Surfer wins 'sexism' row

By Astrid Austin

Marguerite Vujcich. Photo / NZME
Marguerite Vujcich. Photo / NZME

After a hard-fought struggle, a 57-year-old surfer has been granted the right to surf on the same basis as the men.

Marguerite Vujcich, affectionately labelled the "surfing lawyer", has made it her mission to bring gender equality to the male-dominated sport and in mid-January saw her efforts implemented at the National Surfing Championships at Piha.

Ms Vujcich, who had accused Surfing New Zealand of running a "sexist" national championship, said she was "over the moon" the organisation had added more female categories. Having attended the national championships for seven years, she believed Surfing New Zealand had not met its obligation under the Human Rights Act, after being refused for requesting to surf in her age group.

Previously the championships included multiple 5-year age group categories for male surfers aged 30 to 60-plus, but only one "senior women's" category to cover all females in that age range.

"An inalienable right for equality for women surfers has been asserted for both old and young in perpetuity. The effect of this is that Surfing New Zealand is obligated to follow this precedent for all future events.

"Surfing New Zealand president, Chris Fougere, said the International Surfing Association don't allow women to compete with men. So I rang the ISA and said I believe women should have equal divisions and they said I was correct."

Two weeks before the start of the nationals, there was a last-minute successful battle with SNZ to include the under-14 girls who had previously been excluded.

Now residing in Napier, Ms Vujcich is originally from South Africa and started in the sport competitively when she was a teen in Durban.

For 20 years she worked as a court lawyer in Auckland before she was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome 11 years ago. It was an illness that ended her law career but reignited her surfing ambitions when her family moved to Hawke's Bay.

Surfing New Zealand's Ben Kennings said: "There hasn't been many female surfers in New Zealand and figures show only 25 per cent of surfers are female."

Hastings District Councillor and keen surfer Damon Harvey was in agreement, but believed Ella Williams and Paige Hareb were two examples of surfers who had done incredibly well on the international stage.

- NZ Herald

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