Women have been taking off on some of the world’s biggest, scariest waves for years. But virtually none of them could compete in professional events since the sport’s largest competitions remained closed to female surfers. That era is likely over. On Oct. 19, the organizers of the invite-only competition at Mavericks announced its first women’s heat, marking what is likely to become a permanent feature of the sport.
Located near the northern California town of Half Moon Bay, Mavericks is one of surfing’s most monstrous breaks. Waves regularly top 25 feet. Submarine canyons channel deep Pacific swells onto a reef break about two-miles from shore. Frigid water, steep wave faces, and a pounding surf zone make it one of the most daunting, and lethal breaks, in the world for pro surfers.
Despite the announcement, organizers of the Titans of Mavericks competition are facing criticism for only welcoming women after mounting pressure from the California Coastal Commission. In 2015, the commission granted the organizers a one-year permit on the condition that women be included in future events so that public resources were not used for “exclusionary” activities, reports Deadspin. The organizers’ initial proposals for women’s “outreach” and an all-male selection committee were blasted by the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing. ”They are currently enacting a flawed and prejudicial selection process that puts women athletes at a competitive disadvantage and an economic disadvantage,” they wrote in a letter to the commission. “This privilege must be stopped.”
The women’s event will include six surfers and feature a $30,000 prize (equal to the top earnings of the men’s winner last year). It’s only the second big-wave competition open to women at the moment. Until now, women have only been invited to a single, all-women’s heat at the World Surf League’s Oregon Challenge in 2011 and 2014, reports Surfer Magazine. Another competition held in Pe’ahi, Hawaii or Todos Santos, Mexico (based on conditions) will include a regular women’s event alongside the men’s.
“We got a little taste of big-wave competition in 2014, but it just fizzled out,” big-wave surfer Bianca Valenti, a member of the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing, told Surfer Magazine. “Being a part of a big-wave event isn’t just something I’ve been thinking about for a year or two. It’s been a dream for a long time.”