So, as it turns out, the surf industry
isn't completely insensitive to the gratuitous use of sex and women's bodies. There is in fact a line that can be crossed. It's surprising, really, given that this is a multi-billion dollar industry built on a foundation mostly comprised of wispy triangles of fabric, tan teenage skin, and sun-bleached blonde locks, that continues to patronize its female professionals by calling them girls, but hey, good for surfing.
The controversy centers around a promotional video for the Roxy Pro 2013 kicking off this week in Biarritz, France, which features a young woman topless in bed. It follows her through her morning constitutionals — blatant sponsor placement as checking out her HTC One multiple times, putting on a gauzy white shirt, and showering before paddling out for her heat. You never see her face, and the vid is accompanied by the #WhoAmIJustGuess hashtag. Mostly, you just see the woman's bottom (the fact that the industry is debating whether it's five-time world champ Steph Gilmore or Roseanne Hodge suggests just how interchangeable the slender blonde pro archetype has become) in panties or bikini bottoms. You'd think that the industry might be cheering because there's a video starring a bum belonging to a professional female surfer other
than Alana Blanchard, but no.
Instead, the woman in question has been compared to a callgirl. Surfer lamented that video had nothing to do with surfing. A columnist at The Inertia ranted for nearly a thousand words
: "Whatever this crap is, it aint about sport, and it definitely aint about women. It’s lazy, exploitative marketing, and it’s not the best step forward for women’s surfing."
Yeah, well, I don't know about that. How this video is any more exploitive than the materials Nike 6.0 has produced with its sponsored female surfing athletes is debatable. It's very much about women — women and beauty. And a languid morning in a luxury hotel. And sexiness and attractiveness and aspiration. Personally, I'd love to have a nice weekend in that room with my wife, ordering room service coffee, having a leisurely morning, and then walking out onto the sand for a session before the wind comes up. What I think makes surfers so uncomfortable is that the contest organizers haven't made the slightest effort to connect this directly to the sport. They haven't thrown a single bone to the core.
Yes, the repetitive closeups of her bottom are exploitive and lazy. But what sparked this outcry was not the loving caress of the camera over a nearly nude young woman — you'll find that in almost every video featuring professional female surfers. No, the real outrage was that there was no surfing in it. If the heroine in this Roxy promo had ended her time on screen by dropping into a head-high Biarritz peeler, nobody would have said boo. Surfers like to think that surfing is a higher calling, that as a sport or way of living it's superior to all other sports and ways of living, and as long as there's a modicum of wave riding involved they'll accept all manner of t and a. Strip away the actual surfing, though, and it suggests, god forbid, that it might just be another lifestyle element. It makes you wonder which is the gratuitous inclusion and which isn't.
Surfing should be congratulated for at least beginning to address the issue — which, given the fact that its top female participants are young, fit, and wearing little, isn't going away. But it might also learn that red-cheeked tantrums don't change minds. As political and social satirists from SNL to The Daily Show have long known, the most effective way to skewer hypocrisy is often through humor and the pointy barbs of mockery, like this sendup of the Roxy video below. (Caution to those at work and with sensitive eyes, it's a bit crude.)