And That's All I've Got to Say About It
(Words in italics represent names that I've redacted.)
An Open Letter to Guy Who Put on the Contest and the Related Sponsoring Group:
Since I’m a strong believer in positive reinforcement, I will give credit where credit is due before I get to the point of this letter. Had I not been a black female competitor, I could honestly say the contest was an impressive function if for no other reason than for the positive vibe that was on the beach throughout the day. People were happy. The music was great. The waves, for most of the competitors, were good. What more can you ask for, right?
Well, I am formally asking for a refund of my entry fee and parking fee. I am also requesting a refund of the same amount of money for my friend, and fellow competitor, Surfing Buddy. (Each of us paid $10 to park and $30 to enter the contest.) We both feel that as female competitors we were treated with disrespect.
My first question is this: What did my $30 entry fee get me? From what I can see, it got me nothing. The beach was not closed to non-participants, therefore competitors were forced to contend with non-competitors who dropped in on them, got in the way, or were simply hostile. In other words, the entry fee did not provide competitors with a chance to compete openly and freely. I don’t need to pay $30 to have a paddle battle with someone. Second, at most competitive events, the organizers provide the participants with something free—a t-shirt, food, a sticker, or whatever it takes to make people feel as if their money was well spent . . . even if they were only in the water for a short time. The competitors at this contest were provided with nothing. So, my $30 went toward what? Finally, the women paid the same amount of money that the men did, yet the women were treated unfairly. As we all saw, the waves were good for hours. The male competitors were allowed to go through their preliminaries, semis, and finals while the place was still firing. The women, on the other hand, were forced to wait until the place was flat.
There were seven women in the contest—three were in the shortboard portion and five of us were on longboards. One woman competed in both events. Since there were so few of us, it was decided by the contest director that there would only be two finals heats. This meant that the combined time of the two women’s heats would be 30 minutes. I see no conceivable reason why our heats weren’t scheduled in the midst of the men’s heats while the waves were firing. If you actually respected women’s surfing and the women of color who do surf, you would have given us the chance to show what we can do. Damn the rulebooks or any men who had a problem with that. (And frankly, I think few men, if any, would have complained about it.) You could easily have announced that the women were going to be sent in before the tide got too high. You would not have been met with resistance if you’d reminded one and all that the women paid the same amount of money that the men did and that they too deserved a chance to ride the waves while they were good. Much was made about all of these women of color who were doing this contest, but nothing was done to help us put our best foot forward as women and people of color. My deduction, then, is that you just didn’t give a damn about us even though we were there to represent as surfers.
I find it interesting that the music was pumping and the announcers were busy working the mic during the men’s events. But by the time the women’s longboard heat got under way, everything had changed. The DJ was no longer providing music. There was no announcer. In fact, no one cared enough to even fire the horn and let us know it was time to start the heat. We all waited at the shore for awhile before finally paddling out together since we didn’t know what else to do. By that point in the day, the contest was apparently over. We were just in the way, right? Again, by the time we got in, it was flat. There were few waves to be had. I think only a handful of waves were ridden between the five of us. There simply was nothing out there. Before we knew it, the horn was fired and we were told to get out. Let’s digress for a bit and talk about the little man who was the contest director. Before I tell you how he too disrespected us, I will tell you that I was very nice to him throughout the contest. I was constantly going up to the table to see what time our heats would take place. I spoke to him most of the times that I went to the table. I was always polite and civil, especially since I represent the Related Sponsoring Group. I even thanked him at one point for helping out. In other words, he and I got along just fine. However, Surfing Buddy seemed to rub him the wrong way. She asked him throughout the day what time our heat would be and why we couldn’t simply be scheduled earlier. Apparently, he didn’t appreciate the questions. Surfing Buddy caught a wave while we were out there. When she paddled back in to check her results, she saw that there was an “NW” next to her name. In other words, the judges said she got “no wave”. When she complained to the contest director about it, he said (with a good amount of derision), “It only took you 40 minutes to catch a wave.” What was that about? For one thing, we were only out there for 15 pointless minutes (that, I will remind you again, cost both of us $40). And what was he trying to say?
I supported this contest from the beginning. I received the contest fliers on a Thursday night. By Friday afternoon, I was dropping them off at surf shops. I contacted Surfline.com several times to ensure that the contest was mentioned in the “Local Knowledge” section of the website. I even publicized the contest on my own surf-related website. I did my part. You did not do yours.
Guy Who Put on the Contest, as the father of a little girl who will probably grow up to surf (and surf well given your abilities in the water), I hope your daughter is treated better than this when it’s her turn to compete. Is this what you want for her, contests that treat her like a second-class citizen who is unworthy of both decent waves and decent prizes? I’m certain you want something better for her. As a black woman, I want something better for her as well.
With that said, be aware that I’m not expecting the other women to complain. I’m not even sending this letter to anyone but the three of you. In other words, I’m not trying to make anyone look bad. All I want is a refund of the $80 Surfing Buddy and I spent to support this event. I will also let you know that I won’t be doing any other contests, so you won’t be receiving another complaint from me next year. If you see me at the next Names Changed to Protect the Innocent contest, I won’t be wearing a rashguard. I’ll be in the water free surfing . . . for free.