California surfing org forced to let trans competitor compete in women’s division

California’s surfing scene is in controversy as a local competition faces pressure to adhere to state law by permitting a transgender woman to compete in the women’s division.

The California Coastal Commission has issued a directive stating that surf competitions must uphold non-discriminatory practices based on gender.

This mandate came following the announcement by the organisers of the Huntington Beach Longboard Pro. They declared that transgender woman Sasha Jane Lowerson would not be allowed to participate in the women’s division.

The decision to exclude Lowerson from the competition sparked widespread debate.

Lowerson said that she entered the competition because transgender women are permitted to participate under International Surfing Association (ISA) regulations provided they fulfill certain requirements related to testosterone levels.

She told BBC: “I was really disappointed and surprised [at being excluded]. You can’t cherry-pick the rulebook. If you’re going to use the rulebook, you use all of it.”

Lowerson’s eligibility for the women’s division was questioned by Todd Messick, head of the American Longboard Association. He cited a desire to ensure fairness for all athletes.

He told that he was “surprised by the amount of anger” that the decision created. Messick told BBC: “What I found too is that there was a lot of people very appreciative of me speaking up. For me, I was trying to do the right thing. It wasn’t something I ever expected to have to deal with really, not in our little longboard community.”

A new guideline on transgender participation was introduced by the World Surf League (WSL) last year. If a trans woman athlete keeps her testosterone level below a particular threshold for a minimum of 12 months, she may participate in women’s competitions.

Bethany Hamilton is one of the most well-known professional surfers. She was among many who criticized the new regulation, which was based on an International Surfing Association guideline.

Hamilton previously stated: “Many of the girls currently on tour are not in support of this new rule, and they fear being ostracised if they speak up. Is a hormone level an accurate depiction of whether someone is male or female?

Surfers like Hamilton claim that transgender women have an unfair edge in strength and are against their competing in the women’s category.

Longboarder Lowerson said she didn’t think that was the case. She stated: “It’s not a race, it’s about style, flow, grace. As a longboarder, it’s more like ballet on a wave.”

The surfer said that she will still compete in women’s competitions in spite of the outcry. She continued: “I’ve inadvertently become a poster-child for trans women in surfing. Not that I wanted to do that, but it just kind of happened.”

The lack of consensus among sporting bodies highlights the need for collaborative efforts to develop standardized policies that maintains the integrity of competitive sports.