So, despite my promises, I have not yet commented here about the now-infamous promo for the 2013 Roxy Pro (shortboard) in Biarritz. (I'm not going to link to it here. If you want to watch it, you can look it up in the usual places.) A lot of other people have been talking about it though with especially thoughtful pieces by Bec Woods, Cori Schumacher, and Tetsuhiko Endo.
As I've (slowly) gathered my thoughts on this clip, I actually have been talking about it in other places, and I have most certainly been talking about it with other women, especially other women who surf. One of the most telling moments was at a social event I went to where there were female surfers a-plenty. When I showed one of them the clip (a competitive female longboarder) she stared and gasped and kept turning to look at me wide-eyed and silent in disbelief. Then she turned the phone to the other women who all watched it one by one or in groups with the same responses - awkward laughter, head shakes and unsurprised disappointment. I wish I could have filmed their responses to show Roxy.
And yet, I've still not written anything substantial. The thing that I kept coming back to is that in past posts I have already said so much about similar clips, so I felt as though anything I said this time would be repetitive and add nothing new. And please believe me when I tell you that writing that sentence makes me depressed. Then again, the marketing of professional women surfers by big surf companies makes me depressed.
But I've thought about it a bit more and I think that in the case of this clip, there is a particular problem that they can't argue their way out of. (Well, there are many problems, but for the sake of focus and brevity, I will just focus on this one.)
It's the same problem I noted when I discussed the clip of Laura Enever, in which Billabong did a really similar thing to 'launch' her as their newest surfer. Similar to the Roxy clip, the surfers were sort of positioned as 'athletes', but were treated and represented as eye candy. I'm not going to bother going into discussion of the sexualisation of women in surf media here. We all know the arguments about this and we all know the arguments in defence - 'sex sells', 'they're allowed to be beautiful', 'it's good for surfing' and so on. And if the clips in these cases had been selling clothes or holidays or hair products or phones (!!) or whatever, it probably wouldn't have ruffled so many feathers. But since the product they are selling is elite female athletes who are amongst the top surfers in the world, then I don't think those arguments are going to fly. Since the other product Roxy was selling was one of the few competitions that the women have on the world shortboarding tour, this clip is unacceptable and lame. Since they featured a woman who is the FIVE TIME WORLD CHAMPION, without showing her surfing at all - in fact, without even showing her face, which was their marketing strategy - this is unacceptable. It's disrespectful to Stephanie Gilmore, and to all the other surfers. It's disrespectful to their skill and technique. It's disrespectful to the years of hard work they have put in to be competing at that level. It's just so totally disappointing.
Like I said, there are a whole heap of other issues raised by this clip, mostly to do with the effects of this kind of marketing on the sport itself, on the women competitors and on the culture of surfing more broadly - but I'm not going to go into detail about all that because those issues are really what this entire blog is about!
Roxy totally deserved to be dragged over the coals this time, because there was no real justification for this clip. The claims of 'oh, but we are going to release a series and she's surfing in the next one' don't really fly, because this was the first one, and thus the one that was always bound to garner the most attention. And this clip isn't 'good for women's surfing', it's good for the marketing of some female surfers as potential billboards for products.
What would be good for women's surfing is to feature the incredible skills and achievements of the female athletes who are at the top of their sport. Doing so would help to push back on the snide, lingering, irritating and increasingly difficult to maintain comments by those who claim that the women on tour can't surf and that's why people don't watch the competitions. The women on tour can surf really, really well, and that deserves some respect. Not least from the very companies who are supposed to support them.
A more recent clip, congratulating their star surfer for winning an ESPY for the 'Best Female Action Sports Athlete' is a lot more like it, and suggests they have taken a lesson from the fury over the past couple of weeks. Then again, it would have been a tough sell to make any other kind of clip considering the award, right? And they still get their necessary bikini shots in...