How young women face discrimination in male-oriented sports

woman surfing waves
By Nora Ebaid

As last year’s Olympics took place we gradually saw more and more women joining sports from all over the world. Muslim-oriented countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia which are culturally patriarchal have allowed women to compete in the 2020 Olympics.

In an article by, they stated that there are “significant gender gaps when we look at the number of women participating in sport – 1.5 million fewer women than men participate in sport at least once a month.” And we can see this in most sports from football to basketball, more men are recognized within these sports than women are.  

While some sports like Netball, basketball and volleyball have opened their doors to women years ago, women might find it difficult to join other men-oriented sports. Competitions, salary and prize compensations play a big role in this, whereas in most sports like football, for example, the women’s pay is much lower than that of men. The World Surf League, which is one of the main surfing competitions around the world, only started in 2018 awarding equal prize money to male and female athletes. This competition is the only surfing competition that awards male and females equally. In most surfing competitions women’s prizes are at a third of what the male may win. 

Besides the obvious pay cuts and low compensations, many women surfers face discrimination on a daily basis from their male counterparts. 

Julia Luger surfing. Photo from

Julia Luger shared a story she experienced with another female surfer from the Netherlands while surfing in Indonesia.

“A friend of mine was in the water, and she is a good surfer who has many years of experience, as well as teaching surfing back home in Holland. We were surfing one day when a famous board shaper from Bali was surfing that day as well. She was going for all the small waves, because he was basically claiming all the big waves for himself, and then at one point she decides that she wants to have a big wave as well, so she was waiting and then a small wave came by, and then the shaper looks at her and says ‘this one’s for you, it’s a small one, you will like it,’” she said.

Julia also recalls being underlooked as a surfer, “I remember surfing one day, at a right point break in Indonesia, I was waiting for my waves for about 20 minutes. For the big set to come, and then a local guy and a tourist surfer come into the water and I was still waiting for the wave and then the set finally comes, and then the guys look at each other and then they say ‘you go, or I go?’ and even though I was there first and had been waiting for a long time, I just said to them, ‘no, it’s my turn’ and I took the wave,” Julia shared. 

Indonesian female surfers face other difficult issues when getting into the water. A few years ago the male surfers would punch you out of the water, but recently things have been getting better and you can see more and more young girls learning how to surf. Male surfers are also accepting females into the water more than they did five years ago, but some female surfers in today’s world face other problems. 

Gabriella, a 21-year-old Indonesian female surfer said that the male surfers are more welcoming these days, but she has experienced comments from people sitting on the beach or swimming who have complained about her dressing in a bikini. “They thought I was a foreigner so they spoke in the local dialect, so I just kept quiet, but then there was one word that really made me upset when one of the swimmers said that he would want to take off my bikini and f*** me with his friends,” she said. 

Photo from @adambrasco__

Gabriella also stated that she sometimes spends hours in the water, “while other people take my turn- my turn has been skipped, time after time after time.” Being a female surfer may result in people thinking that you can’t surf.

While it was much harder to become a female surfer 20 years ago and women still face discrimination in male dominated sports, we see more women practising more lately and joining events. It took ages for women in the workplace to feel confident and until now in some countries, there is a huge pay difference between males and females. Nevertheless, there are many organisations such as Women in Sports that are working hard to change that. And the more populated these sports become with females, the less discrimination there may be out there.

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