Brennan’s AB 467 remarks to the California State Assembly Committee on Arts, Entertainment, Sports, Tourism, and Internet Media

I’m Sabrina Brennan, President of the San Mateo County Harbor Commission and Co-founder of the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing. Thank you for this opportunity to address the committee.  

This morning, I awoke to a reoccurring nightmare about gender-based discrimination in the workplace, unfair business practices, and the systematic exclusion of women professional athletes from competitions.  

Today, I’m here representing the San Mateo County Harbor District.  We issue a Special Use Permit for the iconic Mavericks Challenge big-wave surf competition, held near Half Moon Bay. Mavericks was founded in 1998 and the contest is internationally known for producing 30’ to 60’ waves and its event promoters are notorious for gender-based discrimination. 

The first Mavericks Competition was titled, “Men Who Ride Mountains.” Now, two decades later, women big wave surfers have still not had an opportunity to compete. 

It’s impossible to achieve equal pay in athletic competitions that exclude women.

Please read the March 29th letter from the Harbor Commission. We respectfully request that AB 467 be amended to protect athletes from gender-based discrimination, consistent with the Unruh Civil Rights Act. 

We urge you to address concerns about unintended consequences. Please close the loophole in AB 467 that encourages and incentivizes event businesses, promoters and athletic organizations to exclude female categories from athletic competitions, in an effort to thwart equal pay requirements. 

Please require the following: 

  • A female category and a male category for all athletic competitions held on California state lands.

  • Equal prize money.  

  • Category winners receive the exact same prize amount. 

  • No total purse formula applied. 

  • Equal logistical support for all categories (including travel related expense; airfare, hotel, etc.).

  • Equal equipment for all categories.

Mavericks is not the only professional athletic competition with a history of gender-based discrimination. 

Last month, women were excluded from competing in Huntington Beach at the Jack’s Surfboards Pro, a World Surf League 1,500 Qualifying Series event, that awards prize money and points. 

Women pro surfers are concerned about the scarcity of qualifying events in California, this inequity significantly limits their opportunities to make a living as pro athletes. 

Increasing the number of events and awards for women, as well as offering equal prize money, is the only way to achieve meaningful equity in competitive sports. 

Equal pay is only part of the problem. Please require that all State agency permits and leases prohibit discrimination. Please amend AB 467 to require businesses and organizations that manage and promote athletic competitions on California state lands comply with the Unruh Civil Rights Act. 

Unfair business practices prevent women professional surfers from utilizing public resources and coastal access. Please act to prohibit gender-based discrimination.

Please ensure that AB 467 provides the oversight necessary to stop decades of gender-based discrimination. 

Sabrina's Jan 19, 2019 Speech: Women's March in San Jose

We just won the fight for Equal Pay in professional surfing.

Gender-based discrimination in pro surfing first caught my attention in 1999 when Jeff Clark founded the Mavericks big wave surf competition in Half Moon Bay. The event was named, “Men Who Ride Mountains.” Now it’s two decades later, and women athletes have still not had an opportunity to compete in the Mavericks surf contest, however that will change when the next event is held.

Let me provide a little background:  Women big wave surfers ride 25-to 68-foot waves at the most dangerous spots on earth. The largest wave ever surfed by a woman is the height of a 7-story building.

In 2015, I asked the California Coastal Commission to require that women be allowed to compete in the Mavericks surf contest. My request was supported in a 7-4 vote. 

That success got the attention of professional big wave surfers Bianca Valenti, Paige Alms, Keala Kennelly, and Andrea Moller. Together we formed the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing with founding counsel Karen Tynan.

In 2016, Paige Alms made history as the first Women’s Big Wave Champion at Pe’ahi, Hawaii. The WSL paid Alms $15,000 in prize money and they paid the men’s division winner $25,000. What do you think of that? 

A year ago, in Oct 2017, Alms successfully defended her title and again was paid 40% less money than a man.

Last summer, San Francisco big wave surfer Bianca Valenti made history as the first Women’s Big Wave Champion in Latin America at the Puerto Escondido Cup. The WSL paid Valenti 75% less than her male counterpart surfing the same wave on the same day.

Six month ago, the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing met with the World Surf League in Redwood City and presented a proposal for equal prize money. We told the WSL to end gender-based discrimination.  CEO Sophie Goldschmidt said NO, and threatened to cancel the entire Mavericks surf competition rather than pay women equally.

