Bethany Hamilton, one of the world's most popular female surfers, said Sunday she will not compete in World Surf League events if it goes forward with a rule change allowing biological males who identify as female to compete.
The WSL, the governing body for professional surfing, announced last week that biological males could compete in women's events if they maintained a testosterone level of less than five nmol/L (nanomoles per liter) for the previous 12 months, according to a report in The Inertia.
The 32-year-old Hamilton, who is ranked No. 20 in the world and whose story was the focus of the movie Soul Surfer, announced on Instagram that she opposes the new rule.
"We are seeing glimpses of male-bodied dominance in women's sports like running, swimming and others," Hamilton said. "... I personally won't be competing in or supporting the World Surf League if this rule remains."
Hamilton said she believes a separate category should be launched for trans athletes. She also said many female surfers agree with her but are fearful of speaking out about the rule.
Her post received more than 120,000 likes.
"I want to be clear that I strive to have love for all of mankind, regardless of any differences," Hamilton said. "But this concerns me as a professional athlete that has been competing in the World Surf League events for the past 15-plus years. And I feel that I must speak up and stand up for those in position that may feel that they cannot say something about this. I think many of the girls currently on tour are not in support with this new rule, and they fear being ostracized if they speak up."
She then posed a series of questions.
"How is this rule playing out in other sports like swimming, running MMA? Have any of the current surfers in the World Surf League been asked what their thoughts and opinions are on this new rule before it was passed or announced? Should there be a conversation with the 17 women and all of the men on tour prior to a rule change such as this? Is a hormone level an honest and accurate depiction that someone indeed is a male or female?"
The rule change, Hamilton said, likely will harm women's surfing.
"Is this better for women in surfing? If so, how? … 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. "And 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."
Professor surfer Shane Dorian (ranked No. 25) – who competes in the male division of the World Surf League – applauded Hamilton.
"Thank you for being brave enough to stand up for what you believe," Dorian wrote on her timeline. "Don't listen to people who hurl the word transphobic at anyone who's beliefs don't align perfectly with theirs. These are complicated problems with no clear solution. Regardless, there many people who love and support the trans community who agree with you on these issues. Respect."
Olympic gold medalist Julia Mancuso, a retired alpine ski athlete, also thanked Hamilton.
"I support you, Bethany," Mancuso wrote. "Thanks for speaking up for all women and girls out there. Those are all interesting questions to navigate this difficult topic, and let's hope we can keep fighting for the future of women's sports."
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Katharine Lotze/Staff
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.