Bethany Hamilton says she'll boycott World Surf League over its transgender policy

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 10: Bethany Hamilton of Hawaii surfing in Round 2 of the 2020 Sydney Surf Pro at Manly Beach on 10 March 2020 in Sydney, Australia today. (Photo by Matt Dunbar/WSL via Getty Images)
Bethany Hamilton said she'll boycott the World Surf League after it adopted a policy allowing transgender people to compete. (Photo by Matt Dunbar/WSL via Getty Images)

Pro surfer Bethany Hamilton announced Sunday that she'll boycott the World Surf League over its adoption of the International Surfing Association's transgender policy.

The 32-year-old surfer, who rose to prominence as a teenager when a shark attack claimed her left arm, does not support transgender women being eligible to compete on the WSL's women's circuits. She made her announcement via an Instagram video while questioning the league's policy that considers testosterone levels for eligibility.

“Is a hormone level an honest and accurate depiction that someone indeed is a male or female?" Hamilton asked among a series of questions. "Is it as simple as this?”

She concluded her video by announcing her boycott.

“I personally won’t be competing in or supporting the World Surf League if this rule remains,” Hamilton said.

There are no openly transgender athletes currently competing in the WSL.

The WSL responded Monday with a statement explaining its rules that intend to align with those in Olympic competition.

"As an Olympic sport, and with aspirations for all of WSL's disciplines to be included in the Olympics, the WSL has adopted the International Surfing Association (ISA) policy on transgender participation," the statement reads.

"The WSL is working to balance equity and fairness, and we will continue to evaluate the policy in the months and years ahead as more research, information, and feedback are available."

The WSL cites the ISA's policy which considers eligible testosterone levels over a 12-month period as grounds for competing in a women's event:

"An athlete who was assigned male at birth, who identifies as a woman, and has woman/female on her passport or national identity card is eligible to compete in a men’s event, or as a man in a mixed event, if she has not met requirements to compete in a woman’s event (such as maintaining testosterone level less than 5 nmol/L continuously for the previous 12 months)

Hamilton challenged the ISA's testosterone standard in her video.

"How did whoever decided these hormone rules come to the conclusion that 12 months of testing testosterone make it a fair and legal switch?" Hamilton asked.

The subject of transgender athletes competing in sports — particularly transgender women competing in women's events — has become a flash point in American and international sports and politics. Several U.S. states with Republican-controlled leadership have either proposed or passed bans on transgender athletes competing in high school or at the collegiate level, often citing equity on the playing field. Opponents of the bills characterize them as anti-LGBTQ legislation.

Hamilton is a devout Christian who's cited her faith as inspiring her recovery from the shark attack she experienced at 13 years old. Since her attack, she's continued her career as a professional surfer that includes a longstanding sponsorship deal with Rip Curl.

Per her WSL bio, Hamilton has competed in the WSL since 2008, most recently during the 2022 season where she ranked 20th on the Women's Championship Tour. Hamilton said in her video that she'd like to see the WSL create a division specifically for transgender athletes.

“I personally think that the best solution would be to create a different division so that all can have a fair opportunity to showcase their passion and talent,” Hamilton said.

Per industry publication The Intertia, Sarah Jane Lowerson became the first openly transgender surfer to compete and win an established surfing competition in 2022. Lowerson spoke about her experience after victory last May at the West Coast Suspensions Longboard & Logger State Championships in Australia.

"I've been surfing since I was a little boy, I was a good junior surfer, I was surfing against grown men at 14 and winning," Lowerson said, per Newsweek. "I knew at a very young age that I wasn't a normal boy. For the best part of [my life], I thought [Sasha] could never live, I had to put her in a box. That is something a lot of girls experience.

"About every two years, I'd want to kill myself and I've had a good go at it. I had a real wake-up call in [2020] then I thought 'What are you doing? You are living a lie.'"