It’s official — being Titans of Mavericks is no longer just for the boys.
Six of the world’s most fearless female surfers will be invited to compete amidst towering walls of water in the frigid winter sea for the first-ever women’s division of the renowned competition.
Organizers of the revamped big wave surf battle announced Thursday a special one-hour heat will be held this season to recognize the elite athletes who will contend for a new title and a $30,000 purse prize. The women’s division will be held during the one-day only event that has traditionally hosted 24 men from across the globe who rush to Northern California on as little as 48-hours notice to compete.
It’s a move a group of women promoting surf equity had been seeking and are slated to advocate for during a November California Coastal Commission meeting.
Contest organizers contend the prime reason they announced the new women’s division is the increasing number of women braving the world of big wave surfing and who’ve showed up to change Mavericks.
Since Cartel Management hopped aboard competition leadership a few years ago, hints arose that women might one day be included in the invite-only competition hinging on volatile weather conditions.
“We’ve been working on this a long time,” said Titans Board Member Brian Overfelt. “The group morale just totally went up and we’re super stoked to include women in this event.”
He noted prior ownership — which included himself as well as Cassandra Clark and her husband Jeff, who was the first to surf Mavericks decades ago and helped organize the first season in 1999 — had also been contemplating how to spotlight women in the competition.
Brian Waters, Cartel’s chief operation officer, agreed hosting the new division is a response to the times.
“Women are always active and I think it’s about raising the bar at the highest level of big wave surfing, that’s what we’ve seen recently,” Waters said, noting the influential power of daring moments being caught on cameras like GoPros.
Both last season and this, a small handful of women made it to the list of 56 potentials. But none have yet been declared a Titan — although there’s rumors as to who might be the first. Hawaii’s Keala Kennelly recently became the first woman to win the World Surf League’s award for biggest barrel and Paige Alms has also made a big splash in her home state of Hawaii. Along with those two, San Francisco’s Bianca Valenti and Maui-based Brazilian Andrea Moller have advocated for a women’s division through the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing. Plus, a photo of Hawaiian Emily Erickson surfing was featured as part of Titan’s announcement. Unfortunately, Santa Cruz’s Savannah Shaughnessy, who’s already received an honorable mention and was an alternate last year, is reportedly still recovering from a serious injury she incurred surfing at Mavericks in February.
The 24 male competitors and a list of eight alternates have been slowly rolled out via social media over the last few weeks — a signature Titan’s move aimed at generating hype — and the six chosen female surfers will be unveiled in the same manner.
The 2016-17 season is about to kick off with an opening ceremony Friday, Oct. 21, and the one-day only event may be held any time between Nov. 1 and March 31. With the women battling in their own division, the daylong event will have a total of eight heats. Calling contest-worthy conditions is a tricky business with factors like wind, daylight, swell and more needing to align.
Cartel’s Committee of 5 — comprised of longtime pro surfers — has a list of criteria its competitors must meet. Having Mavericks experience is a biggie, with wild card candidates often chosen based on those who made a lasting impression in the water.
The field of big wave surfers is still heavily comprised of men over women and, in the spirit of equity, Waters noted both must meet the same criteria to be chosen as a Titan.
“This is such a wonderful thing. And I think it’s a necessary thing too due to the imbalance in the world of not having hundreds of big wave-charging women,” Waters said. “The [Committee of 5] does not select upon religion, culture or race. They chose on who charges and adhering to the criteria that’s out there.”
Coastside resident and activist Sabrina Brennan, a local harbor commissioner who’s advocated for women’s inclusion and is working with the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing, said she’s thrilled to see this first step.
“This is just really fantastic news and nice that it’s happening the same year that we are looking like we are hopefully going to be electing our first woman president. I think it’s a really important year for women and I’m glad to see their recognition and they’re making a significant step forward toward the inclusion of women and I hope that grows,” Brennan said.
The World Surf League, which Cartel previously had to fight against to retain ownership over the Mavericks competition, is also having its first Women’s Big Wave Tour.
Brennan noted many of the group’s requests — such as having women involved in the selection process, providing more than just a one-heat women’s division and an equal purse prize — still stand.
“My hope is that the event evolves,” Brennan said. “There needs to be real equity.”
Overfelt and Waters emphasized details — such as when the women’s division will be held during the contest day — are still being fleshed out and the event could develop further in future years. But both agreed it’s the first step, and a very exciting one, toward crowning a woman champion of Mavericks.
Cartel has also not organized a viewing festival, as in years past, but it’s still in the works, Waters said. Both he and Overfelt noted this year’s women’s only division is in response to what the female athletes had sought, but they could one day compete against men as well.
“We’re going to seek their advice and see what they want to do. Because this is for them, we want to do right by them,” Overfelt said. “In a sport where you do the wrong thing and you die, maybe one day we’ll have our own Danica Patrick.”
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