Located off of Pillar Point, the infamous surf spot near Half-Moon Bay is notorious for its mean waters and monstrous waves. Men such as Jay Moriarity and Mark Foo, among others, have gained fame from surfing Mavericks. Moriarty was on the cover of Surfer magazine; Foo’s death while surfing Mavericks was memorialized within the pages of the magazine (Titans of Mavericks). The death of Foo, a professional surfer, serves as a reminder of the risks associated with taking on Maverick’s. Unfortunately, these risks have been an excuse to exclude women from Mavericks and other spots on the World Surf League’s-Big Wave Tour.
Kelly Sorenson, local Monterey surfer and owner of On The Beach Surf Shop, reflects on the general attitude of male surfers toward female surfers as, “Most people don’t care; you show up and blow up. Definitely, the guys would take on the responsibility of knowing if there’s a girl out there and take on the responsibility of keeping my eye out for her more so than for a guy, just because I think that is the way we were built.” Women are still seen as fragile or less athletic than men, but respect is earned once they prove their skills as a surfer, regardless of their gender.
As a businessman, Sorenson admits there is a bias in funding for professional women surfers: “You look at fashion magazines and what sells, it’s just natural, it’s nothing taking away from women. You’re not gonna have some 50-year old man sporting some board shorts.” While tall, tan, and blonde certainly dominate the stereotype of women surfers, there are chargers like Bianca Valenti who are being recognized for athletic talent and drive—stocky build and brunette hair included.
Since the creation of the Mavericks Invitational in 1999, it has been dominated by male big-wave surfers. Far from gracing the pages of big league surfer magazines, and intent on changing that, pioneers Bianca Valenti and Sarah Gerhardt have worked to open up big wave surfing to women, according to The Mercury News. After decades of fighting for female equity in surfing, the Invitational is including a women’s heat for the first time in Maverick’s history. While the men’s division consists of multiple heats, there is only one women’s heat–a winner takes all situation. However, the inclusion of women in this iconic competition is certainly a splash forward.
Paige Alms, Keala Kennelly, Justine Dupont, Bianca Valenti, Sarah Gerhardt, and Emily Erickson are the six women invitees up against Maverick’s this year (World Surf League). The window for the Mavericks competition is between November and the end of February. This is due to the need for specific conditions—big enough waves and a minimal amount of fog. As a result of inadequate parking, and the fact that the wave breaks a half-mile offshore, it is best to watch the broadcasted event from the comfort of home. For updates on this history-changing event, stay tuned to World Surf League and follow the Mavericks Facebook page.