Earns it with two hideous wipe-outs.
If it’s a larger audience the WSL wants, than events like the Jaws Challenge may be the future of the sport. Roughly 9,500 people watched six ladies take on Jaws this morning in the final of the Women’s Big Wave Tour Pe’ahi event, while elsewhere on the island of Maui, with a world title on the line at a groomed-looking Honolua Bay, Steph Gilmore and co were averaging a measly 1,300 viewers. And they were at least making their waves, but such is the allure of violence.
And violence is probably the best way to describe what happened this morning. In a sixty minute final, in conditions that I’d feel like a kook even trying to put a size to other than to say it was big and ugly and fucking terrifying, only seven waves were ridden, and just one of them—just one single wave—was completed. But that didn’t make the spectacle any less captivating.
Keala Kennelly, a woman who’s been sending it and eating it and surviving nonetheless for the better part of two decades, kicked off proceedings by getting thoroughly mauled on a late, deep, nightmare of a take-off. It was fantastic to watch, the vicarious tingle of nerves and emotions running through me while I stared at the screen more visceral than anything I’ve felt watching professional surfing this year. The usually hateful and impossible to please Facebook commenters were in agreeance, too. Hearts and thumb-up raced up the side of the screen and the comments, aside from the odd dumb and misogynistic piece of criticism, were almost unwaveringly awestruck and amazed. This shit is crazy! These chicks are tapped!
More wipeouts followed, all of them intense and amazing. A jet ski was swallowed in the midst of picking up one of the girls, bouncing all the way in to be left desolate and ruined on the rocks. Hawaiian Emily Erickson shoulder-hopped a wave to land the highest single score and only completed ride of the final. Thankfully the judges didn’t go too high because it would’ve seemed an injustice after what Keala and a couple of the other girls had tried to take off on. Then last year’s winner, Paige Alms, decided to put herself in the mix. She paddled hard for a monster that moved too fast, with too much offshore gusting up the face, and was ultimately left no choice but to plummet boardless fifteen or twenty feet down the face. Again, it was hard to watch and hard to look away from, always a good indication you’re witnessing something special.
Late in the piece, with Brazilian Andrea Moller holding down the lead thanks to two beatings, Keala again took off on a wave that didn’t want to be ridden. She grabbed her rail and dropped in late, the wind getting under her board and bucking it sideways, the old cowgirl trying to hold on to no avail. Another hideous wipeout. Enough of a score to put her where she deserved to be. The clock counted down. Emily Erickson needed simply to take off on another wave to take the win, but it wasn’t to be. Keala Kennelly won and rightfully so, the hardest-charging woman in a field of women who, even to be out there in those kind of conditions, helped redefine the limitations of the sport.
Of course there’ll be those in the wash-up who’ll say that the women weren’t up to scratch, that the fact that the majority of the final was comprised of wipe-outs and that two girls didn’t catch waves is proof of that, but it seems a cynical line to take. What seems more relevant, more impressive, is that a group of girls were willing to paddle out in conditions that could’ve killed anyone, man or woman, and the world was stoked to watch.