Exploration

Women's Heat Added to Famous Big Wave Surf Competition

The invitation-only Titans of Mavericks event has finally opened its doors to everyone, but the award money still falls short.

<p>Keala Kennelly via Facebook<span></span></p>

Update: On November 2, Titans of Mavericks announced the six surfers selected to be in the first women's heat. They are: Andrea Moller, Emily Erickson, Jamilah Star, Keala Kennelly, Paige Alms, and Sarah Gerhardt.

Better late than never, but we'll gladly take it. That was the general response to news that the Titans of Mavericks big wave surfing competition would finally add a women's-only division this season.

Although women were invited to be alternates in the past, none of them actually surfed, Surfer Magazine reported. Now, six women will be asked to participate in a dedicated heat. The winner will paddle away with $30,000.

The invitation-only Titans of Mavericks event has taken place intermittently since 1999, challenging a select group of top pro surfers to a one-day competition during the season. A committee will pick the day, which could be any ripe time between November 1 and March 31, 2017. The contest, which has gone through various iterations, requires competitors to take on the famously monstrous waves known as Mavericks located a half-mile from Pillar Point Harbor, Calif.

Women have been lobbying the organizers for a long time. "It felt weird always asking for them to let us women in," Bianca Valenti told Surfer Magazine. "So it feels great knowing they know want us to be apart of this rad big-wave community." Big wave rider Valenti helped form the Committee for Equality in Women's Surfing, which had asked specifically asked the event last month to add a women's division.

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Back in 1999, Sarah Gerhardt became the first woman to surf Mavericks standing up. A few years earlier, bodyboarder Sarah Lucas had caught a 15-foot wave there, according to the Encyclopedia of Surfing. Gerhardt later recalled in a video that "you could drive a double-decker bus through the barrel on these waves." She said that they were incredibly loud and the rocks were huge, but she really, really wanted to ride those waves anyway. And she did. Other women have done it since.

Those waves can get to around 50 feet high. People have died trying to surf Mavericks. Conditions can be so extreme that the Titans of Mavericks contest stopped allowing spectators at the beach after onlookers were injured by waves. In February, Nic Lamb won the $120,000 purse despite having had a wipeout in one heat.

Organizers got more than one nudge to include women this time around. The California Coastal Commission actually made it a requirement for issuing a permit to run the contest for the 2016–2017 season, the Associated Press reported. I do wish the pot was bigger than $30K, though. Those six women will be risking just as much as the men.

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