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Last Friday, the World Surf League (WSL) announced it would immediately allow transgender athletes to compete across all touring competitions. The WSL says they are simply adopting the same policy of the International Surfing Association (ISA), which is official Olympic policy at this point.
The ISA’s requirements for competing as a female (as crazy as that sounds to say out loud) include a prerequisite testosterone level. The transgender policy also outlines a number of requirements for those “assigned” female or male at birth.
ISA Eligibility by Gender Rule
1. An athlete who was assigned male at birth, and/or who identifies as a man, and has man/male on his passport or national identity card is eligible to compete in a men’s event or as a man in a mixed event.
2. An athlete who was assigned female at birth, and/or who identifies as a woman, and has woman/female on her passport or national identity card is eligible to compete in a woman’s event or as a woman in a mixed event.
3. An athlete who was assigned male at birth, who identifies as a woman, and has woman/female on her passport or national identity card is eligible to compete in a men’s event, or as a man in a mixed event, if she has not met requirements to compete in a woman’s event (such as maintaining testosterone level less than 5 nmol/L continuously for the previous 12 months)
4. An athlete who was assigned male at birth who identifies as a woman and has man/male or “other” or “X” on their passport or national identify card is eligible to compete in a men’s event or as a man in a mixed event.
5. In order to compete in a woman’s event or as a woman in a mixed event, where either:
A. An athlete who was assigned male at birth and whose gender has changed and identifies as a woman, and/or has woman/female, “other” or “X” on her passport or national identity card: or,
B. The surfer has otherwise been required by the Executive Committee and/or Medical Commission to establish eligibility to compete in a women’s event:
The surfer must satisfy the International Surfing Association Medical Commission that her serum testosterone concentration has been less than 5 nmol/L continuously for a period of the previous 12 months and secondly, meets any other requirements reasonably set by the Executive Committee and/or Medical Commission.
The move comes as more and more women are being pushed out of their Title IX protected sports to make room for men who have decided they have better odds competing against women.
In 2022, Sasha Jane Lowerson, male-to-female transgender surfer, won the women’s open and logger divisions at the Western Australian Longboard State Titles. Lowerson is touted as the first transgender athlete to win a surfing competition.
Isn’t it interesting that those “first transgender champion” monikers are awarded exclusively to men claiming to be women?
It is equally interesting that we are constantly told that “trans women are women” and yet when one “wins” a female competition we’re supposed to take note of it as if it is groundbreaking. Women win women’s competitive events all the time. Literally.
At least one surfer of note is standing up for her sport and the women who work hard to compete. Bethany Hamilton has a myriad of surfing titles and accomplishments to her name. She first rose to fame after losing an arm to a shark encounter while surfing. The film “Soul Surfer” chronicled her recovery, her faith journey and her path to becoming one of the most famous surfers in the world.
Hamilton took to her Instagram over the weekend to voice her dissent on allowing males to compete in women’s surfing, saying she would not compete any longer if the WSL maintains the policy.
“Today I want to address the news that the World Surf League has officially made the rule that male-bodied individuals known as transgender athletes can officially compete in the women’s division…This concerns me as a professional athlete that has been competing in the World Surf League events for the past 15+ years, and I feel that I must speak up and stand up for those in position that may feel that they cannot say something about this. I personally won’t be competing in or supporting the World Surf League if this rule remains.”
Hamilton went on to ask quite a few interesting questions that certainly deserve an answer.
“I think many of the girls currently on tour are not in support with this new rule and they fear of being ostracized if they speak up. So, here I go. Questions I have that I want to consider with you. How is this rule playing out in other sports, like swimming, running, MMA? Have any of the current surfers in the World Surf League been asked what their thoughts and opinions are on this new rule before it was passed or announced?….Is a hormone level an honest and accurate depiction of that someone indeed is a male or female?…How did whoever decided these hormone rules come to the conclusion that 12 months of testing testosterone make it a fair and legal switch?”
She also pointed out that (as is always the case, for reasons that should be obvious to everyone except apparently those who adjudicate athletics) this is not a discussion that involves female-to-male transitioners busting into the male competitions. Hamilton concluded by suggesting a separate category for transgender athletes.
“I personally think that the best solution would be to create a different division so that all can have a fair opportunity to showcase their passion and talent. We are seeing glimpses of male-bodied dominance in women’s sports like running, swimming, and others.”
WSL athletes deserve a response to Hamilton’s important questions. They deserve a say in the matter. They deserve much more than they have been given, in light of the fact that without competitors, there is no league. It is sad that the act of defining gender is such a “brave” act these days, but here we are. Kudos to Hamilton for such bravery. Hopefully it will inspire more athletes to join her.
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