Going up onstage to accept the prize, Small called out the tournament organisers for the unequal prize money. “I will just point out…thank you so much to the sponsors for all the money they put into the event, but I would say that it is a bittersweet victory knowing that our surfing is worth less than half of the men’s prizes,” said Small.
“It costs the same amount to fly here, accommodation costs the same, yet our surfing is worth half as much,” Small continued, adding, “so maybe we could think about that for next time?”
Small later shared the clip of her acceptance speech to her Facebook page, where she captioned the post: “Sometimes you just gotta be prepared to be disliked in order to get what you want.”
While Small’s speech certainly caused quite a stir at the competition, her words are poignant and deserve a platform to be heard. Curl Curl Longboarders Club President Tim Reilly justified the decision to The Sydney Morning Herald in an interview which saw him claim that the only reason female surfers don’t receive the same amount of prize money as the men is simply because it’s been that way since the event was founded in 2011.
“I just feel bad for the guys who ran it for the whole day and put hundreds of hours into it,” he told the publication. “She [Small] should have come and seen me, that was an easy thing that could have been fixed.”
To make matters worse, club secretary Phil Nicol told the publication that he saw no problem awarding women less money and claimed organisers did nothing “illegal.” He added, “This is a moral issue.”
Small told The Sydney Morning Herald that she was unaware the prize money would be unequal, as per the World Surf League’s guidelines which saw the organisation commit to equal prize money in 2018. “We are just so sick of this happening,” explained Small. “I am just really tired of putting in so much time and effort and money and investing so much into going to these events…and getting less than half the reward.”
Thankfully, since making her speech, a donor has put up the money to back pay for the missing prize money from the surfing competition. Small also revealed on her Instagram that surfing Australia has since written into their rule book that all affiliated events must now have equal prize money. “It’s a small victory in an industry that needs widespread change and more broadly we need cultural shifts in the way we view women in sport and the legitimate place we have in sporting spaces,” wrote Small.
That it’s 2021 and female athletes are still fighting for equal pay is deeply distressing. Time and time again, we’ve seen women at the top of their field having to fight to see their worth as athletes given the same respect as their male counterparts. Small may have ruffled feathers, but importantly she’s started a conversation. It’s one we’ve been having for years, but by continuing to spotlight the adversity faced by women in sport, hopefully change will come.