Live by the transgender mob, die by the transgender mob. That message should’ve already made its way to most corporate board rooms, but a few stubborn holdouts seem determined to find out the hard way. Rip Curl is the latest brand to stick its toe in the unfriendly waters of the LGBT debate with this terrible idea: putting a 44-year-old man in its summer bikini campaign. Apparently, the numbskulls at headquarters thought showcasing a long-haired dude in a halter top would sell more surf gear than inspirational role models like Bethany Hamilton. They were wrong. R.I.P. Curl.
The Aussie brand made more than waves after an Instagram post late last week as part of its women’s “Meet the Local Heroes” campaign. “Meet Sasha,” the reel began, “a West Australian waterwoman who loves the freedom found in surfing, disconnecting from the mainstream, and the feeling of dancing on constantly changing waves.” Users were surprised to find that this “waterwoman” was actually Ryan Egan, who’d won the men’s longboard title in 2019 before he started competing against females.
Sasha Lowerson, as he goes by now, sparked controversy in the surf world by winning a women’s championship in 2022, just as several international sports bodies were making a move away from trans participation. “It may not be easy, but it’s possible to be an openly trans athlete and to be a spokesperson for what is right,” he’s said.
Interestingly enough, Lowerson’s partnership with Rip Curl started shortly after the brand let go of its longtime face, Bethany Hamilton, who’d started representing the company in 1999 when she was just nine years old — four years before losing her arm to a tiger shark in a comeback story that riveted the world.
In interviews, Lowerson has described the world of competitive surfing as “patriarchal, transphobic and homophobic,” an ironic charge for a sport that still allows him to masquerade as a woman. In fact, it was the World Surf League’s decision to embrace trans-identifying competitors that compelled Hamilton to walk away from her impressive career. While the company is mum over whether the mom of four’s contract was cut short over her views, the partnership with Lowerson says plenty.
So does the backlash. Hours after the reel of the middle-aged man went viral, Rip Curl’s feed was inundated. “Boycotting your company. Enjoy your Bud Light moment,” another replied. “This is disgusting,” one said. “Bethany Hamilton is an inspiration, beautiful, a … role model for girls. This new ‘women’s ambassador’ is a mentally ill man playing pretend. The misogyny in this movement is astounding. Boycott Rip Curl.”
Riley Gaines, the former University of Kentucky swimmer-turned-girls’ sports advocate, elevated the controversy, posting, “You mean to tell me @ripcurl dropped Bethany Hamilton for opposing men surfing in the women’s league then picked up male surfer who surfs in the women’s league as a women’s ambassador? Crazzzzzzy.”
Other high-profile victims of the trans mob chimed in, including skateboarder Taylor Silverman, who’s had to compete against men three times as a pro. “According to @ripcurl this man is a ‘waterwoman’ … reality is he’s just a mentally ill man making a complete mockery of actual women.”
By Sunday, #BoycottRipCurl was a trending hashtag on Twitter. The company, which had long since disabled the comments on the post, started rethinking its marketing. Suddenly, without a word, the post of Lowerson vanished. Gaines celebrated the victory online. “Hahahaha,” she wrote. “Rip Curl suddenly knows what a woman is.” But, she cautioned, the brand is hoping this fracas will disappear just as quietly. “They want you to forget about their contempt for women,” Riley said. “Don’t.”
Women’s Forum Australia cheered the power of the people. “Well done everyone who called for #BoycottRipCurl,” they posted. “This is what happens when we raise our voices together against this mockery of women,” the organization insisted before the hashtag #SaveWomensSports.
For Bethany, though, the scars of the fight still exist. “People have wished death upon my life,” she told Fox News from Kauai. “It makes you sad that society can be so gnarly,” she admitted. Even now, the shark-attack survivor faces a national boycott from LGBT activists just for agreeing to speak at a Wisconsin charity event.
And yet, none of it has deterred her. “Male-bodied athletes should not be competing in female sports. Period,” she reiterated Monday on Twitter. “It’s not fair, and I can’t support it,” she’s said. “I’ve worked so hard, and to imagine competing against a male just sounds terrible. … I need to stand up for the next generation of girls pushing surfing forward. I want the best for them.”
One way the 33-year-old is trying to reach children is through the launch of her new kids’ book, “Surfing Past Fear,” the story of an otter named Olivia who breaks her arm but overcomes the challenge and returns to the water. The project, part of the Brave Books series, will put her on the road with Gaines, who insists, “Together, our message is stronger.” Riley, who has a children’s story of her own now called “Happy No Snakes Day,” says this is all part of inspiring young people to do what’s right.
“We’re drawing a clean line in the sand to show people where we stand,” Gaines insisted. The two superstars will meet for the first time at a story hour in Missouri. “I’m very grateful for Bethany and for her voice. She is someone who inspires me,” Riley said.
As for Rip Curl, Bethany doesn’t have any hard feelings. What she does have is marketing advice. “[They’re] free to do whatever they want to do,” she shrugged. “… I’m no longer surfing for them. … But,” she smiled, “I’m just not sure that’s going to sell a lot of bikinis.”
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