Photos by ASP. Malia Manuel (HAW), 18, will lead the new crop of surfers joining the elite women’s ranks on the 2012 ASP Women’s World Title Series.

The end of the year always marks a high-point when it comes to profession surfing as the Vans Triple Crown Series, including the final jewel, the Billabong Pipe Masters at Banzai Pipeline, bring top international surfers together in Hawaii to surf massive waves and determine overall ASP top rankings, and more.

This year however, there will be no women’s events. The difficult economy has especially effected women’s professional surfing with lack of sponsorship dollars and continued lower prize money compared with the men’s purses at all of the events in 2011. Although lower purses for top pro women surfers is nothing new in surfing, it pales in comparison to other professional sports, especially, for example, snowboarding where prize money has usually been equal for males and females due to the sponsors, especially brands such as Burton which has always seen women competitors just as vital to the longevity and progress of the sport.

The issue hit the limelight again during the Nike U.S. Open of Surfing when Kelly Slater won a grand total of $100,000, to Sally Fitzgibbon’s $50,000. If it wasn’t for the fact that I attended the awards ceremony, discovering exactly how much Sally won took some serious research to find as most surf media failed to reveal surfing’s dirty little secret of ongoing inequity in prize money.

Sally Fitzgibbons winning the Nike U.S. Open of Surfing.

Ironically, when it comes to revenue in this industry, most comes from the lifestyle around surfing, including apparel, footwear, and accessories which is due in large part to the women in the sport -and those that buy the fashion who are inspired to be surfers. In our Fall Youth Culture Study 2011, our special section on Action Sports reveals that for the 8th year in a row, more females ages 13-25-years old want to learn surfing than males in the same age group. This aspirational quality of the sport remains a huge market potential and many top surf manufacturers have tapped into this quite successfully (i.e., Roxy revenues are greater than Quiksilver men’s).

However Quiksilver posted the largest purse for a surfing event ever at $1 million for the newly organized Quiksilver NYC Pro which took place on Long Beach, Long Island just last month. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a women’s division. Which raises the question, if the ante has been upped for prize money for men’s pro surfing, where are the dollars for the women pros? And how detrimental is it to the long-term health of the industry if women’s pro surfing events are limited or canceled when clearly more young women are inspired by surfing than young men?

This isn’t a case of picking on Quiksilver. As I just mentioned, Nike U.S. Open offered half the prize money for the women pros surfing the exact same wave. And for the Vans Triple Crown, one has to question the sponsors’ Vans, Reef, and Billabong. Or peripheral sponsors’ of the athletes such as RedBull, Monster, or Rockstar. Quite frankly, this would be an excellent opportunity for such sponsors to step-up and claim some of the ASP Women’s Surfing events.

Same wave, but Sally won half of what Kelly made during this event.

Meanwhile, because there are no women’s events this year at the Triple Crown, the Women’s ASP Champ from 2011, Carissa Moore, will be the only woman to line up against the world class field of more than 200 male athletes. Moore, 19, has been granted the ASP Hawaii wildcard into both the Reef Hawaiian Pro and the Vans World Cup.

The women’s pros for the ASP World Tour for 2012 were just announced last week. They include:
1 – Carissa Moore (HAW)
2 – Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS)
3 – Stephanie Gilmore (AUS)
4 – Tyler Wright (AUS)
5 – Silvana Lima (BRA)
6 – Coco Ho (HAW)
7 %u2013 Sofia Mulanovich (PER)
8 %u2013 Courtney Conlogue
9 %u2013 Pauline Ado (FRA)
10 – Laura Enever (AUS)
11 %u2013 Malia Manuel (HAW)
12 %u2013 Lakey Peterson (USA)
13 %u2013 Sage Erickson (USA)
14 – Rebecca Woods (AUS)
15 – Paige Hareb (NZL)
16 %u2013 Justine Dupont (FRA)
17 %u2013 ASP Wildcard *To Be Determined

According to Brodie Carr, ASP International CEO, “We’re currently in discussions with a number of new potential event licensees for 2012. We’re hopeful that these will come to fruition and provide an enhanced platform for this incredible group of athletes to perform on.”

As for the the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing event schedule, here’s what to expect starting in November with the Reef Hawaiian Pro, which kicks off the series.

Events of the 29th annual Vans Triple Crown of Surfing are:

The Reef Hawaiian Pro, Nov.12-23
Haleiwa Ali’i Beach Park
6-star rated event that offers Prime ratings points
Prize purse: $145,000

The Vans World Cup of Surfing, Nov.24-Dec.6
Sunset Beach
Prime rating & points
Prize purse: $250,000 (upgraded from 2010)

The Billabong Pipe Masters, Dec. 8-20
Banzai Pipeline
World Tour rating & points
Prize purse: $425,000

The Series also offers a $10,000 bonus purse for the Vans Triple Crown champion: The most consistent surfer across all three events. (Obviously this will go to a male.)