Jaws wasn’t playing nice this morning. In fact, it was eventually deemed dangerous enough to call off the day’s competition after only one wave was ridden to completion in the first heat of the men’s event. But before the WSL waved the white flag, they first sent the women into the maw—with pretty jaw-dropping results.
It was bumpy, foggy, rainy and raw when the call was made to send out the women this morning–but the most intrepid competitors in the 2018 Women’s Jaws Challenge appeared undaunted. This would mark the third time that the top female chargers were able to surf the infamous big-wave break in an event running alongside the men’s Peahi Challenge and the first time they’ve done so since the WSL announced the men and women would be paid equal prize money at Jaws as a part of the WSL’s recent commitment to eliminating the gender pay disparity in all WSL-sanctioned events.
Perhaps that historic shift was front of mind for the top female big-wave surfers, which included two-time event winner Paige Alms, recent internet-breaking Puerto charger Bianca Valenti and heavy-water trailblazer Keala Kennelly, since the entire field was surfing like it had something to prove in the opening heats. Competitors threw caution well and truly into the wind and ended up on the receiving end of some horrific Jaw’s beatings in the process.
As the swell grew bigger and more unruly throughout the morning, the women’s semifinal and final heats were, due to the raw conditions, filled with equal parts bravado, insanity and absolute carnage, and resulted in a fairly low-scoring affair. While Oahu’s Emily Erickson clocked in the highest score of the final with a 3.93 (multiplied then by 2), she, unfortunately, couldn’t back it up with another solid ride. It was Kennelly who eventually took the win, the judges clearly giving her the nod for her unflinching commitment to two truly terrifying waves, one of which saw her go airborne off the drop and momentarily stick the landing before launching off her board and skipping like a stone until getting engulfed by the lip.
Sure, some may raise an eyebrow at the fact that the winner didn’t complete a wave, or how many waves throughout the three-heat event were incomplete rides. But that doesn’t tell the full story. This is only the third time the women have surfed in this event, and few have had the kind of sponsor support required to be on every Jaws swell, like many of their male counterparts, to truly acclimate to the ferocious wave and work out a rhythm. Regardless, these women showed a level of commitment previously unseen in women’s big-wave events, and those atop the podium earned their places the hard way.
Clearly these women are committed to pushing themselves further in consequential waves than we’ve seen before, and it’s proving to me more and more exciting to see them don a jersey at Jaws each year. If they continue to get increasing support from the WSL and the surf industry at large, it will be a compelling future for the Jaws event, and for women’s big-wave surfing as a whole.
Stay tuned for more coverage as the event goes on, and a huge congrats to Keala Kennelly on her first Jaws victory.