Professional surfer Bethany Hamilton announced on Sunday that she would boycott the World Surf League for its adoption of the International Surfing Association’s transgender policy.
The 32-year-old surfer who rose to prominence as a teenager when a shark attack claimed her left arm does not allow transgender women to be eligible to compete on the WSL women’s circuits. She made her announcement via an Instagram video while questioning the league’s policy of considering testosterone levels for eligibility.
“Is a hormone level an honest and accurate representation that someone is indeed male or female?” Hamilton asked among a series of questions. “Is it as simple as that?”
She concluded her video by announcing her boycott.
“I personally will not participate in the World Surf League or support the World Surf League if this rule remains,” Hamilton said.
No openly transgender athletes currently compete in the WSL.
The WSL responded on Monday with a statement explaining its rules which aim to align with those of Olympic competition.
“As an Olympic sport and with the aspiration that all WSL disciplines be included in the Olympics, the WSL has adopted the International Surfing Association (ISA) Policy on Transgender Participation,” the statement read. …”
“WSL strives to balance fairness and equity, and we will continue to evaluate the policy in the months and years to come as more research, information and commentary becomes available.”
The WSL cites ISA policy that considers eligible testosterone levels over a 12-month period as grounds for competition in a women’s event:
“An athlete who was designated male at birth, identifies as female, and has a female/female on their passport or national identity card is eligible to compete in a men’s event, or as a male in a mixed event, if she has not met the requirements to compete in a female event (such as maintaining a testosterone level below 5 nmol/L continuously for the previous 12 months)
Hamilton challenged the ISA’s testosterone standard in his video.
“How did whoever decided on these hormonal rules come to the conclusion that 12 months of testosterone testing makes it a fair and legal change?” Hamilton asked.
The topic of transgender athletes participating in sports — particularly transgender women competing in women’s events — has become a flashpoint in American and international sports and politics. Several Republican-run U.S. states have proposed or passed bans on transgender athletes competing at the high school or college level, often citing fairness on the playing field. Opponents of the bills call them 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. Since her attack, she has continued her professional surfing career which includes a long-standing endorsement deal with Rip Curl.
According to her WSL biography, Hamilton has competed in the WSL since 2008, most recently in 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 transgender athletes.
“I personally think the best solution would be to create a different division so that everyone can have a fair opportunity to show their passion and talent.”
According to industry publication The Intertia, Sarah Jane Lowerson became the first openly transgender surfer to compete and win an established surfing competition in 2022. Lowerson spoke about her experience following her victory last May at the West Coast Suspensions Longboard & Logger State Championships in Australia.
“I’ve been surfing since I was a little boy, I was a good junior surfer, I was surfing against grown men at 14 and winning,” Lowerson said, according to Newsweek. “I knew at a very young age that I was not a normal boy. For most of [my life]I thought [Sasha] could never live, I had to put her in a box. It’s something a lot of girls go through.
“About every two years I wanted to kill myself and I tried. I had a real awakening in  then I thought ‘What are you doing? You’re living a lie.'”