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World Surf League to award equal prize money for men, women

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LEMOORE, Calif. (AP) — The World Surf League will award equal prize money to women and men for WSL-controlled events beginning with the 2019 season.

World Surf League CEO Sophie Goldschmidt said prize money equality is part of a long-range strategy to elevate women’s surfing and has been in the works since the new ownership group took over in 2013.

Surfing debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020.

The change, announced Wednesday in advance of this weekend’s Surf Ranch Pro, is “to really give more women a chance to compete on tour and elevate women’s surfing to a place it should be,” Goldschmidt said. “It’s another step on the journey but it doesn’t end here.”

Six-time world champion Stephanie Gilmore of Australia called it “a historic day, really. I’m so impressed, so proud to be a surfer, so proud that the WSL are willing to step up and be a progressive sport and make a statement to the world.”

Gilmore said there has been talk about increasing women’s prize money, “but in 2018 it’s not enough to talk about it. You need to make it happen. To hear that news, I’m so excited. I didn’t think I’d see it in my career.”

The WSL currently has prize money parity, Goldschmidt said, for the 36 men and 18 women on tour. First-place prize money at each Championship Tour event for men is $100,000 out of a purse of more than $600,000, while first-place money for women is $60,000 out of a purse of more than $300,000.

Goldschmidt said prize money for the 2019 tour has yet to be determined, but that women’s places 1-18 will earn the same as the men’s 1-18 finishers.

Kelly Slater, an 11-time world champion, said he’s happy with the move to prize money equality.

“The women on the tour deserve this change. I’m so proud that surfing is choosing to lead sports in equality and fairness,” Slater said. “The female WSL athletes are equally committed to their craft as the male athletes and should be paid the same. Surfing has always been a pioneering sport, and this serves as an example of that.”

MORE: Will Kelly Slater go for Tokyo 2020?

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Top U.S. hope for first Olympic surfing gold medal tears ACL

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John John Florence, the 2016 and 2017 World surfing champion and a U.S. gold-medal hope for the Tokyo Olympics, will be out of competition for months after suffering a high-grade partial ACL tear in early June, according to his social media.

“In terms of competing again I am not sure if it will be 60 days or 120 days, or less or more,” was posted on Florence’s Instagram. “When I return I want to know that I can go as fast and as big as I want to without any thought of my knee. That will be my test before I put a jersey back on.”

Florence, a 25-year-old from Oahu’s North Shore, is the only U.S. man to win a world title since Kelly Slater won the last of his 11 in 2011.

Florence had a slow start to the 2018 season with a best finish of ninth in the first five events before the injury. The American men have struggled overall, with none in the top nine of the current standings.

Qualifying for surfing’s Olympic debut begins next year. The top 10 in the 2019 World Surf League standings (limit two per country) qualify for Tokyo.

The 46-year-old Slater said earlier this month that he plans to retire from the sport’s top-level series next year but did not say whether he would compete in Tokyo if he qualifies via the World Surf League.

The U.S. is stronger in women’s surfing with three-time world champion Carissa Moore and Lakey Peterson, who ranks second this season.

MORE: 20 U.S. athletes to watch, 2 years out from Tokyo 2020

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I really wanted to thank everyone who has helped me with my injury or who has sent over positive messages the last few weeks. I’m feeling grateful to have so many good people in my life. I've been focused on recovering as quickly as possible and on exploring some new interests so I haven't had time to share too much. The diagnosis of my knee is a high grade partial tear to my right ACL. It's a bummer not to be able to surf but I'm excited for the opportunity to get into some new types of adventures with friends and family while I’m recovering. In terms of competing again I am not sure if it will be 60 days or 120 days, or less or more. When I return I want to know that I can go as fast and as big as I want to without any thought of my knee. That will be my test before I put a jersey back on.

A post shared by John john Florence (@john_john_florence) on

Kelly Slater plots retirement, but Olympic question remains

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Kelly Slater, an 11-time world champion surfer, plans to retire from the sport’s top-level series next year, but he could still qualify for surfing’s Olympic debut in 2020.

“My basic plan is to get myself really healthy, again, get ready for April next year, and next year be my last year on [the World Surf League] tour and just be done with it,” Slater said in a video posted Monday.

The top two Americans per gender from the 2019 World Surf League standings qualify for the Olympics. So Slater could retire from the WSL after next season but still have a spot in Tokyo if he wants it.

In April, the 46-year-old Slater said he was “50-50” on whether he planned to make a 2020 Olympic run. “If I make the team, I’ll compete,” he said then.

A representative for Slater has not responded to a request for clarification on Slater’s Olympic stance.

Slater dropped to the third-ranked American in 2016 and missed four of 11 events last season after breaking his foot. His best finish in the other seven events was a fifth. He competed this week for the first time since December.

The U.S. boasts the two-time reigning world champion — 25-year-old John John Florence of Hawaii — but no other men from last season’s top six or this season’s top 11.

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MORE: World’s top surfer: World title bigger than Olympics