The U.S. Open of Surfing has more than doubled its first-place women's prize from $20,000 to $50,000, in what organizers believe is the largest top prize ever given in women's surfing.
Executives from Nike, the event's sponsor, announced the increase during Monday's women's heat by the Huntington Beach Pier. Johanna Phillips, a spokeswoman for the Open, said organizers raised the purse to help reduce the disparity between men's and women's prizes. In last year's Open, the top male surfer earned 10 times more than the top female surfer, while the prizes this year were originally slated to be $100,000 and $20,000, respectively.
"The motivation was to help elevate the status of women's surfing," Phillips said. "It's the only women's WQS [World Qualifying Series] event in North America, so we're really trying to help elevate it."
She added that the announcement Monday had been met with loud applause.
"As far as the women surfers, they're all very excited about it," she said.
James Leitz, the senior vice president and director of action sports for IMG, the event's producer, said he was ecstatic at the announcement.
"That is significant for the sport," he said. "That is as groundbreaking as the $100,000 last year for the men's. The girls are stoked. It is the largest prize purse in the history of women's surfing."
Last year, the U.S. Open offered a record $100,000 for the men's surfing champion. The announcement made headlines, but some complained about the much smaller prize given to women: The top female surfer was originally slated to win $4,500 before sponsors increased the prize to $10,000.
Organizers have previously said that a number of factors influence the amounts for men's and women's prizes, including the fact that more men compete in the Open and that corporate sponsors have historically favored male surfers. In addition, this year's Open is ranked as a Prime competition for men and a Six-Star competition for women; a Prime event awards more points to the finishers.
Monday's announcement, though, marks the second time in two years that the women's prize has more than doubled in the course of the Open. The men's prize this year has remained $100,000.
Carissa Moore, one of the surfers competing in this year's Open, issued a statement today praising the increased purse.
"I think it's awesome," she said. "Fifty grand for first place means there's a lot more on the line and a lot more excitement. It's great to have that level of support."