Cori Schumacher during the longboard championships in France in July. She is
boycotting an event in China because of "deep political and personal reservations."


Cori Schumacher is the reigning women’s world longboard champion, yet she has no major sponsors or endorsements. In fact, she refuses them, and recently decided to boycott the Association of Surfing Professionals World Longboard Tour.

As a woman and a longboarder, Schumacher struggles at the bottom of surfing’s hierarchy. But instead of toeing the line, she has taken an unusual approach, using her success in the water as a platform to take a stand on issues in hope of enacting social change in her sport and beyond.

Schumacher, 33, was born into surfing. Her parents, Jeannette and Craig, met in the ocean in Newport Beach, Calif., and her mother, then a professional shortboarder, rode waves until she was eight months pregnant. On weekends, they would pack their truck full of surfboards and head from San Diego to Mexico to camp on the beach. Schumacher knew she would become a professional surfer when she was 12. The question was how, given that few women (and a handful of longboarders) are able to earn a living through surfing.

In Costa Rica in 2001, Schumacher won her second world longboard title but realized she could not support herself. She walked away after turning down $2,000 for a yearlong sponsorship.

"I was like, I can’t do this anymore. This is ridiculous," she said. "So I just totally quit."

Schumacher now works as a waitress at Naked Cafe in Solana Beach, Calif. She still surfs daily and returned to competition in 2005.

"I promised myself that I wouldn’t do the things that left me really disenchanted with competitive surfing in the past, so I stayed away from sponsors and just did it on my own and have had a really cool time," she said. "It’s allowed me to have a different perspective on things, because I really care about women’s longboarding — instead of ‘I really care about my career in women’s longboarding.’"

Henry Ford, a pioneering California surfer who is the president of the World Longboard Association, said: " can’t tell you how important it is for women’s surfing to have some kind of champion. And I think Cori Schumacher is trying to set the bar so that there is some respect for the women’s side of surfing."

In keeping with her principles, Schumacher is boycotting the ASP Women’s Longboard Tour because it planned an event on Hainan Island, China.

"I have deep political and personal reservations with being a part of any sort of benefit to a country that actively engages in human-rights violations, specifically those in violation of women," she wrote in an e-mail to ASP administrators.

No professional surfer had shunned a major competition since 1985, when several began boycotting an event in South Africa to protest apartheid.

But Schumacher, who in 2008 wed her longtime partner, Maria Cerda, has a history of advocacy, especially for women. She has raised awareness for gay rights in surfing, which she described as "massively homophobic." Schumacher also became involved with the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice to oppose the war in Iraq.

"For me, getting real turned off had to do with how women were treated at the contests in the ASP and how women were treated within the surf industry," she said. "You have to look this particular way, have to have no views, have to be somebody who is basically like a blank billboard upon which a brand can assert their image, and that just never sat well with me."

Keala Kennelly, a shortboarder from Kauai known for her fearlessness in big waves, is one of the fortunate few who earn a living through surfing, but she sympathizes with Schumacher. She, too, has been outspoken, and believes that has, at times, hampered her career.

"There are companies in this industry that wouldn’t touch me with a 10-foot pole," Kennelly wrote in an e-mail.

"I commend Cori on refusing to play that game because she could so easily have been sponsored," added Kennelly, who is sponsored by Billabong. "She is beautiful, smart and talented. I know she works really hard during the day at her job, but I bet you she sleeps really well at night knowing she hasn’t compromised herself."

The ASP women’s longboard world championship has struggled to find consistent sponsorship, as has women’s surfing. Only 17 women compete on the shortboard world tour, compared with 34 on the men’s circuit. The largest prize in women’s longboarding is $50,000, compared with $1 million for a new men’s shortboard competition in New York. Last year, money issues forced the women to cancel the final shortboard event of the season.

Meg Bernardo, the executive manager for ASP North America, said the athletes must push for change.

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