There's room for two in those barrels
“I feel like the surf industry just wants to support young girls, and they put their money into the butt-shot model route. I’d like to see them focus more on athleticism than looks.” - Bianca Valenti, Women’s Big Wave Surfer,
There’s a reason women’s volleyball is one of the more popular events of the Olympics, and Bianca Valenti’s words ring true for the surfing world. With a Women’s Championship Event finally added to the Big Wave Tour, it’s time to steer away from from the butt-shot route, or just look away, for a little while. Maybe just a glance. Either way, it’s time that our hard-hitting big wave gals get some attention and appreciation for their skill, and their abilities to rip harder than most of you nervy boys who for the most struggle not to starve when mum’s away, or those on the rung above, whose talents range from cooking baked beans to eating them.
It’s not news that girls are outnumbered 10 to 1 in the surf, and you should do your best to ignore the particulars and treat them like you would any other surfer, because making inroads into a male dominated arena is intimidating enough as it is. However, on shore, you’d probably do well to bottle up any ever-so-romantic intentions and give them some breathing space from your gangly figure sauntering over in Craig Anderson mysto form, but with worse hair.
The disparity is obvious, and the addition of the women’s event (kicking off at Pe’ahi or Todos Santos in October this year) marks a massive, long-awaited step. Props to the organisers for seeing this one through, because the last thing we want to do is lessen women’s opportunities in the surfing arena by not hosting female events. With the option of Teahupoo long removed from the women’s schedule, questions of skill and questions of guts are relevant, but at the end of the day it’s not guys against girls, so really there’s no need to worry - for the foreseeable future the guys are hardly about to be overrun and kicked to the wayside by a stampede of female big wave chargers. So stop being skittish, they need their own event.
Thoughts of safety and risk do come to mind, and there are definitely some girls out there who were more than happy to see Teahupoo’s sweat-inducing presence removed from their line of sight. However, is it fair to deny our Bianca’s and Keala’s the chance in competition at one of the world’s most notorious breaks, the chance to push themselves and perhaps women’s surfing even further? Keala is a frontline advocate to see not only Teahupoo back on the Women’s Tour (which she aptly names the “Small-Wave Beach Break Tour”), but the likes of Pipeline and Puerto Escondido as well.
With eyes on the CT approaching Tahiti, it’s easy to get caught up weighing the chances of John John and Medina challenging Flores’s Billabong Pro title, especially whilst the Women’s tour has taken a little break. And we’re not judging you for this, but the lead up to Teahupoo gives us good reason to also appreciate the women at the forefront of the big wave game. Valenti, Alms, Moller and Kennelly should be on your watchlist, and they prove there’s no shortage of talent to hinder women’s big wave surfing. Or guts either. Just remember when Keala lost a chunk of her face to Teahupoo’s infamous reef. They picked pieces of coral out of her head, and she still surfs the same break. These women are much more than the bikini-clad model splashing about in one footers, no matter how nice they are to watch. They’re living the big wave dream and it should continue to be catered for.
Illustration by Celeste van Gent.
Really, mens and women’s big wave surfing is as simple as hard and soft-shell tacos – like the one’s your mum makes for you guys. You’ve always gotta have both.
Main photo: Keala Kennelly the wave at Teahupoo that wone her the barrel of the year award at this year's XXL Big wave awards. Photo WSL
Below: Keala talks about that wave and winning the award.