Why Lesbian Surfing Champion Cori Schumacher is Boycotting This Year’s Competition

Cori Schumacher, 33, is a lesbian and the reigning women’s world longboard champion. There are a lot of world championships out there – snooker, darts, chess and certainly one can’t expect all “world champions” to make a living from their crafts. However, based solely on my observations of the surfing portions of Disney classic “Johnny Tsunami,” I’d expect a surfing champion to make a living surfing.

But Cori Schumacher makes a living waiting tables at Naked Cafe, a restaurant in Solana Beach, California, at least partially because “this independence gives her the freedom to publicly speak her mind, and she’s got a lot to say.”

Schumacher has refused endorsements since 2001 when she walked away from a $2,000/year sponsorship: “I was like, I can’t do this anymore. This is ridiculous. So I just totally quit.” Somewhere in LA, Kobe Bryant probably just made $2,000 for thinking the word “Nike.” Whereas $50,000 is the max prize for lady-surfers, men compete for prizes of up to $1 million.

“Any opportunity handed down by the powers-that-be is generally accepted with gratitude by female longboarders,” Schumacher writes in The Guardian UK, but now Schumacher is in the spotlight for boycotting the ASP Women’s Longboard Tour, set to take place on Hainan Island, China. Schumacher wrote ASP administrators to say:

“I have deep political and personal reservations with being a part of any sort of benefit to a country that actively engages in human rights violations, specifically those in violation of women. The ASP’s reconnoissance (sic) of possible sites in China for events last year and its first ASP event in China followed an important US congressional hearing on China’s “One Child Policy”, a policy sanctioned by the Chinese government that is implicated in gendercide, sexual slavery, forced sterilization and forced abortions.”

This is the first time a professional surfer has opted out of a major competition since 1985 when a few bros were totes done with that whole apartheid thing and didn’t compete in South Africa. That makes sense to me since there haven’t been any other major world events that could cause moral dilemmas since 1985.

The New York Times recently covered the surfer’s decision in a piece about the challenges facing female surfers. I’ll sum it up quickly for you. Ahem: “No one cares about women’s surfing. When women think/speak/have feelings it is bad for business. If women want money, respect, anything other than the vagina they were born with they have to yell about it and then all they will get is this news article which is the equivalent of when you try to be a good person that adopts a dog instead of buying it from the evil pet store empire but all you leave the shelter with is puppy slob on your sleeve and the sounds of a chew toy echoing in your head.”

In other words, if you want details on, say, the actual experiences these women have as surfers, you won’t find it in The New York Times. Schumacher mentions that surfing is “massively homophobic” but we don’t get any details about how it’s not exactly Curl Girls out there. Despite stating that Schumacher refuses sponsorship partly because she wants to be outspoken about the causes she cares about, The Times barely even broaches these issues, choosing to fill news-space with quotes like this one from ASP north America executive director Meg Bernardo: “I think that women’s overall surfing is just having a real hard time right now with sponsorship and it will really come from the women making a stand about how women are portrayed.”

There’s a brief mention of  Schumacher’s reasons for refusing a sponsorship from Roxy:

“Here’s a company who talks such an amazing game, and yet in their advertising, they’re cutting off women’s heads. Over the years, the rhetoric has changed. They’ve embraced more enlightened language, and yet through their advertising, they’re marketing the same things, and that doesn’t make sense to me.”

… and that’s it. In the context of an article re-packaged as being about women struggling to bank in surfing, the author seems to characterize Schumacher’s activism as rabble-rousing, and I don’t appreciate it. Schumacher is straight up gay married and an advocate for gay and women’s rights in surfing and beyond. I think if the article wanted to get into the nitty gritty details of the hurdles female surfers face, she would have been on board (see what I did there). Meanwhile her move has been praised by Women’s Rights Without Frontiers and um, totally mis-categorized as a “pro-life” platform by the “American Family News Network,” which is profoundly upsetting and quite reductive.

Schumacher is given a platform to explain her decision in The Guardian UK, however, and also in The The Del Mar Times, Schumacher gets more face time regarding her decision to boycott China:

I felt like I had two choices: I could go with my reservations and wear a ‘Free Tibet’ shirt, or something trite like that. Or, I could stand up for what I believe in and hopefully call more attention to these issues through a boycott.

What do you think? Does coverage of this decision reflect the very same dismissive misogynistic attitude within surfing that Schumacher wants to change? What do you think of her decision to boycott the competition?

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Brittani Nichols is a Los Angeles based comedy person. When she's not tweeting about white people or watching television, she's probably eating pizza. Actually, she's probably doing all three of those things concurrently and when she's not doing THAT, she's sleeping. Brittani also went to Yale and feels weird about mentioning it but wants you to know.

Brittani has written 329 articles for us.

