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What went down at Pipeline Masters 2019 and why you need to know about it

femalesurfers performance tips surftrainingforwomen women's health Feb 28, 2020

Did you by chance watch the World Surf League (WSL) 2019 Pipeline Masters? (2019 Billabong Pipe Masters) It was the final showcase of Mother Nature’s power matched against the world’s best male surfers. Huge waves. Bigger upsets. Mind blowing barrels. Goats absolutely ripping. Steel ball…well you know. Testosterone aplenty! But something else went down at the Pipeline Masters 2019 that you need to know about.

Amongst the thunderous pounding of Northshore waves, roughly a block or two away from Banzai Pipe, a figurative stone was being thrown into a figurative pond. In room full of WSL practitioners, personal trainers, surf coaches and allied health professionals, a topic of discussion was put forward…one that, amongst the thunderous chaos of Pipe, made a nice and succinct ‘plonk’ in the minds of experienced health professionals.

The stone you see, was the opening line of my presentation “Female athletes are different. Period”. I was at Pipeline Masters, not just to watch an incredible event and train with some of the world’s best practitioners. I was there to start a conversation. To throw a stone in a pond and start a ripple effect. My topic was Gender Specificity in Athletic Performance and this is how it went down…

The ‘plonk’ of the stone in the pond: realizing we are missing VITAL information

How did I get to be standing in front of a room full of practitioners, in Hawai’i? Seven years ago, I had a ‘plonk’ moment of my own. One where I realized I was missing out on VITAL information, concerning competitive female surfers. It is what lead to my journey of researching and investigating gender specific issues for female athletes. It was the moment when, I identified TWO important points concerning female athletes, both of which I shared in Hawai’i:

  • Female athletes are competing on a male stage, with very different bodies, minds and social needs.
  • The science has been letting us down.

Female athletes are performing on a male stage historically designed to showcase male strength and vigour in their sporting endeavours. Except, females have a whole lot less testosterone, incredibly different physiology, different bio-mechanical challenges, different psychological approaches and different social needs to men. Females are completely different, and yet, training methods and competitive expectations have been for them to perform and cope like men. If we continue to treat our female athletes like men and train them like men, are we helping them to realise their true athletic potential, or are we missing something VITAL, by avoiding gender specific variables?

The science has also been letting us down. Historically, most sport and exercise science research (e.g. training methodology, rehabilitation and injury prevention strategies) has been performed using male participants. This means findings within the research have been influenced by male anthropometry, male bio-mechanics, male physiology etc. and then APPLIED to the female population. So, VITAL information on best practice and training methodologies for female athletes has been missing.


The first ripple: Broadening the lens and validating what is going on here

So that we don’t continue to miss VITAL information about female surfers, I proposed in Hawai’i that we widen the lens through which we view females and athletic performance. It is time to validate that, ‘YES’, female athletes have complex and multi-factorial issues that can impact their performance. It is time to recognise these and pay them their due deed. Reducing the menstrual cycle, for example, to ‘just’ impacting a woman’s reproductive system is a narrow view that is particularly outdated.

The female hormonal cycle is a biological body clock and arguably the second most important body clock to the circadian rhythm. Because a biological clock is like a whole-body governing system, a female’s hormonal cycle is going to influence MORE than just her reproductive system, such as her respiration rate and increased risk of injury.

If we don’t widen the lens regarding the female hormone cycle, what VITAL information will we be missing about a female athlete’s health and performance? The narrow view has to go! Validation of gender differences is the way forward, but it goes hand-in-hand with something else.

The next ripple: Gender differences needs to be schoolyard chatter

Once we talked about widening the lens of female performance, the next ripple centered around the issue of normalisation.

I always picture normalisation like schoolyard chatter. The schoolyard is like an information super hub! Chatting about female specific variables in the schoolyard of sports, means that we have the opportunity to share VITAL information about female athletes. Also, the more we talk about female specific issues, the more female athletes are likely to share, because it will just become the ‘norm’. To make sure we continue to access information about gender specific issues, we need the conversation around menstrual cycles, etc. to be NORMAL. It needs to be NORMAL for practitioners, coaches and trainers to ask the questions and it needs to be NORMAL for athletes to talk about it and share.

As the ripples settle, where to next?

As my presentation ended, the ripples settled, and the thunder of the Northshore swell could be heard again. I was feeling inspired.  The discussions afterwards were heartfelt, open and authentic. “How do you notice when something is different?” one coach asked. “How do I ask a female athlete about her cycle, when I am a male?” asked a physiotherapist. You see, the conversation is starting! Pipeline Masters is an incredible demonstration of competitive male surfing. But what also went down during the Pipeline Masters 2019, was a discussion about female surfers.

If you are a female surfer or you work with female surfers, where to next? There are many variables that can impact on a female athlete’s performance, the menstrual cycle being just part of the picture. Fortunately, 2020 will see the launch of The Female Surfer 2.0 aimed at educating and empowering female surfers, from recreational surfers, to CT level competitors. Years of research and development is yours to access with my support. If you want to know more, just hit the contact button in the menu bar. 

Whilst you are at it, sign up for the Newsletter, to keep up to date with the latest blogs and webinars. I will bring you the science, knowledge from the tour, CT level training strategies, plus more surprises!

Welcome to The Female Surfer. Thank you for being part of the journey.

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