When Lucy Small, one of Australia’s best longboarders, received her winner’s purse at a surf contest last year, it was worth less than half that of the men’s winner. But instead of just accepting it quietly – “which is what I guess over the years women surfers have been expected to do” – she called out the organisers from the podium. We spent a few days with her discussing the fallout, as well as the many obstacles still faced by young female surfers.
If you’ve been paying attention to the surfing news cycle over the last year, you’ll probably have heard of her. She’s a 28-year-old surfer originally from the very small town of Denmark in WA, but more recently has been residing in Sydney. It was here, on the city’s Northern Beaches, that in 2021 she won the women’s division of a surf comp called the Curly Maljam.
What made the headlines was Lucy’s acceptance speech, although acceptance may not be quite the right word. Holding aloft her novelty-sized cheque for all to see, she pointed out that the women’s prize money wasn’t even half the men’s. She also suggested that maybe this wasn’t entirely fair.
“I am just really tired of putting in so much time and effort and money,” she told the crowd of surf fans gathered before the podium, “and investing so much into going to these events… and getting less than half the reward.” It was badass, and the source of much squirming and embarrassment for the comp’s organisers.
As is generally the case, someone was filming it on their phone, and the footage went viral. All of a sudden, basically by accident, she became the public face of the struggle for equal pay in Australian sport.
We caught up with her in her new Sydney home, where she moved a year or two ago to do a masters in Peace & Conflict Studies. “I love reading about war,” she says. “I think it’s very interesting to understand how people survive in intense crisis, the way that people resist and find means of joy while they’re under really intense duress.”
Next on her agenda is the Equal Pay for Equal Play campaign she’s been spearheading in New South Wales, which seeks to empower female athletes at every level of the sporting pyramid. “Grassroots sport,” she’s keen to stress, is “where talent is fostered, where pathways are created, where girls can see their future at the elite level. And I think that that’s the place we need to be making sure that they have the opportunities and the backing from organisations and clubs to support them in chasing their dreams without having gender as a barrier.”