20 Comments

  1. I follow surfing quite a bit. I think it’s ridiculous that the male surfers make so much more than the female surfers. The contests pay more. They get more and higher paying sponsorships. And rarely do females get the covers of the surf magazines. Not unless you are 4-time champ Stephanie Gilmore. Nowadays when it comes to female surfers, surf companies are all about promoting the idea that “female surfers are no longer butch/manly looking”. Especially to young girls to try to get them interested in the sport. Alot of the top female surfers right now (short boarders anyway) are in their late teens and 20s. Tyler Wright and Lakey Peterson, the two new biggest prospects, are 17 years old respectively. Nike has quite a few female surfers on their roster: All white, blond and under the age of 20 save for Carissa Moore.

    And if you are a longboarder, male or female, forget it. They make way less than the shortboarders because nobody really cares that much about longboarding anymore. It’s the shortboarders who are getting the big endorsments, magazine covers, and tv coverage because they are the ones who are going to make the sponsors money and that’s all sponsors care about. I don’t even think they air the longboarding championships on tv, but they air the majority of the shortboard comps and movies on fuel tv(usually one every month or every few months).

    • Yes, to all of this! Female surfers (again mainly just talking about shortboarders) can only make money through sponsorships and contests (though, like turkish said, contest prizes are way less for the women). Looking through the magazines, pretty much in one surfing magazine, you’ll maybe see 2 or 3 ads (if there are any at all) that have women in them. And one of those ads is gonna be a picture of a Reef girl’s bare bum on the second page. There used to be a couple of women’s surfing magazine’s (I forget the names of them because they weren’t super popular), but they’ve pretty much all gone out of business.

      This year has also been rough for women in terms of contests. As was said in the article, it’s been hard for the ASP to get sponsors for the women’s contests. Because of this, for the women’s world tour, there are only 7 contests, where as the men’s tour has 11 (and the women have even less prime contest (which are basically qualifying type contests for the world tour)). The men’s total prize money for each contest is about 4 times as much as the women’s.

      You’re totally right about the new generation of girls. I love seeing them killing it out there, because their level of talent is truly amazing. But it’d be cool to see someone like Silvana Lima being recognized as well, because, in my opinion, she’s just as progressive.

      Turkish, have you been watching the Bells contest online?

      I could literally go on talking about surfing forever, so I’ll just stop right there, haha.

      • I haven’t been keeping up with Bells. I’ll probably catch the highlights. I figure either Gilmore will it again this year or Moore will take it. I love Carissa Moore. I really hope this is her year and a Hawaiian finally wins the damn thing after so many years. I think the underdog is probably Tyler Wright. She came out of nowhere last year and won a few so the rookie will probably give these girls a run for their money on tour this year.

        • Ya, I’m definitely rooting for Carissa. She is just so ridiculously talented, watching her is always so entertaining! On her blog a little while ago, Carissa talked about the pressures that she, other women, and specifically female surfers are under w/r/t having the “right” body type. I thought it was cool and that she acknowledged that aspect of women’s surfing and how it’s represented. I could definitely see Tyler having a chance at the title this year- that layback hack she does is so sick!

  2. “and um, totally mis-categorized as a “pro-life” platform by the “American Family News Network,” which is profoundly upsetting and quite reductive.”

    Aha, I totally saw that coming from her comment on China. Sigh. So disappointing…

  3. Johnny Tsunami. yesssssss

    $50,000 vs $1 million is just ridiculous. but women get paid less for doing the same jobs men do in all sorts of industries, so i guess its not all that surprising that it also happens in surfing. #sadfacts

    also i think one of the most interesting things this brings up is the idea of trying to change a defective system by choosing not to be a part of it at all and hoping you can get enough publicity for people to give a shit versus trying to find a way to create change from within. not that theres necessarily a correct answer on that one.

  4. Oh my god. The very fact that you guys did an article on this makes me SO SO SO HAPPY. Visibility for female surfers (let alone queer female surfers) is painfully minuscule. And as a lesbian who was on her high school’s surf team (longboarding, in fact!), it was definitely a struggle to find any real role models for girls like me. Oh, if only I knew there were openly gay pro surfers out there!!! I would have died of happiness. But anyway.

    I think, for the most part, mainstream women’s surfing is totally overwhelmed by image. Like Turkish said in the above comment, it is extremely rare that female surfers who aren’t young, thin, straight, and/or blonde get any coverage in larger surf magazines. In fact, in most surf mags out there, the only women you really see are bikini models in sandal ads, which is pathetic. A lot of people tend to view surfing as an egalitarian sport, which it can be, but in the pro surfing scene that’s not even close to the truth. From what I’ve seen, giant surf companies like Rip Curl and Quiksilver/Roxy only sponsor women that fit their “image”: essentially, thin, white, (probably) straight. (I am not, however, bashing the women that they do sponsor; they are all extraordinarily talented and deserve every sponsorship that they can get.) However, their narrow image of what it means to be a female surfer excludes a lot of talented people that I’ve seen out in the water. Basically, big, mainstream surf companies kind of suck.

