Fair pay for women in surfing is now a ‘thing’. The arc of the moral universe is more the crest of a wave, and the bend towards justice is a wrapping right-hander with Steph Gilmore smiling out of the barrel. This is a good moment.

Being Australian, I was brought up with the notion of the ‘fair go’ deep in my DNA. The ‘fair go’ is simple: it’s about mates helping out mates. Looking after each other. Valuing egalitarianism ahead of differences in class. The ‘fair go’ is a wonderful thing and so is the fact that women on the WSL will earn the same amount of money as their male counterparts from next year onwards.

Of course, there are some who will make all kinds of noise about why this achievement of equality is a terrible idea and unjustified, but they are wrong.

Equality is normal. It is inequality that is abnormal.

But fairness in surfing isn’t solely for the WSL to claim right now. It wouldn’t be fair…

Patagonia’s full line of wetsuits are now Fair Trade Certified™. This is also an important step towards changing the surf industry in a very positive way. What many people maybe don’t realize (or even choose not to see) when it comes to the wetsuits they wear on those cold Nordic mornings is that far, far away in a factory that most likely none of us have ever heard of, people spend countless hours gluing, sewing and shipping wetsuits around the globe. They do this work exceptionally well but for incomes that are quite a lot lower than what we enjoy in the more affluent parts of the world.

Many of us take for granted things like paid parental leave, sick days and a host of other benefits in the workplace. Historically, many of these ‘perks’ are just that in the manufacturing hubs of the world, and the products we buy, like wetsuits, have been made by a human being who we certainly have a moral obligation to begin acknowledging and ensuring that their wellbeing is considered and developed.

Most of the wetsuits on the market*, including Patagonia’s, are made in a factory owned by a company named SHEICO, because they make some of the best wetsuits. For a number of years, Patagonia has been making their Yulex® natural rubber, neoprene-free wetsuits in the SHEICO factory, which in itself hasn’t been an easy task for the company. While the majority of world’s wetsuits are made by SHEICO, only a minority of wetsuit brands choose to use the more environmentally-friendly Yulex® natural rubber from sources that are Forest Stewardship Council® certified by the Rainforest Alliance – although this number is growing. Solution-dyed face fabrics and water-based glue have also been incorporated to further reduce the environmental footprint of Patagonia wetsuits this season.

Now, by making the world’s first Fair Trade Certified™ wetsuits, the people behind the products are treated with the respect they deserve. For each suit made, the workers receive a premium that can be used as a collective social investment or to otherwise elevate their standard of living. The certification also ensures that the factory complies with Fair Trade USA’s standards for safe and healthy working conditions.  Once a factory is certified, it’s simple for other brands using that factory to adopt Certification for the products they make there.

Fair Trade Certification™raises the profile of Fair Trade throughout the surf industry and allows other brands to easily join in, if they so choose.

We hope they choose.

Dave Rastovich hopes they choose too: “The factories we rely on aren’t just full of machines; they’re also full of people with families, histories and futures that have been overlooked by the industry for far too long. Fair Trade extends a sense of value, acknowledgment and respect to members of the human family who are often pushed to the margins.

Thanks to Patagonia, the people cutting, stitching and gluing the rubber we use on those cold winter days are treated with the respect they deserve.

A wave of equality isn’t only crashing through competitive surfing right now. It is a ground swell, visible on the horizon in some places, or marching towards the shore in others.

It is also beginning to ripple across warm Yulex rubber.


(* Rip Curl is the only major brand that is not made in SHEICO )

Joshua Burguete-Kirkman

Photo: Dave Rastovich by Andy Chisholm


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