How Stab Magazine Actively Represses Women's Surfing

The editors of Stab perpetuate a discriminatory double standard to actively repress (restrain and inhibit the expression and development of) women’s surfing. They do so under the guise of “empowerment,” claiming to uplift and create a “safe space” for (thin, white) young women. Instead, they enforce the harmful narrative that surfing only sells if you’re a man. This bias has bound female athletes to prioritizing beauty and fashion over performance. Women can no longer be expected to strip down for their sponsors.

 How  Stab  covers women in 2018.

How Stab covers women in 2018.

The hypocrisy of the mainstream surf industry was exposed when two editors-in-chief sat down to have an uncensored discussion on the Surf Splendor podcast. Chas Smith of the satirical surf tabloid BeachGrit faced off with Ashton Goggans of “high performance, men’s interest” magazine Stab. The physical altercation notwithstanding, what I found most astonishing about this debate was the insight into Goggans’ notion of what his magazine is about. With great fervor, he claimed that Stab makes content that is “beautiful, meaningful, and real;” that they “do real good for the the surfing world;” and that they work to create a “safe space” for their audience so that young people – specifically, young girls – can feel welcome.

Today I recalled this podcast when I opened up Stab’s website, as I am wont to do on increasingly rare occasions, and discovered the latest installment of their “Girls” section. It featured 23-year-old Laura Crane, reality television star and (ostensibly) professional surfer, stripped down and writhing on a bed. The all-male team asked her insubstantial questions about Instagram, body image, and the eating disorder she’s (very recently) overcome. The upshot is supposed to be that, through her appearance on the show Love Island and her work as a professional model, she’s gained “the confidence to feel radiant and sexy again.”

This is not their first article about Laura Crane being naked, nor their first profile on a surfer girl in which they make zero mention of surfing. In fact, you’ll be pressed to find any coverage by Stab of women in surf that focuses on something other than photoshoots in bedrooms. Case in point: in an interview with pro surfer Malia Osterkamp, they pressed her about her “favorite part of male anatomy.” Osterkamp was seventeen years old at the time. They argue that these girls are hot and their audience likes it, but that hardly justifies publishing a hyper-sexualized feature of a minor.

It seemed to me that in portraying women this way, they were missing out on a big opportunity. Why limit yourselves by looking at women’s surfing through such a narrow lens? Why alienate the girls and women who read your site, rather than introducing content that has a broader appeal? And, most importantly: if you must hyper-sexualize women, why make these claims about taking care to create a safe space?

I asked the editors of Stab these questions directly, in an email that flew from my enraged fingers at the speed of light. To my surprise, they responded immediately and enthusiastically. “I pretty much agree with every word,” Goggans said, explaining that he had been “railing” for a shift in the magazine to a more “egalitarian tone.” They encouraged me to pitch some articles to them; I did, and they were received very well. They ran copy edits, asked my per-word rate, and invited me to the office before abruptly and mysteriously ceasing to respond. The pieces never ran, and I never heard from them again.

At first, I felt humiliated. I’d worked hard on those articles; I’d skipped class the day I was supposed to go to their office waiting for them to confirm a specific time or address. Then came anger, followed by acceptance. Stab would not have been a good fit for me. I used to eat up their radical surf edits, but let’s be honest: their content is stagnant and uncomfortably testosterone-drenched. If they want to cater to a small-minded audience and feature pornographic images of women, that’s their prerogative – so live and let live, I thought.

I address you today, several months later, because coming across this Laura Crane interview has reignited my frustration. Representation matters. The narrow and idealized image of women in surf is oppressive and acts as a barrier to progress in the sport in very real, tangible, and quantifiable ways. Ashton Goggans, if you think you’re doing good for the surfing world, think again.