The 2016-17 Big Wave Season was one for the record books. Not for the swell, but for the inclusion of women in the World Surf League Big Wave Tour. Twelve women were invited to the challenge, much a result of the efforts of Big Wave Commissioner Peter Mel. Mel has surfed with many of these women for years up at his local big wave venue, Mavericks in Half Moon Bay. He’s seen first-hand their commitment to waves of consequence and their competitive spirit.
Amid a huge controversy over the women being invited (or not) to the Titans of Mavericks competition, Pete saw an opportunity to make a stride forward within the WSL tour.
“We’re incredibly proud to be introducing a women’s event this season. These ladies are some of the most dedicated, passionate and talented big-wave surfers on the planet. It will be phenomenal to witness them tackle Pe’ahi,” said Mel during a pre-event interview.
It was certainly a heat not to miss. In sharp contrast to the appearance of ease and mastery by the men, the women struggled. They clawed their way into the lineup and took it hard over the falls. It was difficult to watch at times; the wipeout reel was epic. Laura Enever, Keala Kennelly, and Emi Erickson ended up in the hospital on their first waves, but good for them for rising to the challenge. Good for all of them – and for all of us.
Ultimately, it was Paige Alms who conquered Jaws. Paige has clocked hundreds of hours on that wave and it was rightly her place to achieve that honor. Alongside neighbor Billy Kemper, the Maui locals proved to be unbeatable.
As for Mavericks, after a long-fought battle with the county and Cartel Management, the women were included in a separate heat in the competition. That contest never ran, however, as Cartel filed for bankruptcy the week before the ideal swell of the season. Personally, I’m happy to see Cartel go. A Hollywood production company had no place managing an iconic surfing event. Hopefully, when the dust settles, Jeff Clark can reorganize and get back to the spirit that Mavericks once was.
The Mavericks setback won’t deter big wave women. An advocacy group called The Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing has gained footing as voice for women surfers in Northern California. Organizations like Brown Girl Surf, The Wahini Project and Easkey Britton’s multiple campaigns to support women’s surfing are also gaining steam in a new climate of inclusivity.
And we’re here too, looking for stories about #WomenWhoSurf, and excited about the progress that has been made in the past year. If you have a good story about a woman in the surf world, or an organization that promotes or supports women who surf, please connect, we’d love to share it.