    Is surfing itself misogynistic and homophobic? I wouldn’t say completely. Being one of the only girls on the surf team at my high school could be rough, I definitely heard quite a few homophobic slurs out in the water, and I never really fit in with the rest of the guys on the team. That being said, I DID meet a lot of surfers, both male and female, who were really amazing, forward thinking people. Surfing itself is an incredible, incredible sport, and it really is a shame that the way the media presents it is so narrow. I have so many props for Cori for standing up for herself and what she believes in, and for being an amazing surfer.

  5. All I know about women’s surfing, I learned from Blue Crush. Which is to say I don’t know anything about women’s surfing, but a lot about Michelle Rodriguez’s abs.

    This article has increased my knowledge greatly.

  6. I really admire Schumacher for boycotting the competition. Because there are so few major competitions for women surfers, it’s even more meaningful that she put aside an opportunity to do something she’s passionate about to stand up for her political beliefs.

    I’m just pissed that the way the NY Times is covering it is so lame. So much of what they write I find to be at best sloppy and lazy, or at worst deliberately dismissive and reinforcing discrimination/oppression. Bleh.

  7. Also, thanks so much for writing this, it was a really cool article!!! To be honest, I don’t follow the longboarding world very much, but I’m glad that now I know about Cori Schumacher and the stuff she’s standing up for.

    It’s so awesome when these two worlds that I’m a part of come together! There’s a cool site called gaysurfers.net (sorry if I shouldn’t be linking to it if it’s a competing site or something, feel free to take that part of the comment out, haha ), but besides that, the LGBTQ community and the surfing community don’t really intersect all that often, so I was super stoked/giddy when I saw this article, haha :)

  8. This really highlights how women in sport are generally not taken seriously by the media.
    I read an article last year, titled something like “Top Ten Greatest Sportswomen In The World Right Now”. Two of the top ten they listed were horses. Seriously. HORSES.
    I threw the magazine at the wall in disgust. Really pissed me off.

  9. Brittani,

    I want to thank you for this piece. You have read into and perceived so well everything that lingers in-between the lines. Zach W., who wrote the piece for the NY Times, is a very important and empathetic individual in regard to getting dissident voices heard in the surfing world and he shouldn’t be too harshly judged with this piece in the NY Times. Editing being what it is, we talked about a wide variety of issues when we met. He is doing more for truth in journalism in surfing than anyone I know currently. I had so much to say and he really did a lot to begin the conversation. I have to say that readership and voices asking for more (on theinertia.com and elsewhere in mainstream media) will push these conversations further.

    I have written the “American Family News Network” and told them that their assumption that my stance is Pro-Life is grossly assumptive and patently wrong.

    I love what you are doing here! And thank you to all the thoughtful comments.

    Many thanks!

  10. Yeah, well I have supported Female Surfers for many years. In 34 Years, I am usually the only Black out in The Water, so I know all about being “A Lone Wolf.” There is no one else who comes close to me, regarding photographs of Female Surfers. At my own expense, I travel up and down The West Coast. While other photographers are gone until The Men return, I photograph The Women. I provide Them with photographs free – of – charge. In fact, Many who have Facebook (FB) sites, many if not most of the photographs were provided by me. I attend events such as movie premieres featuring The Women, and I am usually the only Male in – attendance, who is not accompanied by a spouse, and the reception I usually receive is lukewarm, at best.

    I am The Administrator for two Facebook (FB) sites Dedicated To Female Surfers. Although I have Hundreds of Surfers on my FB “Friends List,” Few join my sites (including The Female Surfers). Most who join those two sites are:

    1. Those who don’t even Surf.
    2. Men

    I only “Get Love’ from The Women who still Surf at The Amateur / Pro Junior Level. As of October 2011, Carissa Moore, Coco Ho, Courtney Conlogue, and Paige Hareb, have been the only Women Professional Surfers, who have ever Personally – Thanked me.

    Semper Fi,
    Michael “Major Pain” Parlor

  11. I’m a competitive, sponsored surfer who has competed professionally.
    I completely agree that surfing is such a homophobic sport – I don’t have any doubt in my mind that if I held my girlfriends hand at a competition, the judges would absolutely judge my surfing differently – not to mention the other surfers.

    The easy / positive answer is to “just come out and stand up for myself .. blah blah .. fight for your rights .. and don’t worry about possibly never winning another surf contest again”
    However, I’m stuck in the closet completely due to the issue of homophobia in surfing ON TOP OF how women’s surfing is already shit on by everything and everyone else..

    Fun.

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