Keala Kennelly’s Thank You Letter for the ‘F*ck You Billabong…’ Hysteria




Keala Kennelly, who has won three Big Wave Awards for women’s best performance, broke new ground at the 2016 award show, with a win in the tube category. Photo: WSL / JP VAN SWAE

Posted 9-23-17

TheInertia / KK

As someone who was a sponsored athlete for about 15 years with Billabong, it’s been refreshing to see Karen Knowlton’s article, F*ck You Billabong, Seriously, F*ck You and the reaction it’s created.

Personally, I had my salary cut every year for the last five years of that sponsorship–no matter how many records I broke or accomplishments I achieved–to the point that I was practically riding for them for free. Meanwhile, they paid huge salaries to models and unaccomplished athletes who had that “marketable look.”  Many companies really believe using this kind of marketing strategy is the only way to get people to buy their products. I think they’re wrong.

In 2004, Dove launched the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, exploring what women think about beauty. It helped the company increase revenue by $1.5 billion and was at one point dubbed the top ad of the 21st Century by AdWeek. That alone should prove that a much more valuable marketing strategy is actually speaking to female empowerment. Billabong cut me from their roster the year I won the Purescot Barrel of the Year Award at the XXL Big Wave Awards, beating out an entire field of men. That same year, I became the first woman ever invited to The Eddie. Female empowerment couldn’t have been a more relevant discussion in surfing at the time–what a huge missed opportunity for them.

KK / Teahupo’o / McKenna

I think the most important thing that’s come out of Karen Knowlton bringing this topic to the forefront is that it’s reminding us (and hopefully brands) that the power is in the hands of the consumer and many of those consumers are women. If you keep marketing to your consumers in a way that is completely degrading to half the population, many of them will stop buying your product. One consumer started the conversation, plenty more have chimed in, and here I am sharing my own experience because of it, too. We’ve spoken. Now it’s up to the brands to listen and evaluate their marketing strategies, evaluate how they speak back to us.

The past two weeks of commotion have reminded me how proud I would be to align myself with a clothing or athletic brand that’s ready for a female empowerment marketing strategy. As an athlete, I know I’m a role model for young women. I know my job and my responsibility is to keep them inspired. So to all the companies out there that are listening and reading (even you, Billabong), if you’re ready to create a positive message that uplifts women instead of oppressing them, then I’m stoked to collaborate with you. I would even give Billabong the opportunity to work with me again if it was a step in a new direction of how the surf industry speaks to and about women.

So to Karen Knowlton, thank you for speaking up. You made this conversation relevant and impactful again. -KK

History of Nelscott Reef 

(C) 2017 / Eric Akiskalian