As the GOP continues to do everything in its power to ban trans athletes from participating in sports, one trans surfer is determined to keep riding the waves.
Australian longboarder Sasha Jane Lowerson has inadvertently become the face of the conflict in the world of professional surfing. She is the first and only out trans woman to compete in events with the World Surf League (WSL) and has been able to participate as of late due to rule changes by both WSL and the International Surfing Association (ISA) that permit trans athletes to compete as their gender as long as they meet certain hormonal requirements.
When the changes were announced, many pro surfers blasted the move, threatening boycotts and proposing the organizations create a separate division for trans athletes.
Bethany Hamilton, a devout Christian, has been a face of women’s surfing since she lost an arm to a shark bite at 13. When the changes were announced, she took to Instagram to declare that “many of the girls currently on tour are not in support with this new rule” and said she’s speaking up for those without a voice, who fear they may be “ostracized” for their views.
Hamilton’s solution to her “concerns”? A league of their own for “male-bodied individuals” and “converted women.” She threatened to boycott WSL competitions until trans women are no longer welcome.
Other surfers who spoke out against allowing trans women to compete in the women’s category included Kelly Slater and Keala Kennelly.
Despite the backlash, Lowerson said the new rules have made her feel safer than ever.
“What it changed was, before I didn’t feel safe,” she told Outside. “I didn’t feel like there was a support network. And then to see that there actually were influential people that were supportive and there was a network of safety being created. For me, that was, subconsciously, the thing that made me say, yes, I would compete.”
She emphasized that the vocal dissidents are only one side of the story and that what really matters are the trans and nonbinary surfers who have reached out to say she has inspired them to keep going.
“Growing up, not having an ambassador as such—a role model—that had led the way was a big reason for me not to take that first step [and transition] for so many years,” explained Lowerson, who did not transition until age 40.
Surfing, in fact, was a big reason she waited so long. She didn’t want to give up the sport she loved dearly. But competing as the wrong gender was equally torturous.
“You’re going out to a heat and they’re calling the names out. I always hated my name because it reflected a male persona.”
“It would reflect in how I would compete. I would either go out and be mind-numb and not even catch waves. Or put really good scores on the board because I would have blocked it out. That was quite hard.”
Her decision to transition came after a suicide attempt. “That was the catalyst for me to go, You either be you or you die. And I don’t want to die.”
After she transitioned, she never expected to compete again, and she is delighted that she has been able to do so after all.
“There are so many things that make someone a good athlete, and to reduce it to testosterone is also an insult to athletes who work really hard,” she said.
She added that she thinks WSL has “done a good job so far” and that “trans athletes are here and here to stay.”