The women are ready. From left: Andrea Moller, Paige Alms, Bianca Valenti, and Keala Kennelly. Photo: Ginsberg

Last month, Cartel Management, organizers of the Titans of Mavericks surf contest, were issued a permit by the California Coastal Commission to legally hold the event. No surprises there.

What is a surprise to pretty much everyone involved is that, during the proceedings, the Coastal Commission waded into the the thorny brambles of a gender battle by voting to require that Cartel include women in next year’s event. If Cartel won’t, it seems, the permit will be rendered invalid.

Why is the Coastal Commission stepping in to enforce gender equality?

According to a source at the Coastal Commission, the Coastal Act, which the Commission upholds, can prohibit gender discrimination when it comes to beach access. So any permit the Commission hands out for a surf contest could legally require, technically speaking, equal gender access to all phases of the event — including, it would seem, competition.

The level of female participation required, however, seems to be a point of confusion. Cartel responded in an e-mail that “Titans of Mavericks has always encouraged female participation,” while pointing out that two women, Sarah Gerhardt and Savannah Shaughnessy, were included on the initial list of potential invitees, but were cut once the selection committee starting whittling down the list. Cartel even tried to place Gerhardt, a female Mavericks pioneer, on the committee that handpicks competitors, but Gerhardt declined.

Adding women to the list of potential invitees may not be enough. It remains to be seen how this will play out next year. This year’s event seems to have gotten the go-ahead, giving Cartel time to figure out how to comply with the Commission’s decision.

If the Commission stepped in to enforce equal access, there’d most likely end up being a women’s heat at some point during the competition next year. Mavericks charger Bianca Valenti agrees. “I see women’s big-wave surfing and men’s big-wave surfing as separate,” she told me. “Just like in every other discipline of surfing competition. Of course, it would be an honor to compete—any opportunity to come together with the big-wave community is one that I’m enthused to be a part of.”