The gender-identity debate has surfaced in competitive surfing after an Australian surfer made history last week by winning a women’s championship, just a few years after taking the men’s crown in the same event.
Sasha Jane Lowerson, 43, won both the Open Women’s Longboard and Open Women’s Logger events at the West Coast Suspensions state championships held May 14-15 at Avalon Bay, dominating the competition in what one commentator called a “one-sided” contest.
“To be the first transgender woman competing in surfing hasn’t been an easy ride emotionally but the amount of support I’ve been showed has been phenomenal and I’m so grateful to be involved, welcomed and embraced within the longboard community in Australia,” Lowerson told Surfing Western Australia.
Lowerson became “the first surfer in history to win men’s and women’s divisions” after capturing the 2019 men’s longboard title as Ryan Egan, according to the surfing publication Beach Dirt.
The Mandurah-based surfer, who reportedly began a medical transition last year, scored 14.70 in the longboard event, well ahead of Georgia Young with 10.63 and Samantha Vanderford with 9.27.
Lowerson also won the Open Women’s Logger with a score of 13.97, besting Emily Gibbs, who placed second with 11.37.
“Lowerson looked right at home in the long running lefts on offer, picking off the best waves on offer, which allowed her to display a full repertoire of footwork and turns on her way to some excellent scores,” said the Surfing Western Australia press release.
Not cheering was Save Women’s Sports Australasia, an advocacy group for single-sex athletics, which blasted Surfing Australia for allowing Lowerson to compete in the women’s division.
“Lowerson’s score would have won the male division this year too, clearly demonstrating bodies play sport — not identities — & biological sex matters!” tweeted the group. “This isn’t ‘stunning & brave’. It is sanctioned cheating condoned by [Surfing Australia], along with many other sports now who are prioritizing the inclusion of males, over fairness for females, and the integrity of the entire female category in sport.”
Lowerson accused critics of only raising objections after the recent victories.
“When I was up against the best women in Australia and the world in Noosa and I dropped out in the quarter finals coming in ninth or tenth — where were those people then?” Lowerson told the Mandurah Mail. “I was just another girl and I was with an equal talent pool — I had this news organization following me around trying to make a story and then they realized I wasn’t even the best one there.”
Lowerson added: “It’s only as soon as a girl like me is successful that they start jumping up and down.”
In a November interview on YouTube, Lowerson told host Jason Byrne that she started transitioning in early 2021 and stopped surfing for six months, thinking “I’m never going to compete again.”
In February 2021, however, Lowerson decided that “I can’t just walk away from my passion, my love. That’s a big part of my life.”
Before competing in the women’s division, Lowerson contacted Surfing Australia officials and presented them with a choice.
“I just rang the head office, and said, ‘Um, this is me. The last time I competed in your Australian titles I was third. What are you going to do?’ I was pretty frank about it,” said Lowerson. “I was like, ‘We can do this two ways. We can do it together and make it amazing, or we can do it terribly and it’s a circus and you guys are the only ones that are going to come out looking silly at the end of it. But I’d prefer to not go through that, being silly.”
Surfing Australia approved a policy on transgender athletes in 2021, according to the Mandurah Mail.
Lowerson cited the support of Surfing Australia team member Glen Elliot, an internationally recognized surfing judge.
“We did a big group video chat with people like the head judge of the Olympics, and he’s the Surfing Australia and the ISA head judge as well, Glen Elliot,” said Lowerson. “He expressed his support and was like, ‘I’d love to see you competing still. You can’t not compete.’”
Lowerson is also pushing international surfing authorities to allow athletes to compete based on gender identity.
“I have a past with the ISA [International Surfing Association]. I’ve been lobbying with Surfing Australia and then we’re about to start formal talks with the World Surf League about inclusion of diverse genders,” Lowerson said.