Professional surfer Keala Kennelly came out years ago and gave an amazing interview with fellow surfer Graig Butler. The interview can be found on the Facebook page Humans of Surfing. The two really discuss a wide range of topics and what it’s like being gay on the pro-surfing circuit.
One portion of the interview is where they talk about the people around her a decade ago trying to convince her to stay in the closet, this also included sponsors.
I was a closeted homo and I felt an enormous amount of pressure from the ASP (now WSL) and my sponsors to keep that a secret. So I was living a double life and dying inside every day that I wasn’t living authentically. I struggled with extreme depression. The only thing that made me feel good was winning but if I was losing that compounded my depression to the point where I would be having constant thoughts of suicide.
Wondering what companies she’s referring to? She does talk about the repercussions of coming about and the effects it had on sponsorship's.
I didn’t make some big announcement or anything I just started bringing my girlfriend to events and introducing her as my girlfriend instead of my “friend.” The reaction was very high school. Lots of people talking. It was stressful. ... In 2008 I lost 3 out of my 4 major sponsors Red Bull, Spy, Vestal. Billabong didn’t drop me but systematically started cutting my salary down to almost nothing (I went from making 6 figures in 2007 to the last year I rode for them 2015 I got no $ just a small travel budget of $3k). I never understood if that was because I was gay and out of the closet or because of the economic meltdown or probably a combination of both. The year Billabong dropped me was the same year I made history by winning the Barrel of the Year award at the WSL XXL Awards, was nominated for an ESPY and became the first woman to be invited to the Eddie.
This was long before marriage equality so we do hope the companies have since embraced the LGBT community. It’s really no secret that surfing has been particularly homophobic, so if you’ve followed the sports this really isn’t so shocking.
We have only highlighted a very small portion of the interview this Kennelly if you’re interested in the full interview here.