Pro-surfer Bethany Hamilton threatens to boycott World Surf League over policy on trans athletes

A graphic showing a cut-out image of pro surfer Bethany Hamilton set against another image of her surfing in the background with a pink tint showing across the left side of the picture

Professional surfer Bethany Hamilton is threatening to pull out of the World Surf League (WSL) over its new transgender athlete policy.

The policy, announced last week, means trans female athletes are required to maintain a testosterone level of less than five nmol/L (nanomoles per litre) for at least 12 months in order to compete in the women’s division.

It was recommended by the International Surfing Association, which based the policy on guidance from its medical commission and is to be reevaluated annually.

However, Hamilton, who lost her left arm in a 2003 shark attack, said the policy change concerned her.

In a video shared on her Instagram, she said she felt she “must speak up and stand up for those in a position that may feel that they cannot say something about this”.

“I think many of the girls currently on tour are not in support with this new rule and they fear being ostracised if they speak up.”

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There are no openly transgender athletes on the current tour, but its events are not restricted to just tour athletes – that is how Hamilton has competed in the WSL, most recently the 2022 Billabong Pro Pipeline event.

Hamilton had a range of questions she wanted WSL to answer, including whether the tour athletes were “asked what their thoughts and opinions are on this”.

“Who is pushing for this huge change? Does this better the sport of surfing? Is this better for women in surfing? If so, how?”

Hamilton also wanted to know why trans men, who she called “converted women”, competing in men’s categories had not been addressed.

“I personally won’t be competing in or supporting the World Surf League if this rule remains.”

She, instead, thought the “best solution” would be to “create a different division so that all can have a fair opportunity to showcase their passion and talent”.

Making the announcement, WSL chief of sport Jessi Miley-Syer said the organisation was “working hard to balance equity and fairness and it’s important for a policy to be in place”.

“We recognise that the policy may need to evolve over time as we get feedback and see new research in the field.”

A recent report also found trans women do not have any advantages over any other women when competing in elite sport, if existing rules are followed.

‘Oh hell nooo’

It’s not the first time Hamilton has spoken against transgender women in surfing.

In 2022, popular surfing website Stab posted on Instagram after Sasha Jane Lowerson became the first openly trans woman to win a surfing competition – not a WSL event, but the Western Australia Longboard State Championships.

Lowerson had previously competed in men’s WSL longboard events and followed Surfing Australia’s transgender policy before competing in women’s divisions, she told Stab in a separate interview.

Professional surfers Bethany Hamilton and Kelly Slater have previously spoken against trans inclusive policies in surfing (Instagram)

In response to Stab’s story, Hamilton said: ‘Oh hell nooo [sic]”.

“Let people think & be what they want but at least make a separate transgender division.”

Similar words were said in the same comments section by surfing legend Kelly Slater.

“Make a trans division and we don’t have this confusion,” he said.

PinkNews has approached WSL for comment, as well as Rip Curl which sponsors Hamilton and some WSL tour events.