On Friday, November 11, with a solid swell that surpassed 30 feet, the World Surf League called its first big-wave contest of the Pacific Northwest swell season at Pe'ahi, aka Jaws, in Maui. This was the second time the competition was run, but this year was different: it included the first-ever female surfers to compete in a WSL big wave event.
San Francisco surfer Bianca Valenti, the designated WSL athlete representative in charge of coordinating with surfers about the event, and I flew out to join the participants: 12 women hailing from South Africa, Australia, Guatemala, Brazil, Hawaii and mainland U.S.. They competed in two 45-minute preliminary heats and an hour-long final on the same day as the men’s contest—a victory for women’s surfing on the heels of lobbying efforts from female surfers and pressure pressure from the press to host an all-women event.
Valenti and I stayed with Paige Alms, who famously rode the first barrel ridden by a woman at Pe'ahi in January 2015, and who ultimately took first place in this year’s event. Here’s a look at the historic day, and what it meant to women who made it happen.
Photo: Many surfers paddle out through the rocky shore pound to get to the break at Jaws, though on competition day some chose to conserve their energy and get a ride. The contest attempted to limit the boat and Jet Ski traffic during the contest, but it still looked like Water World out there as the sun rose.