Exploring the history of gender equality in Stand Up Paddling through the lens of the 'Queen of SUP' and first woman on the international SUP scene, Candice Appleby.
It’s no question that Candice Appleby, who has 115 1st place trophies under her belt, is a powerhouse in the waves and on the race circuit. But the Queen of SUP also uses her power off the water. She has long fought for women’s rights and equality, not shying away from calling out discrimination in her sport. She has stood up for herself time and time again, speaking out against double standards in sports, the gender pay gap and sexist remarks.
Candice Appleby in front of Mount Fuji at an APP World Tour event in 2017.
When Candice began competing professionally in Stand Up Paddling, she was one of the very few women in the sport. Not only were there very few female athletes, there were very few races and events just for women. She was a young woman in a man’s game - but that didn’t stop her.
Candice entered the men’s trials in the APP’s first ever Sunset Beach event as the only woman and made headlines in 2008 when she competed in Duke’s Ocean Fest in the Open Pro division and handily beat out every man in the event. A feat considered a turning point for women’s Stand Up Paddling.
“My goal was to go out, catch a big wave and prove that women are good enough and should have their own division. I didn’t allow myself to be intimidated by being the only woman there as I felt I had a responsibility to represent.”
Candice Appleby on the Battle of the Paddle podium in 2014.
Again and again Candice has advocated for women to have their own races and to not be an accessory to the men’s. In 2012, Candice got knocked off her board by a male competitor whilst competing in Battle of the Paddle. The women had their own start line, but they would start one minute after the men’s race leading to inevitable traffic for the fastest women to navigate through.
“I worked with the organisers of the Battle of the Paddle race and explained that women shouldn’t be a side show. The next year we were able to have our own race and a lot of the other races followed suit. It was great as people began to see the women as a feature event.”
“So we had our own division, but then we didn’t get paid as much as the men because we weren’t ‘as good’ as the men. What does ‘as good’ even mean?”
Candice Appleby (right) and Connor Baxter (left) at the Pacific Paddle Games in 2015.
Over the years, Appleby has been outspoken when it comes to issues regarding the gender pay gap in Stand Up Paddling. In 2011 Candice entered a race in the Los Cobos Classics event in Mexico. She hit the beach first in front of all the men, but got paid $500 less than the top man, despite having beat him.
“When they did the awards ceremony, the top three men got oversized cheques and a fancy bottle of champagne. There was none of that for me and I got paid $500 less. I thought that was preposterous, so from early on I’ve been an advocate for trying to get equal prize money for women.”
The APP World Tour was one of the first sporting organisations to pay men and women the same in competition. CEO of the APP World Tour, Tristan Boxford, has led the charge in offering equal prize money. “It is something we have been doing for several years now, and in fact before many other sporting organisations - we consider it to be quite simply the right thing to do, so have not made a song and dance about it. The rapid progression in Women's performance on the Tour has been astounding, and we are excited to celebrate this and see it evolve even more over the coming years.”
Candice Appleby surfing at Turtle Bay in 2013 on the APP World Tour.
There is systematic sexism in sports that leads to unequal pay, which starts with how women are marketed by their own leagues. Lack of visibility and representation in the media is something Candice called out in her early days on the Stand Up Paddle circuit.
“There were certain media outlets that wouldn’t showcase the women and if they did it would only be the athlete who came first. It created an environment between the girls that was very competitive, as we would be vying for a mention in an article.”
As long as women’s talents are absent from media, there will be less sponsored female athletes, so the perception of them not being ‘as good’ doesn’t change and the inequality perpetuates. “The biggest challenge as a female athlete is getting financial support and changing the perception of those around us that we have a place in the sport and that only comes with media and marketing attention.”
Stand Up Paddling has come a long way and female participation at both pro and amateur level has rocketed - a development Candice revels.
“Our industry is in a really great place in celebrating women, at both an amateur and pro level. I’m really proud of what the SUP industry is doing for girls - I think it is an example for other sports.”
Candice Appleby in front of the Freedom Tower during the APP World Tour Japan event in 2018.
There are numerous challenges that are unique to female athletes, a major one being the unattainable beauty standards that are propagated by media and brands which is something that has affected Candice.
“I’ve struggled with body image issues since I was a young girl. When I was a teenager, Roxy was a new brand and I was excited that there was a girl surf brand, but at the same time the girls they were depicting were models on surfboards. Although I was a surfer girl to my core, I would never be sponsored by them, not because of my ability but because of the way I looked. As I have become a more mature women, I am grateful for my strong body and I want to encourage other women to do the same. Today I’m so grateful to be working with a brand like Virus, who makes my technical apparel. They support strong women not only in their sport, but also in their life endeavours which is important to me as I start my own coaching business Ocean Academy. “
Candice Appleby competing in the APP World Tour London event in 2018.
Candice is a true pioneer of Stand Up Paddling and has been an integral part in helping the sport become more equal for women. Whilst calling out sexism within events and races, she has also taken matters into her own hands by hosting a Junior Pro SUP event offering equal prize money to the junior boys and girls. She has done all of this whilst continuing to dominate the SUP scene and is still chasing "another SUP world title."