Sea of Changes for Women's Surfing by ESPN

Over the last few years, Women's surfing has been on a progressive fast-track. With a new platform for 2014, including three new venues, increased prize purse and ability to compete in quality conditions, the ASP Top 17's talent has been a highlight at the each of the three stops opening up the Samsung Galaxy ASP World Championship Tour season.

ESPN recently reflected on the tough times women's surfing faced and the momentum these athletes are carrying with them in 2014. This... is their story...

In 2012, women's professional surfing was suffering a slow death on the industry sidelines. With an anemic world tour schedule, dried-up financial support and fading fan interest, competitive female surfers faced the very real possibility of their career paths soon vanishing completely.

Then a funny thing happened. Out of a mélange of mergers, acquisitions and millennial focus groups of the last decade emerged a private company from California called ZoSea Media Holdings. Their intent? To purchase the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP), pro surfing's governing body, and transform surfing's majors -- the World Championship Tour (WCT).

Now, just two years later, and that heady combination of cash, commitment and passion has already turned the elite series on its head, injecting excitement into a newly revived and wholly re-energized women's tour.

Before ZoSea, endemic surf brands independently financed and produced each stop on the ASP World Tour and sponsored the athletes who competed in it. When the 2008 recession hit and consumer spending cut back sharply, the surf industry's financials plummeted, and the women suffered most. Pulling support from the women's side of the tour proved an easy place for companies to cut costs: It was whittled down to six contests in one season, in contrast to the men's 11 events.

Competitive female surfers have always contended with gender disparity. The ASP men's tour boasts 32 of the best surfers in the world, while the women's tour stands at 17. Before 2014, prize money offered for women's contests was roughly one-quarter of the men's purse. And when contests were besieged with suboptimal conditions, women were typically made to compete on smaller waves while men waited for conditions to improve.

But as this season has progressed -- the third stop of the 2014 WCT wrapped Wednesday at Australia's Bells Beach, with Mick Fanning (men) and Carissa Moore (women) taking wins -- it appears that the new ASP's innovations will bring women's surfing back from the brink. Four events have been added to the 2014 women's tour, at renowned big-wave spots like Tavarua in Fiji and on Maui, and contest dates have shifted to calendar windows that are likely to see better conditions.

Perhaps ZoSea's biggest statement so far, however, has been with women's wallets: For the first time in history, the total available prize money for women matches the men's tour, a shift not unlike that experienced in women's tennis at Wimbledon in 2007.

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