Not even the ocean is a safe space for trans athletes.
In late January, Australian surfwear brand Rip Curl included transgender longboarder Sasha Jane Lowerson in its “Meet the Local Heroes of Western Australia” ad campaign, posting pictures of her wearing its products on social media.
According to PinkNews reporter Emily Chudy, Rip Curl marketing depicted Lowerson as a “West Australian water-woman who loves the freedom found in surfing, disconnecting from the mainstream, and the feeling of dancing on constantly changing waves.”
Sounds harmless and even a little idyllic, right?
Sasha Lowerson is a joyful Australian. She brings a new era of inclusivity to @ripcurl that takes nothing away from the thousands of Australian women who love to surf. She's here to say "if I can be accepted, anyone can be!" From little nippers to pro's - that's a great message! pic.twitter.com/mWwEh1yMLq— Jess (@jess_do_it_x) January 27, 2024
Anyone who’s followed the anti-LGBTQ backlash against brands like Bud Light and Target can guess what happened next.
Anti-trans pundits directed their followers’ vitriol at Rip Curl and started a boycott campaign. They were soon joined by Riley Gaines, who noticed that there was a trans athlete story somewhere in the world that didn’t involve her and couldn’t let that stand.
A few days later, professional surfer Bethany Hamilton weighed in on the side of the anti-trans forces, tweeting, “Male-bodied athletes should not be competing in female sports. Period.”
Male-bodied athletes should not be competing in female sports. Period.— Bethany Hamilton (@bethanyhamilton) January 29, 2024
The damage was done. Culture war outrage could not be contained, and angry social media users began posting videos of themselves burning Rip Curl board shorts.
Predictably, some of them also shouted, “Go woke, go broke” — a phrase that isn’t actually true but it rhymes so that’s close enough.
Rip Curl is now enduring a “PR nightmare,” because of its “controversial” campaign that showed trans surfers exist.
This wasn’t the first time Hamilton has spoken out against transgender participation in the sport.
When the World Surf League adopted a policy in early 2023 enabling transgender women to compete in the female category if they maintained specific testosterone levels, Hamilton threatened to boycott league events and advocated for establishing a separate transgender division.
At the time, she had an endorsement deal with Rip Curl. But shortly after, Hamilton made those comments about transgender participation in surfing, they parted ways.
Now the outrage she helped stoke is seemingly out of control — and even though media reports on the story are concentrating on what this means for Rip Curl, Lowenstein is the human being at the center of it all who’s paying the price.