"This is what pushing your limits looks like – it isn’t always pretty."
Four years ago, the Kauai surfer Keala Kennelly, who grew up slinging waves alongside the Irons bros at Pine Trees, won the big-wave world championship, which was decided after one event – the Women’s Jaws Challenge.
Kennelly won the event and the title despite not making a takeoff on her two waves, which the historian Matt Warshaw subsequently described as “an embarrassment. Not for Keala, but the WSL”
Although not surfing’s first openly lesbian world champ, that honour belongs to three-time longboard winner Cori Schumacher, the higher profile of Kennelly, who is a DJ and part-time movie and TV star, gave her the platform to talk of her myriad struggles.
“I had just all this internalized homophobia and self-hatred for being gay,” Kennelly told People mag. “I was living this double life because on tour, I was pretending to be straight. I’m just a really honest person, I’m a really genuine, authentic person. So, to feel like I was living this lie was just crushing my soul and after so many years of that, it was just, “I can’t do this anymore, this is actually going to kill me if I can’t live my truth.” It got to a point where I didn’t care what the cost was, I couldn’t live like this.”
Kennelly said that it was “not okay to be a lesbian” and that if you did prefer shaved babylike snatches to rock-and-cock Tom Selleck lookalikes it was “career suicide.”
“So,” said Kennelly, “when I got on the tour, I was so freaking nervous because I inherently knew I was gay. So, I was absolutely terrified and I spent the majority of my time on the pro circuit in the closet and just completely terrified to come out — completely terrified to get outed, that I was going to lose my sponsors.”
In 2005, Kennelly, aged twenty-seven, quit the world tour.
“I came out because I couldn’t handle mentally and emotionally what that was like. Then I had a few sponsors drop me and so, that was just more confirmation that it wasn’t okay. I left the tour because, emotionally and mentally, I just couldn’t handle it.”
Incredibly, in the forty-six years since the men’s tour has been around, not one active male pro has admitted to being a barebacking queen.
(Yeah, there’s heavy-metal bear Matt Branson, but for his time on tour he was played as super straight, eating out chicks in the Bells Beach carpark etc, as reported by Paul Sargeant.”
Now, Kennelly, who is forty-four, has hinted she’ll quit the big-wave pro surfing game after suffering one of the worst wipeouts of The Eddie Invitational.
“My entire surfing career has been about pushing the limits in women’s surfing. This is what pushing your limits looks like, it isn’t always pretty but the ones that I’ve had in my career where I went #fullsend and was successful were incredible. This might be my last #send. My body can’t take this shit anymore…I hope you enjoyed the show.”