Beached by Homophobia; How Robbins Thompson Caught a Wave of Antigay Sentiment and Quit the Professional Surfing Circuit

The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), November 25, 1997 | Go to article overview
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Beached by Homophobia; How Robbins Thompson Caught a Wave of Antigay Sentiment and Quit the Professional Surfing Circuit


When former professional surfer Robbins Thompson went on NBC's Dateline to talk about an infamous old pal, alleged spree killer Andrew Cunanan, waves of homophobia hammered him for days afterward at San Diego's beaches.

The wisecracks and contemptuous stares came as no surprise. Thompson, 34, says he ended his surfing career two years ago because of too many nagging questions, innuendos, and off-color remarks regarding his homosexuality. The surfing world Thompson saw did not jibe with images of carefree, laid-back wave riders who live by the credo, To each his own.

"Sometimes it was difficult trying to keep my concentration, wondering what everybody was thinking about me," says Thompson, who began to hear antigay comments in the water and found the word fag spray-painted on his car several times as his sexuality became known to other surfers on the Association of Surfing Professionals tour.

Relationships with other surfers became an impossibility, Thompson says, so he isolated himself. "If I spent too much time with fellow surfers, accusations would start to fly. There were a couple of times when possible relationships [with other gay surfers] ended too quickly because of fear of being caught."

As it is for many athletes in professional sports, success is measured not only by performance but also by securing sponsorships. Multimillion-dollar companies often turn to surfers when marketing their products for the sun-and-sand set.

Steven Clark, team and promotions manager for sportswear manufacturer Gotcha International, admits that an openly gay surfer would have a difficult time finding sponsors. "Professional surfing is definitely a hetero sport," Clark says. "That's just the way it is. I know I'm being hypocritical when I say this, because I grew up in Laguna Beach [a California city with a large gay population] and I have gay friends. But from a business standpoint, sponsoring a gay surfer would not make sense right now."

Gotcha spends more than half a million dollars a year on sponsorships.

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