All Sexy, No Surfing

The Roxy Pro Biarritz trailer takes "women's surfing" to a new level

It’s nothing new. The camera panning the body, the gratuitous tracing of the bikini line, lingering a moment too long. Watch Surf House, check out Stab’s Hotter Than Fish Grease section, follow Alana Blanchard on Instagram. It’s become a staple of our era.

So I wasn’t surprised by Roxy’s attempt to market their upcoming competition in Biarritz with this video; I was, however, bewildered by it. This is a trailer for a surf contest. And not just any surf contest, a World Tour event, which just might decide the 2013 World Champion.

Usually, I’m of the opinion that if a girl (surfer or otherwise) is comfortable with herself and wants to pose for a racy photo or video shoot, and people want to pay her money for it, more power to her. But this isn’t a sexy editorial video or a promotion for a brand’s clothing line, it’s the vessel for sharing with the world what women’s competitive surfing is all about. And yet not a single wave is ridden.

On the far end of the spectrum, angry web-dwellers have lashed out at Roxy, calling for a boycott, but even our male staffers (who are generally unopposed to the oft-produced soft-core porn posing as surf content) were confused by this one. So if the target audience isn’t them, and it’s not me (a fan of female surfing), whom is this intended to appeal to? Young girls with aspirations for topless greatness? Those in search of a new source for partial nudity? (The Internet doesn’t have enough of that.) This appears to be aimed at the lowest-common-denominator, a last-ditch effort to get consumers interested in something that the producers don’t believe can stand on its own merit.

The question of how to rally interest in the Women’s World Tour—to get people to care about female surfing at all—is the as-yet unsolvable riddle that’s plagued women’s surfing since its inception. They’ve moved events to better locales, improved the webcasts, garnered non-endemic sponsors to reach new audiences. So far, it’s barely moved the needle. And yet, we’re told over and over how women’s surfing is better than it’s ever been, how the surfers on Tour are interesting and beautiful and talented. Women’s surfing has never been sexier, they say. So this trailer discards subtlety altogether, putting on display what the surf world has secretly (or not so secretly) believed would be the answer to increasing the appeal of the Women’s World Tour: outright sex appeal. And look, some would argue, it worked: we’re talking about it. Whether that will translate to more eyeballs on the webcast we’ve yet to see. But the simple fact that brands and the World Tour are utilizing the part of female surfing most removed from competition to promote competition is indicative that the problems that women’s surfing faces may be bigger than this video.