Surfer Lucy Small speaks out against inequality in women’s sport

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On a sunny afternoon on Sydney’s northern beaches, Lucy Small received a novelty check for $1500, her prize for winning the women’s division of the Curly Maljam Pro longboard event. Only Lucy couldn’t help but notice that the check given to the men’s champion was more than double hers at $4,000. So when the MC urged Lucy to say a few words, she grabbed the mic — and the moment.

“Thank you to the sponsors for the money they put into the event, but I’d say it’s a bittersweet win knowing our surf is worth half the men’s price,” she said, then the crowd gasped.

“I was trying to force myself not to say it,” recalls Lucy, 28, laughing, “but I couldn’t help it. When I saw there was such a big difference in prize money, I thought I’d had enough. A year later, Lucy is still reeling from this impromptu speech. In the days that followed, a video of her appeal went viral and the story was shared in major media outlets.

Inundated with interview requests, Lucy realized she had a golden opportunity to make a real difference. “I kept telling myself that I had to draw attention to [gender inequality in sport], and I can’t let this go or nothing’s going to change,” she explains. “It’s something that I’ve really felt hurt about over years of competition – and not just years of competition, but watching the sport and thinking ‘when is women’s sport coming’, and to open the newspaper and leaf through 10 pages of uneventful sports reports on women.

accidental activist

Growing up in a sport-loving family in Denmark’s coastal town, WA, Lucy started surfing at 14 and competing at 17. She loves the fun and freedom of riding a wave, the interaction with nature, and the friendships she has made with other surfers. But she’s also seen how hostile the male-dominated roster can be. Just last year, she reveals, a man refused to back out of a wave to avoid it and surfed his longboard straight into his head. (He later tried to give Lucy, who is ranked 33rd on the WSL Longboard Tour, a lecture on how to surf.)

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