What did we do?  Back down?  Accept less?  Hell NO!  We stood our ground and went back to the Coastal Commission and demanded equal pay and equal access at Mavericks. We also got help from Betty Yee and Gavin Newsom and the California State Lands Commission staff.  

Here’s what happened next:  In Sept, the WSL announced global equal prize money for every WSL event, including the Mavericks Challenge, which may be held next month depending on surf conditions.   

Four women surfers, an activist, a lawyer and our supporters stood together, united in our demand for equality and pay equity.

And here we are today:  State legislators have taken an interest in the precedent our work has set and they are pursuing a gender equity in sports bill. Please stay tuned because we need your help educating state lawmakers about why they must pass legislation that requires equal pay!

Oct 12, 2018, California Coastal Commission hearing in San Diego

I’m Sabrina Brennan, I’m currently serving a second term on the San Mateo County Harbor Commission and I’m a co-founder of the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing. I’m here today as a representative of CEWS.

When it was my turn to speak at the Nov 2015 Coastal Commission hearing, I explained that the San Mateo County Harbor District had a five-year exclusive permit with Cartel Management, the Titans event promoter. The permit specified that only one surf contest could be held at Mavericks from Nov 1 to March 31.

Three years ago, I asked you to add a condition requiring a women’s heat to a CDP for the event. It was the first time the Coastal Commission had ever considered permitting the Mavericks competition and some of you were surprised to learn that the event’s founder, Jeff Clark, had a history of gender-based discrimination.

At your Nov 2015 hearing a motion was made to approve the CDP application, and that was the moment Coastal Commissioner Mark Vargas said, “I'm a little concerned about the fact that there is no clear plan for highlighting, involving, or encouraging the growth of women in this event or in this sport. I'll float it out there. I'd like to see if I can make an amending motion to add a specific condition that we ask the applicant to provide a plan for encouraging equal opportunity for women surfers in future events.”

A clear mandate was issued in a 7-4 vote to approve Vargas’ amended motion. And in 2016 and 2017, your Commission voted unanimously to include women in the Mavericks competition.

There have been many hurdles including Griffin Guess’ discriminatory behavior and retaliation against women and his company, Cartel Management, filing bankruptcy in federal court.

In Aug 2017, the World Surf League bought the San Mateo County Harbor District multi-season permit out of bankruptcy for $525,000. We were hopeful that, women would finally have an opportunity to compete. However, by the time the WSL got their permits in order the seasons best surf conditions had already passed.  

In 2018, the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing requested a meeting with the WSL on numerous occasions to address concerns about gender-based discrimination and equal pay. The WSL refused to schedule a meeting with us until after we sent Coastal Commission staff a letter on July 9, 2018, that said, “Unfair business practices prevent women professional surfers from utilizing public resources and coastal access. Please take action to prohibit gender-based discrimination.”

On July 23, 2018, CEWS met with the WSL in Redwood City. We presented a proposal for equal prize money and a multi-heat Women’s Division in the 2018/2019 Mavericks Challenge. 

On July, 30, 2018, the WSL agreed to a three heat Women’s Division that would include up to 10 athletes. 

 On Sept 5, 2018, the WSL agreed to full prize money equality across all global WSL controlled events.

  • Starting in 2018, equal prize money will be awarded in the Big Wave Tour.

  • The season schedule for the 2018-2019 Big Wave Tour Women’s Division will include the Mavericks Challenge and the Pe'ahi Challenge.

  • In 2019, the Championship Tour, the Longboard Tour, and the World Junior Championships will be awarded equal prize money.

 This is a precedent setting victory!

Recently, economics professor David Berri was quoted in a Cal Matters article by Laurel Rosenhall. Berri said, “the Mavericks case could set a precedent for local governments to demand equal pay in any sporting event held on public property.”

We hope that our success will expand future opportunities for inclusion and pay equity for all sport leagues and we look forward to future legislation.  

The persistence of women and girls paid off

Women surfers and their supporters stood together, united in their demand for equality and pay equity. We did not back down and we refused anything less than equal pay when offered compromises such as equal pay at some future date in the next few years.

In July 2018, the WSL threatened to cancel the Mavericks surf competition and we stood our ground with helpful collaboration and assistance from two state agencies.  

We thank the California Coastal Commission members and staff who have worked tirelessly to bring equality to the use of state resources for the Mavericks Challenge. 

We thank the California State Lands Commission members and staff for their work in bringing equality to the publicly owned sovereign lands of California.