Women Finally Get A Spot In Legendary Big Wave Surfing Competition

Women ride mountains too.
Bianca Valenti, pictured above, is no stranger to the monstrous waves that break at Mavericks in Half Moon Bay, California.
Bianca Valenti, pictured above, is no stranger to the monstrous waves that break at Mavericks in Half Moon Bay, California.
Committee for Equity in Womens Surfing

For the first time in the history of the sport, women will finally get the chance to compete in one of the most prestigious surf contests in the world ― the Titans of Mavericks.

The invite-only contest, which kicks off next month and is held annually at Mavericks surf break in Half Moon Bay, California, only runs when conditions are powerful, perfect and wave heights reach 20-plus feet.

Only men have participated in the contest since its inception in 1999, despite the fact that women have been surfing that dangerous surf break as early as the mid-90s.

That all changed last week after the California Coastal Commission essentially forced Cartel Management, the contest organizer, to include a women’s heat this season or risk the commission denying them a permit to hold the event altogether.

“This means that our sport is going to grow on the women’s side,” Bianca Valenti, an avid Mavericks female surfer, told The Huffington Post. “I’d like to see how this inspires other young women to surf big waves with us because it’s an awesome sport.”

Event organizers have, in the past, considered a small number of women to be included in the contest. But as NPR’s California affiliate KQED reported, “no woman has ever been considered good enough to make the final list.”

That was until September, when a group of female surfers in the newly-formed Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing sent a memo to the CCC expressing concern for the contest’s historic exclusion of women.

After receiving pressure from both organizations, Cartel announced on Oct. 19 last-minute plans to include a one-hour heat for six women with a $30,000 prize purse.

The announcement came days after the contest had already announced its 24 official invitees ― all of whom are male ― and requested to hold off on a women’s contest until 2018.

It’s quite simply the right time,” Cartel’s chief operations officer Brian Waters said of the addition of the women’s heat, according to the Santa Cruz Sentinal. “There was no compelling driver other than it was the time to do it.”

The inaugural women’s event is a huge milestone for female big wave surfers, but Sabrina Brennan, a San Mateo Harbor District commissioner who first raised issue with the state Coastal Commission last year, believes that there’s still more work to be done.

A single one-hour heat “does not match up with what the women athletes have asked for,” Brennan told HuffPost, noting that the women’s committee specifically recommended three.

Brennan, who has lived next to the California surf break since 1999, also believes that a woman should be included in the Committee 5, the currently all-male panel that decides which surfers are skilled enough to compete at Mavericks.

These are much-needed changes, Brennan says, for an event that was originally called “Men Who Ride Mountains.”

“I would really love to see women get more recognition for the risks that they’re taking out there,” Brennan said.

On Nov. 2, the California Coastal Commission will vote on whether they will grant Cartel Management a five-season permit to hold the Mavericks event ― essentially guaranteeing the company exclusive rights to be the only contest held at Mavericks for the next few years, since the county only issues one permit per year.

The waiting period for the event runs every year from Nov. 1 to March 31, but the contest is only held if surf conditions are perfect and powerful. It has only run 10 times since 1999.

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