around LBI, but besides four local goofyfooters, all of the women on the WCT surf better than any dudes here.

Next we should look at a little history. Pro surfer incomes are based on both prize money and endorsements, with incentives for winning events. The sport is much more “professional” than it was a few years ago. While we can debate the merits of presenting surfing as a more mainstream sports league, that is what the WSL has done since taking over the ASP in 2015. But we can’t deny that it has made some significant changes and one of those was increased prize money.

Before the change, each event on the tour had a title sponsor. The sponsor was responsible for the prize purse, marketing and broadcasting the event. The sponsor would get other brands to help offset the costs. But the idea was that if you had six million streaming viewers, the event sponsor was actively engaging all of them, plus the mention in the surf and sports media.

The WSL came in with more mainstream umbrella sponsors to pay for everything, hence companies like Billabong, Quiksilver, Hurley, Rip Curl were no longer running the show. It also eased their financial burden of being involved, but most events, at their core, are footed by a brand.

Now here’s how capitalism works …

Sponsors are looking for return on investment. Generally, fewer people watched the women’s events. They generate less eyeballs, brand awareness and sales, hence the sponsors put less money into it. The result is less prize money for the women.

While the pay difference was unfortunate, it’s hard to call it sexism. I fully believe that any woman doing the same job as a man should be paid exactly the same. So by simple economics, if your job is to inspire the sales of six-way stretch boardies, DWR-coated fleece flannels, dresses and sun hats, you are not doing the same job as the men.

I had a lengthy discussion about all this with Gilmore a few years ago when I interviewed her in NYC. (She is, by the way, a lovely and bright human being.) She and Mick Fanning were both surfing for Rip Curl and winning titles at the time. She pointed out that men will buy Rip Curl trunks because they like the way Mick Fanning surfs and, to some extent, want to wear what great surfers wear.

Women may appreciate the way Gilmore surfs, but they want to dress like Kate Moss. Again, this was almost 10 years ago, so pardon the dated references. Maybe replace her with Sofia Richie (more Insta followers). But Gilmore still surfs unreal even if Moss isn’t the hottest trendsetter of 2019.

We could discuss how the marketing paradigm and surfing have changed since then, but when you’re talking prize money, women don’t earn the same revenue and they won’t in 2019. Dudes will wake up at all hours to watch a men’s WCT webcast on the other side of the world. They just don’t watch the women with that intensity.

And here’s the real point to consider: I can’t think of a single female who watches pro surfing with any kind of regularity, much less women’s pro surfing. Football is a completely male-dominated sport and yet if you go to ShopRite on a Sunday morning you might see more women than men in Carson Wentz jerseys.

Some 47 million people tuned in to watch a video game world championship last year. That blows the numbers off any women’s surf contest ever. Is that depressing? Yes (kinda makes me ill actually), but it’s capitalism. You can be the very best at what you do, but there’s no significant value to it – it’s a matter of economics, not sexism.

I am good at Skee-Ball, very good. I put up 35,000 points in the arcade last weekend when it was pouring. Not to equate that with women’s surfing, but no one cares about my Skee-Ball career.

So at the end of the day, the WSL is making a decision that is counter to sound economic theory.

But here’s why it’s a huge deal. Unless there’s some rabid fan base waiting to watch the women surf the Gold Coast Pro next spring that I am unaware of, surfing made a decision for equality over economics.

Think about that. Our sport, which has been used to sell everything from soda to system analytics, is leading the example of progress. Like Steph said, right now I’m proud to be a surfer.

NON HURRICANE HAPS:This Thursday is the Jetty Clam Jam official Team Selection Party at the OC. Head on over and see who’s getting paired up and which teams will face off when the Jam goes down either Sept. 22 or 23, Oct. 6 or 7 or any weekend after.

Let’s hope all this weather clears out and the rains of Flo stay far away when the Maker’s Festival comes to Manahawkin Lake on Saturday. This wonderfully growing event is still on with over 100 vendors and their handmade goods, delicious food, seven original bands, a DJ and the Barrel Biergarten. Among the surf and surf-related vendors that will be there are South End Surf ’N Paddle, Seafaring Wood Crafts, Corey Hudson Art, David Macombre, Garden State Surf and Art, Kristin Myers, and Ryan Short Folk Art. There is always an amazing vibe and it should be a fantastic time.

Sept. 28 is Merchant’s Mart which ramps up to Chowderfest on Sept. 29.

Here’s hoping things turn around for the rest of September, we have great weather for Chowderfest and we can enjoy some kind of local-whatever. And much love to our friends in the Carolinas; may your dunes be strong and your recovery swift.

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