You may remember Bethany Hamilton as the author of the memoir Soul Surfer, which got a film adaptation in 2011, detailing her experience as a surfer who lost an arm as a result of a shark attack. Despite this, she continued to surf competitively and went on to win the World Surf League (WSL) championship. Since then, she has been a champion for athletes with disabilities and continued to compete in the WSL – that is, until she announced her boycott of the WSL.
Hamilton posted two videos to Instagram this week, saying she will not participate in any future WSL events following the organization’s announcement that it will allow transgender women to compete in women’s events.
The WSL has adopted the International Surfing Association (ISA)’s policy on transgender participation (the "ISA Transgender Policy"), which states that a transgender woman can compete in women’s or mixed events if she “satisf[ies] the International Surfing Association Medical Commission that her serum testosterone concentration has been less than 5 nmol/L continuously for a period of the previous 12 months”.
In her videos, Hamilton made some bold comments that had some questioning her intentions as a female athlete belonging to a group of people that has been historically discriminated against in competitive sports. "I think it's really hard to imagine what the future of women's surfing will be like in 15 to 20 years down the road if we move forward allowing this major change," she said. She goes on to ask, “Is a hormone level an honest and accurate depiction that someone is indeed a male or female? Is it as simple as this?”
Hamilton’s argument comes down to encouraging the WSL to create a separate division for transgender women. In her closing statement from the first of the two videos, she claims that she is not the only person who feels the way she does and that she is putting herself to the flame for speaking about the new ruling.
The social media response hasn’t been looking good for Hamilton. Transgender celebrities and athletes alike have spoken out against the statements made in her recent Instagram post. There has also been an abundance of memes praising the shark that attacked her in 2003, jokingly calling it an “ally to the transgender community.”
🦈♥️🏳️⚧♬ original sound - Genius
That’s why a shark bit her damn arm off 😂😂😂— Black Lives Matter KC (@BLM_KC) February 7, 2023
Progress Shark is coming back for round 2 pic.twitter.com/gIPTk2FC69— Trash Boy Begins (@Ozzilla22) February 17, 2023
There has also been an outpour of social media users sharing their experiences as transgender athletes and debunking common myths surrounding the topic. This indicates a movement towards a brighter future in which transgender women are able to compete in the division that reflects their identity.
Instagram user Slowdownsomatics commented on the WSL’s recent rule change and went on to list helpful facts and challenge myths about being a trans athlete, actually diving into the science of hormones in response to Hamilton’s video.
Content creator Pinkmantaray is dedicated to informing his community about the realities and struggles of being a transgender person and opens up a dialogue for questions related to transitioning, dating as a transgender person, and current news about the fight for trans inclusion.
All in all, no matter how far along the WSL goes, change is inevitable. And the WSL is far from the only athletic association that has updated their policies to accommodate transgender athletes. The bottom line is that creating a new division for transgender competitors, as Hamilton advocated for, further divides athletes and reinforces the idea that transgender people do not deserve equal opportunity and respect. The WSL has not issued a response to Hamilton’s video criticizing their change in policy.
Top Image by Noah Hamilton from Wikimedia Commons.
Sabrina Walls is senior at Arizona State University, she is pursuing her bachelors in English and Media Analysis. Sabrina enjoys watching movies, reading, and being outdoors at all times.