Sustainability and gender pay equity take center stage at US Open of Surfing

·Yahoo Sports Contributor
·4-min read

Near the beginning of August, a majority of sports enthusiasts are likely planning their fantasy football leagues, soaking up the final month of summer with a baseball game or gearing up for another Premier League campaign. But the action sports community goes a different route, opting to watch the best of the best compete in Surf City, USA.

The Vans US Open of Surfing brings together some of the best talent in surfing, BMX and skateboarding alike for a nine days of intense competition in Huntington Beach, California. The space near the pier is transformed into a hub of enthusiastic contestants and spectators with plenty of pop-up shops and exhibits in between.

Vans has constantly remained at the crux of action sports, but now the athletic-wear brand is expanding its endeavors to focus on sustainability as well. Similar to how other venues (Seattle's Climate Pledge Arena, for example) have made environmental preservation a key part of their long-term strategy, Vans is ensuring its footprint within action sports spills over into equally important affairs. The California-based company has tapped some of its well-known athlete ambassadors to help spread the message of sustainability.

"Being from Hawaii, the environment has always played a special role in our lives," Vans athlete and professional surfer Pua DeSoto told Yahoo Sports. "We always say that the land is like our older sibling, our Kaikuaʻana is what it translates to in Hawaiian. Our job, or the job of any person, is to protect and nurture this land for future generations to enjoy."

In addition to producing apparel and footwear with mainly recycled goods, Vans also pledged to make 100% of its top four CO2 impact materials be regenerative, responsibly sourced, renewable or recycled by 2030. Finally, they're teaming up with various local foundations in Orange County and Hawaii that focus on clean water enforcement, coastal restoration projects, beach cleanups and more.

Strengthening the significance of surfing ahead of the 2028 Summer Games and discourse about pay equity

As conversations surrounding gender equality and closing the pay gap take form in the WNBA and women's soccer, similar discussions are also occurring in surfing.

Justin Villano, senior marketing manager of Action Sport, told Yahoo Sports that in the future, we could see mandated efforts to ensure men, women and nonbinary athletes are all paid equally.

"It's about structuring the dollar so that they're evenly spread," Villano said. "So, if a male winner is getting $50K for first place, a female or nonbinary winner should also receive the same. It's really just clearly communicating that message and that's something we've been committed to for years now. From a cultural standpoint, I'd like to think we've led the charge on that within the actions sports space."

Though just 16 years old, Pua DeSoto is already one of the most recognizable names in surfing. (Photo: Vans)
Though just 16 years old, Pua DeSoto is already one of the most recognizable names in surfing. (Photo: Vans)

Surfing culture has had a resurgence the last few years, from getting the Olympic treatment last summer to a slew of recent documentaries centered around its culture. Just like NFL and WNBA fans have identified their favorites players, surf enthusiasts have their own roster of beloved competitors. Ask most people, and DeSoto is near or at the top of their list.

The 16-year-old has been a surfing phenom for years now, having been exposed to the sport since she was 6 months old. With aspirations to compete at the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles, the Hawaii native told Yahoo Sports she doesn't really "feel the pressure" of being a wunderkind, but rather is focused on using her platform to usher in a new generation of younger, female surfers.

"Surfing is just who I am. It's been ingrained within me. Growing up, I felt like we were always taught to either uphold or set new standards in my community," she said. "But I'm just trying to become the best version of myself so I can empower and inspire other people to do the same."

As with all athletes, there's immense pride that comes with representing your homeland. US Open of Surfing had an unprecedented 40% of Hawaiians competing this year, which DeSoto touted as a good sign for for greater exposure on American television.

"It's such a big deal to us and it's an indication of what's to come. It's like, if there were a competition in South Africa, then you'd hope there would be at least four or five natives participating, right? Vans has made sure there's ample recognition no matter where we go. I'm grateful to be a part of a team that's shining a light on the sport and giving back," she said.