Age: 28 Specs: 5-foot-5, 121 pounds
Home: Dee Why Beach, Australia
THE CASE: Already considered the planet's premier female big-wave rider, this powerful, exuberant Australian is also the first woman to get into the high-testosterone sport of tow-in surfing. But her performance in contest surfing is another story. For years Beachley battled chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, and Lisa Andersen—the fluid Floridian surfer who piled up four straight world titles. In 1998, thanks in part to the support of mentor-boyfriend Ken Bradshaw, a 48-year-old big-wave legend from Sunset Beach on the North Shore of Oahu, Beachley located the "competitive beast" within, and has won two world titles since. With one contest remaining on this year's circuit, she's all but assured of a third.
SECOND OPINION: "She rides waves that most guys would want to be nowhere near," says Bill Sharp, publisher of California's SurfNews. "Things that are 18 to 20 feet on the Hawaiian scale, which means a 35- to 40-foot face.
"MOST HARROWING MOMENT: Last winter, filming for the Australian edition of 60 Minutes, Beachley got Bradshaw to tow her into Backyards, a giant, unruly break offshore of Sunset Beach. "I was way too deep when I let go of the rope," she says. "An entire section of the wave closed out—18 feet of white water—and before Ken could get to me, three more waves broke on top of me. I was just sitting there underwater, singing to myself." The refrain? "Rag doll, rag doll."
WHAT'S NEXT: Getting towed into Jaws, the steep, hollow monster wave off Maui pioneered by Laird Hamilton and Buzzy Kerbox.