The #ipaddleforequality Controversy

Friday, October 20, 2017 was a day that will go down in the history books for SUP competitions. And possibly not just SUP, but the entire sports industry.

That day was the 2nd annual Red Bull Heavy Water Race at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, CA. It was the final event on the APP World Tour schedule for the year and the most challenging SUP competition overall. The Heavy Water is an invite-only event for elite paddlers – elite men paddlers, that is, and boasts a $50,000 prize purse.

Mother Nature threw record high waves at the competitors this year – 20 feet at times – but in hindsight those are almost secondary to the tumultuous waves that were created in the sea of womens’ SUP. Professional and amateur female paddlers alike want to know why women are excluded from this highly regarded, center stage event. They want to see that change, and they want to see it now. Following are what some of the top women athletes had to say:

When I asked the question earlier this week if you were ok with the lack of female invitee’s at the 2nd edition of Red Bull Heavy Water in San Francisco (until the 11th hour on Tuesday when 1x token invitation was extended) the answer was a resounding NO. What it raised was 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. It is not a question of skill or performance, I have personally proven every year that a female is capable of delivering a performance equal to those of the top men and I commend the events and communities that have honoured equality and equality opportunity. My goal is clear: to support equality, transparency and equal opportunity to set a path of success for the future of our sport and its athletes. The question is simple “What do we want for our sisters and daughters?” – Annabel Anderson

“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.” – Candice Appleby

“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.” – Fiona Wylde

“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.”- April Zilg

It still remains to be seen what will come of this movement as far as the sport of SUP and sports in general, but at the very least, hopefully an understanding and shared belief in what equality truly means will be the true winner.