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Rip Curl’s wipeout shows that fed-up Americans are winning

iStock/Daniel_Goldin
iStock/Daniel_Goldin

It’s been a week to forget for surf company Rip Curl, the latest brand to risk consumers’ wrath with a pro-transgender marketing campaign. Their January post urging people to meet “waterwoman” Sasha Lowerson, a biological man in a bikini, lit a literal fire under fans, who took to the internet to burn everything from surf booties to boards.

Days after deleting the reel, with international outrage at a peak, headquarters decided to do something that Bud Light still hasn’t: apologize.

In a revealing move, management issued a mea culpa late Wednesday night, just five days into the dustup. “Our recent post has landed us in the divisive space around transgender participation in competitive sport,” a spokesman told Shop-Eat-Surf late Wednesday night. “We want to promote surfing for everyone in a respectful way, but recognize we upset a lot of people with our post and for that, we are sorry. To clarify, the surfer featured has not replaced anyone on the Rip Curl team and is not a sponsored athlete.”

If Americans want to know who’s winning the war with corporate bullies, look no further! A reversal like this is majorly significant — not only because of how intense the backlash was, but how quickly executives responded. If anything, the wave of corporate pushback that was sparked by Bud Light has only intensified over time. In fact, it’s so powerful that even the media is starting to admit that the grassroots may actually be winning this fight. “Big corporates may finally be learning that ‘Go woke, go broke’ is real,” commentator Nicolle Flint pointed out. 

“… [T]he once iconic Australian surf brand is living proof that women are finally fighting back against companies using transgender women to promote products for women and girls,” she wrote. “What is most significant about the Rip Curl campaign featuring Sasha Lowerson that was removed from Instagram just five days after being posted, is that this is the first time a major brand has responded to female backlash … Whether the company ‘woke up’ soon enough to the fact that the backlash from women was serious and potentially financially damaging remains to be seen.”

That’s a blow to the company’s relatively new CEO, who, pre-Bud Light, told The Sydney Morning Herald when she was hired in 2021 that her goal was to drift left. “You still want to be cool enough to recruit that next generation,” Brooke Farris said, “but I think by approaching it from a place of inclusivity, people will be attracted to that.”

Turns out, people were not attracted to that — and willing to sink her brand to prove it. 

Meanwhile, Bethany Hamilton, the courageous face of Rip Curl from 1999 to 2023, is surely looking on with satisfaction. A year into her renewed contract with the company, the two sides abruptly parted ways last year, almost certainly because of Hamilton’s opposition to the new rules allowing biological men to compete in women’s surfing. The devoted Christian and shark-attack survivor, whose comeback story inspired the world, reiterated her stand at the height of the Rip Curl controversy, posting, “Male bodied athletes should not be competing in women’s sports. Period.”

Amazingly, those mainstream views have still made Hamilton a public target. Most recently, a mob of LGBT activists tried — and failed — to have Bethany disinvited from a speaking engagement at a Wisconsin fundraiser for underserved girls. In a three-page missive signed by 200 trans allies, they demand that the Women’s Fund of the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation take “all possible steps to remove and replace Bethany Hamilton as ‘Power of the Purse’ keynote speaker” lest she creates more “discrimination, distrust, division, and harm.”

In another sign that activists are fighting a losing battle, the Foundation refused to be intimidated. Leaders released a statement to local outlet WHBY insisting the event will go on as planned. 

“Over the years, the Women’s Fund Power of the Purse event has hosted a wide range of powerful speakers from all backgrounds whose diverse experiences and perspectives have imparted impactful lessons of hope, and perseverance — and Bethany Hamilton is no different. Both a world-renowned athlete and survivor, Ms. Hamilton will share her own story with our community of overcoming obstacles, facing fears and triumphing as an individual. Although her scheduled appearance has been met with some criticism due to her reported personal views on transgender athletes … we still very much believe her inspirational message of determination and resilience can transcend our differences.”

For a corporate culture used to flaunting its extremism without consequences, Rip Curl’s regret proves one thing: there are choppy waters ahead for woke business.


Originally published at The Washington Stand. 

Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer for The Washington Stand. In her role, she drafts commentary on topics such as life, consumer activism, media and entertainment, sexuality, education, religious freedom, and other issues that affect the institutions of marriage and family. Over the past 20 years at FRC, her op-eds have been featured in publications ranging from the Washington Times to The Christian Post. Suzanne is a graduate of Taylor University in Upland, Ind., with majors in both English Writing and Political Science.

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