Big Wave Surfing Finally Gives Women The Recognition They Deserve

But the battle for gender equality in sponsorship deals continues.

The fight for gender equality in Big Wave surfing just edged closer.

First, the World Surf League announced on April 20 that it would include a women's event during its annual Big Wave World Tour for the first time in the league's history.

Then women surfers made waves again last Sunday, when Keala Kennelly became the first woman to win the Barrel of the Year award at the WSL’s Big Wave Awards.

Kennelly was the only woman considered in the category and beat five male nominees with this incredible ride: 

Wave-riding like Kennelly's proves that women are not only equal to men when it comes to surfing, they can also be better. 

When the Association of Surfing Professionals rebranded itself as the WSL in 2014, it vowed to fight that culture, pledging a host of changes to how it treated women surfers. They've largely made good on those promises, including increasing the number of women's events and offering prize money and broadcast time equal to the men's division. 

But while last week's announcement's further showed that the sport is headed in the right direction, it doesn't mean the longstanding challenges for women have disappeared. 

Last year's ESPY award nominee Paige Alms, who is often referred to as the world's best female big wave surfer, still struggles to find consistent financial funding to support her career in the niche world of big wave surfing.

"It's been frustrating my entire career to have to constantly be on the search for a sponsor," Alms told The Huffington Post, adding that sponsored trips are essential for big wave surfers to master monstrous waves. "For the guys, sponsorships come a lot easier."

In the highly commercialized sport of surfing, more attention leads to better sponsorship deals -- and it's high-time women started getting some attention.

Kennelly has criticized big wave contest organizers in the past for not holding women's events, but she's doing her part in the push for change.

"I was told that women can’t surf, and I was told this about getting barreled, surfing big waves," the 37-year-old athlete said while accepting her Barrel of the Year Award last week. 

"So who I really want to thank is everyone who told me you can’t do that because you’re a woman. Because that drove me to dedicate my life to proving you wrong and it’s been so damn fun."



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