They need opportunities to prove themselves, improve themselves…
The first women’s Big Wave Tour event put an end to my dream of dual-sex heats. I truly believed it was a lack of trying, not ability. That a woman could sit deep and charge hard and comport herself as well as any man in the event. I still believe that could happen. I still believe it will happen. But I recognize that it did not. That it will not, in the near future.
It’s disappointing that no woman caught a set during the event. It got boring watching them hide on the shoulder, then chase in-betweeners deep and inside. But it was exciting watching them take the next set on the head. It was inspiring to watch the attempt. It was important that women got their shot.
During the first part of my day, when I was shoulder to shoulder with a crowd of strangers, trying to find a cell signal and assign names to jerseys, I was joined by a group of tan tiny soon-to-be women. A bevy of happy little girls, none taller than my chest. Chirping with joy each time a woman took a stroke. Gasping with fear when they pushed over the ledge. Crying out when the pack got caught inside, when Keala got mowed down and blew out her knee. High-pitched girlish exclamations when Emily Erickson blew an off balance airdrop and bodysurfed her way to oblivion.
I was struggling to pay attention. They were glued to the scene. My reaction barely matters. Theirs will shape the future.
It’s been nearly sixty years since the first documented session at Waimea Bay. The birth of true big wave surfing was an all male affair. Stayed that way, for the most part, ever since. There have been female outliers in the meantime. Linda Benson gave the Bay a shot. Rell Sunn was no coward at Makaha. Layne Beachley was whipped into bombs in the 90s. Sarah Gerhardt broke the gender barrier at Mavericks near the end of the last century. Rochelle Ballard made a name for herself in heavy barrels during the height of her career. Keala Kennelly has become a legend-in-her-own-time charger with little regard for her own safety.
On the other side, we have more than a half-century of male role models. Too many to name. A long established male lineage which young boys can look to, aspire to become. Elders examples for the up and coming to see and emulate and improve upon.
From a male perspective, it’s tough to see a problem. No one’s ever told me I can’t do something because of my sex. I’ve never doubted my ability due to supposedly inherent limitations. It’s all the rage these days to cry foul about the difficulties the modern white man faces, but to complain about unfairness in a system that places you on top does little but display your own cowardice and inability. I know I could surf Pe’ahi. No one has ever told me different. But I am too scared, too weak, totally unwilling to face the terror a large set marching in out of the North carries with it.
Not so for the women. They’ve heard it all. They are too weak, too fragile. Yes, everyone respects their desire, supposedly. But girls aren’t meant for these types of games. Better to don a tiny bikini and perch on a single fin. Hike a thong up your ass and use it to sell soft goods. Sit down, shut up, let the boys play.
I’m forced to applaud the WSL for running a proper female event, rather than a one-off exhibition heat. I’d also like to point out that it isn’t enough. Merely the first step towards what needs to be accomplished, which is growing the female end of the spectrum. Providing a platform from which women’s big-wave surfing can grow and flourish. The WSL exists to profit from surfing, its existence only palatable if they’re willing to give something back. Yes, Pe’ahi was a great first step, but only the first of many that remain to be taken.
The action in the water paled in comparison to the men. Pretending otherwise would be disingenuous, disrespectful to every athlete. The ladies don’t need to a pat on the head and empty praise. They need opportunities to prove themselves, improve themselves, serve as exemplars for the next generation.
When all is said and done, how well they surfed doesn’t matter. The injuries are inconsequential. The boring moments and missed opportunities merely dull spots on a day that points to a bright future.
What matters are those little girls on the cliff. The ones who in five years, maybe ten, will look back on the day and remember it as the one on which they thought, “I can do that too. I can do it better. I’m gonna be the best.”