Keala Kennelly, the professional surfer who came out years ago, has given a fantastic interview to fellow out surfer Craig Butler, who has posted the conversation on the Facebook page Humans Of Surfing. The interview is wide-ranging, and the two surfers definitely dig into being gay on the pro-surfing circuit.
One of the most fascinating pieces of the interview is Kennelly talking about people around her a decade ago trying to keep her in the closet, including sponsors.
I was a closeted homo and I felt an enormous amount of pressure from the ASP (now WSL) and my sponsors to keep that a secret. So I was living a double life and dying inside every day that I wasn’t living authentically. I struggled with extreme depression. The only thing that made me feel good was winning but if I was loosing that compounded my depression to the point where I would be having constant thoughts of suicide.
Want to know what companies she was talking about? She talks about that very thing later on in the interview when she talks about coming out and the repercussions she faced because of it.
I didn’t make some big announcement or anything I just started bringing my girlfriend to events and introducing her as my girlfriend instead of my “friend.” The reaction was very high school. Lots of people talking. It was stressful. ... In 2008 I lost 3 out of my 4 major sponsors Red Bull, Spy, Vestal. Billabong didn’t drop me but systematically started cutting my salary down to almost nothing (I went from making 6 figures in 2007 to the last year I rode for them 2015 I got no $ just a small travel budget of $3k). I never understood if that was because I was gay and out of the closet or because of the economical meltdown or probably a combination of both. The year Billabong dropped me was the same year I made history by winning the Barrel of the Year award at the WSL XXL Awards, was nominated for an ESPY and became the first woman to be invited to the Eddie.
Of course, this was years ago, before marriage equality in the United States. So we have to hope these companies have completely embraced the LGBTQ community in 2018.
The sport of surfing has long been labeled particularly homophobic, so none of this is a surprise to anyone who’s been following the sport for years.