Bethany Hamilton says she will boycott the World Surf League over its transgender policy

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 10: Bethany Hamilton of Hawaii surfs today in Round 2 of the 2020 Sydney Surf Pro at Manly Beach on March 10, 2020 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Matt Dunbar/WSL via Getty Images)

Bethany Hamilton has said she will boycott the World Surf League after it adopts a policy that allows transgender people to compete. (Photo by Matt Dunbar/WSL via Getty Images)

Pro surfer Bethany Hamilton announced on Sunday that she will boycott the World Surf League for adopting the International Surfing Association’s transgender policy.

The 32-year-old surfer, who rose to fame as a teenager when a shark attack claimed her left arm, does not argue that transgender women can compete on the women’s circuits of the WSL. She made her announcement via an Instagram video as she questioned the league’s policy that considers testosterone levels for eligibility.

“Is a hormone level an honest and accurate representation that someone is really a boy or a girl?” Hamilton asked between a series of questions. “It’s that simple?”

He ended his video by announcing his boycott.

“I personally will not participate in or support the World Surf League if this rule remains,” Hamilton said.

There are no openly transgender athletes currently competing in the WSL.

The WSL responded on Monday with a statement explaining its rules which are intended to align with those of Olympic competition.

“As an Olympic sport, and with aspirations to include all WSL disciplines in the Olympics, WSL has adopted the International Surfing Association’s (ISA) policy on transgender participation,” the statement read.

“The WSL is working to balance fairness and equity, and we will continue to evaluate the policy in the months and years ahead as more research, information and feedback becomes available.”

The WSL cites ISA policy that considers eligible testosterone levels over a 12-month period as a reason to compete in a women’s event:

“An athlete who was assigned male at birth, who identifies as a female and has a female/female in her passport or national identity card is eligible to compete in a male event, or as a man in a mixed event, if you did not meet the requirements to compete in a women’s event (such as keeping your testosterone level below 5 nmol/L continuously for the previous 12 months)

Hamilton defied the ISA’s testosterone standard in his video.

“How did anyone who decided on these hormone rules come to the conclusion that 12 months of testosterone testing makes that a fair and legal change?” Hamilton asked.

The topic of transgender female athletes competing in sports – especially transgender women competing in women’s events – has become a flashpoint in American and international sports and politics. Several U.S. states with Republican-controlled leadership have proposed or passed bans on transgender athletes competing at the high school or collegiate level, often citing fairness on the playing field. Opponents of the bills characterize them as anti-LGBTQ legislation.

Hamilton is a devout Christian who has cited her faith as the inspiration for her recovery from the shark attack she suffered at age 13. After her attack, she continued her professional surfing career which includes a longstanding endorsement deal with Rip Curl.

According to her WSL bio, Hamilton has competed in the WSL since 2008, most recently during the 2022 season where she placed 20th on the Women’s Championship Tour. Hamilton said in her video that she would like to see the WSL create a division specifically for athletes transgender.

“I personally think the best solution would be to create a different division so that everyone has a fair opportunity to showcase their passion and talent,” said Hamilton.

According to industry publication The Intertia, Sarah Jane Lowerson has become the first openly transgender surfer to compete in and win an established surfing competition in 2022. Lowerson has opened up about her experience following her win last May at the West Coast Suspensions Longboard & Logger State Championships in Australia.

“I’ve been surfing since I was a kid. I was a good junior surfer. I was surfing against grown men at 14 and winning,” Lowerson said, per Newsweek. “I knew at an early age that I wasn’t a regular kid. For the most part [my life]I thought [Sasha] could never live, I had to put her in a box. This is something many girls experience.

“About every couple of years, I would kill myself and I tried hard. I had a real wake up call [2020] then I thought ‘What are you doing? You’re living a lie.'”

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