Why this photo of two prize-winning young surfers makes me sad

At first it looks like a happy photo of two gorgeous, young surfers – winners of the 2018 Billabong Junior Series Ballito Pro in South Africa.

The boy, Rio Wade from Indonesia, holds his prize money novelty cheque for 8000 South African Rand. The girl, Zoe Steyn from South Africa, holds her winning cheque for 4000 Rand.

They are two talented surfers who've competed in the same ocean; two people who've worked equally hard to get to the top of their game.

Yet, she wins half the amount of money as him.

And without knowing for sure, I'd guess she probably also gets less money in sponsorship and development support because quite clearly she's worth less.

But she's not. She's just as hardworking and talented as him.

Of course the organisers had an explanation – there were less women competing in the event than men therefore there was a smaller prize pool.

On the surface this is valid. It is factually correct and only this morning I had someone mansplain this to me.


This argument that men compete for longer or more people are watching the event or more men compete is often used to disparage any push for equal pay for women in sport.

This argument fails to recognise the structural changes required to make it an even playing field.


Hoping for some swell this weekend🏄🏼

A post shared by Zoë Steyn (@zosteyn) on

For women competing at high levels or even junior levels of sport, they have so much stacked against them.

They're often supported purely on looks and marketing appeal, rather than skills alone. They're more likely paying their own way and are forced to continue working when competing, even at an elite level. And they're often ignored by mainstream media, sponsors and viewers because we've all been fed this view that women's sport just isn't up to scratch. And when they win the prize money is crap in comparison, which makes it economically difficult to continue pushing ahead.

For women and girls competing in traditionally male dominated sports, like football and cricket, they have to fight against the entrenched boy's club and the lack of facilities for women.

And surfing's no different.

The photo of the two of these surfers standing side-by-side has defined the wage gap. It's become yet another example of the second rate view of women in, not only sport, but in general.

It reinforces to all the grommets out there that the boys have greater ownership over the waves than the girls, even if they never say as much, it's just a given.

And while this photo makes me angry, it mostly makes me sad.

It makes me sad because I feel exhausted pointing out these blatant disparities between the way women and men are treated in society.

Change is coming, well, that's what we've been lead to believe. Women's voices are louder than ever and the world's listening.

But it's not.

This is not just one simple photo, this is yet another moment in time, layered upon every other moment. It's not getting better.

How can a sporting organisation in this current climate think it's ok to pay the girls and boys different prize amounts? Doesn't it know better by now? Hasn't it been listening to the chorus of women all over the world fighting for, pleading for, real change?

Economic equality is the biggest piece of the puzzle that needs fixing. Women and men need to have the same privileges, the same access to financial security and the same rewards for the same level of work.

Those two kids would have spent their childhoods working towards surfing elite, both of them would have worked as hard as each other, but what do they get –unequal financial remuneration.

The message it sends to that young woman is your hard work isn't as worthy as his hard work. And it reinforces to that young man that he is worth more.

We want more girls competing at elite levels, but it's so hard for them to get there. They don't get the same levels of financial support as their male peers, they aren't provided the same media attention and when they get to the top they don't even win the same amount.

Men and women are not equal, not at work, not at home and certainly not in sport.

This photo makes me sad because I'm worried that women are leading this debate and many men have stood up and declared their support, but still these blatant instances of discrimination are regularly occurring.

It's like we're shouting into a void.

I want the world to be different for my three girls. I want them to forge ahead as equals and not have to fight the wave of entitlement.

It's like the people at the top who should be making real changes aren't really listening. Instead, they are wearing noise-cancelling headphones, or in this case, they've buried their heads in the sand.