'We're Starting To See The Tides Change': Women To Compete In Mavericks Surf Contest For First Time

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Bianca Valenti walks on the beach after surfing waves at Mavericks, Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, in Half Moon Bay, Calif. (Ben Margot/AP)
Bianca Valenti walks on the beach after surfing waves at Mavericks, Friday, Dec. 4, 2015, in Half Moon Bay, Calif. (Ben Margot/AP)

Professional big wave surfers are getting ready for the Mavericks Challenge in Northern California, one of the most extreme competitions in the world. And for the first time, women have a chance to compete.

Here & Now's Robin Young speaks with one of the six women competing, Bianca Valenti (@beesoftheseas), co-founder of the Committee for Equity in Women's Surfing.

Interview Highlights

On anticipation leading up to the contest

"Really excited right now. We see a couple of huge storms starting to develop in the Northern Hemisphere so it could be happening, if all the conditions hold together, could be happening in the next couple of weeks."

On the site of the Mavericks Challenge in Northern California

"Mavericks has often been called the Mount Everest of big waves. Just south of San Francisco, 20 minutes south, you can get waves that start at 15 feet and go anywhere up to 100, has been recorded before. So it's a pretty phenomenal expression of energy and what's possible in nature.

"It's got a big rock reef. It's a three-tiered reef, and it goes for about 50 yards on each section. It's pretty deep. It's like 35 feet deep. But when you wipe out this water is really, really thick and heavy, and it can send you straight down to the bottom. Surfing Mavericks is no joke. Everyone who surfs out there puts in a lot of work and we're all watching out for each other, but my philosophy is safety first, last and always."

On how women became involved

"It's been a long road to get into the event, and it's really exciting because now we're in. And so I feel like the past is the past, and it's time to move forward and just be excited to see women finally have the opportunity to compete here. And surfing Mavericks is all about exploring what's possible. And we first saw that in 1975 when Jeff Clark paddled out there and didn't know if it was possible. And so I think the world's really going enjoy watching women finally have the chance."

"Surfing Mavericks is all about exploring what's possible … and so I think the world's really going enjoy watching women finally have the chance."

Bianca Valenti

On the fight for equity

"It was a long fight, and so long, that way we created the Committee for Equity in Women's Surfing. Because in California, we have rights on the coastline. The coastal doctrine provides equal access to the coastline. So if you close it down for a day, you are effectively excluding women. So we used that as leverage to get into the event."

On what it's like big wave surfing

"I've gotten a 40 footer before. Really, I mean, breath work is huge. Just being able to stay calm and focused and and take action. It's like in any high-risk situation, you can either you know run and hide or you can take action and fully commit that. I have like a bunch of little mantras and one of my favorite ones is 'dedicate, don't hesitate.' "

On what it was like the first time she caught a really big wave

"Gosh, the first time I caught a really big wave I almost died. It was at Ocean Beach — I didn't even catch a wave actually. I was with a friend, we didn't really know how big the waves get at Ocean Beach in San Francisco. We paddled out, made it out pretty easily. And then there was about a 15-foot wave just about to break in the worst possible spot. I dove under it and I was spinning every which way underwater. I had no idea which was up, opened my eyes, it was all black. And then my feet touched the ground and I barely had enough energy to slowly swim to the top. I did like two or three strokes, and I thought, right before I got to the surface, I just thought, 'If there's another wave, I'm going to die.'

"And I got to the surface, and luckily there was not another wave, obviously, because I'm still here. My whole body was convulsing. I was gasping for air. Once we got there, on the sand, I just looked at those waves and I thought that 'I want to surf out there and I know I can do it,' and that I have to start really working hard and putting in all the work that it takes. I think it's really about psychological safety and just making yourself feel really comfortable in really uncomfortable situations."

On the sensation of surfing those big waves

"It's like you're going a million miles an hour and everything is kind of standing still at the same time. So it's really, really fast, but at the same time, it's really slow and all your senses, everything is just heightened, and there's no other place you are except for right there in the moment. It's what people often are seeking to experience through meditation. It's like a roller-coaster ride, and you're just mostly airdropping when it's that big, when it's 40 feet. Then you hope that right when you land on the surface of the water, you smoothly land and gain speed, but if you are just slightly off in your body positioning, you can catch a rail and then you've got a mountain of water coming down on you, and you're going to get sent down really deep, really quickly."

On what she loves most about Mavericks

"The very first time I went out there I just thought it was so magical and so special, because you're sitting out there half a mile offshore, the water's freezing and you're right near this major city, but for some reason it feels like you could be the only person in the world on the water out there. And just out of nowhere come these huge mountains of water, and when they show up there's enough energy to light up all of San Francisco. It's like this moment where you're just like, 'Whoa, I didn't even know something like this existed.' It's awesome. I'm really excited for the women, all of us to get to compete at Mavericks this year, and I hope everyone tunes in because it's going to be amazing."

This article was originally published on January 10, 2018.

This segment aired on January 10, 2018.



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