Iconic Australian surf brand Rip Curl is in damage control after a massive consumer backlash against its decision to use a transgender surfer to promote women’s surfing in a social media marketing campaign called Meet The Local Heroes of Western Australia.
It featured 44-year-old professional longboarder Sasha Jane Lowerson formerly known as Ryan Egan which outraged many customers, some of whom called for a boycott of the brand. Some posted videos of Rip Curl beachwear being ripped up and burned. The brand’s social media pages lit up with hundreds of posts with hashtags like #GoWokeGoBroke, #savewomenssports, #StopReplacingWomen and #boycottripcurl.
Many of the critics were women. Comments included ‘Taking my money elsewhere’, ‘Why do you hate women?’ ‘RIP for me rip curl!!!’ and ‘Rip Curl was always one of my favourite brands – I’ll never spend another dime with ‘em.’
Rip Curl initially tried to disable the negative comments, but quickly realised the commercial threat to the brand and deleted all promotional material featuring the transgender surfer and replaced it with images of biological women wearing its merchandise.
Previously, the company had featured surfer Bethany Hamilton as its brand ambassador for more than 20 years. She became a surfing legend after losing her left arm in a shark attack in Hawaii at the age of 13 and then recovering to become highly competitive on the professional tour. The committed Christian is now a 33-year-old mother of four and still competing, but not against transgender surfers.
Two years ago, Ms. Hamilton signed a six-year deal to continue to promote Rip Curl, but the company dropped her after she spoke out strongly against the World Surf League’s decision to adopt the International Surfing Association policy on supporting transgender participation in women’s events, subject to acceptable testosterone levels.
The Christian sports icon stressed she didn’t have any issue with transgender people, but believed allowing biological men to compete against women was unfair. “Male-bodied athletes should not be competing in female sports. Period,” she posted on X.
Christian commentator Rod Lampard observed in Caldron Pool and the Daily Declaration that: “To be inclusive of the minority, Rip Curl has to exclude the majority. Think about the lunacy of it all: Rip Curl has replaced a woman – a genuine heroine – with a man dressed as a woman, in order to advance women in sport.”
Riley Gaines Barker, a former swimmer and Christian who campaigns against biological men competing in women’s sports, posted after the brand resumed using images of biological women to promote women’s swimwear: “Hahahaha Rip Curl suddenly knows what a woman is. They’ve deleted all posts promoting a male surfer posing as a woman after dropping Bethany Hamilton. They want you to forget about their contempt for women. Don’t.”
After 50 years of private ownership, Rip Curl was sold to Kathmandu for $350 million in 2019. Kathmandu shares have dived 7.25% over the past five days (to February 1) following a 35% plunge during the past year.
In a statement Rip Curl said: “Our recent post has landed us in the divisive space around transgender participation in competitive sport. We want to promote surfing for everyone in a respectful way, but recognise we upset a lot of people with our post and for that, we are sorry. To clarify, the surfer featured has not replaced anyone on the Rip Curl team and is not a sponsored athlete.”