Women will compete at Mavericks, and the California Coastal Commission made sure of that.
The 12-member state environmental agency met Wednesday night and approved a one-year permit for the famous big wave surf competition, but added the contingency that women must be included in the one-day contest.
Organizers of the rebranded competition now known as Titans of Mavericks announced last month they were introducing the first-ever all-women’s division. Six of the world’s bravest female competitors will have one hour to battle for a $30,000 purse prize. Cartel Management, which took over the contest in 2014, originally sought commission approval for five years, but must instead report back to the state and reapply for the 2017-18 season.
This week, the commission mandated that Titans continue to include women and potentially expand their involvement. The contest, which first began in the 1999-2000 season, has traditionally involved 24-invite-only competitors who have, to date, all been men.
Last month, Coastal Commission staff indicated Cartel’s initial proposal to wait an additional year to create the women’s heat wouldn’t be acceptable, which prompted organizers to aim for this season. As part of the condition, organizers must also report back with further plans on how to expand women’s involvement.
“We have reached a historic milestone in that a woman’s heat is being added at the Titans of Mavericks,” Commissioner Mark Vargas said in a press release. “While it’s great that we have a heat, that’s not a plan.”
Organizers, including some who’ve been involved before Cartel came on board, argued they’ve long considered how to incorporate women and are excited to highlight these skilled athletes.
“It is such a historical moment to have this marquee heat for the women to have a focused competition in one of the world’s most challenging waves and for the public to be able to be a part of that,” said Cartel’s Chief Operating Officer Brian Waters.
Just as the multi-day Coastal Commission meeting was underway in Half Moon Bay, Titans announced the chosen on social media. Six women and two alternates have a chance to compete during the one-day event that hinges on contest-worthy waves arriving sometime between Nov. 1 and March 31.
Sarah Gerhardt, Emily Erickson, Paige Alms, Jamilah Star, Keala Kennelly and Andrea Moller were chosen as the first women to battle it out on Mother Nature’s stage just outside of Pillar Point Harbor. Surfers Bianca Valenti and Wrenna Delgado were chosen as alternates.
Alms, Kennelly, Moller and Valenti had urged the commission to require women be included after collaborating to form the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing.
These four women, as well as Gerhardt, also took top honors during a women-focused surf day at Mavericks in December 2014 known as the WickrX Super Sessions.
Sabrina Brennan, a San Mateo County Harbor District commissioner who has advocated for women’s inclusion, said she and others were extremely disappointed local surfer Valenti was not chosen and believes more women should be included. Brennan said she’s pleased that the Coastal Commission, as well as the female athletes, retained leverage as Titans was only provided a one-year permit.
“It’s a foot in the door,” Brennan said. “When the permit’s being reviewed, it gives them some leverage to try and negotiate more equitable terms and a bigger footprint on the event.”
Waters said the Committee of 5, which is separate from Cartel and comprised of longtime surfers, was expanded to include two women who ultimately chose this year’s female contestants. Big wave surfer Savannah Shaughnessy and surf photographer Nikki Brooks weighed in on the lineup, Waters said.
While pleased to be spotlighting women, he noted there are two unavoidable factors that must be considered. Currently, there is a limited number of women surfing giant waves at a competitive level, and there’s limited time during the one-day contest, meaning it may be difficult to squeeze in more heats.
As in prior years, whether anyone gets to competitively surf Mavericks this year depends on factors outside organizers’ control. Daylight, swell, wind and time of year must all align for Mavericks to deliver contest-worthy conditions. The contest has only been hosted once since Cartel took over nearly three years ago.
The Coastal Commission is charged with implementing the Coastal Act and typically reviews issues related to development, planning and upholding public access to California’s beloved beaches. Last year, it dove into the world of big wave surfing. The commission became one of multiple permitting agencies overseeing the surf contest since San Mateo County and federal officials opted to block access to beach and surf break due to safety concerns.
“The Coastal Commission continues to apply the Coastal Act in unexpected ways,” John Ainsworth, acting executive director of the commission said in a press release. “That now includes helping to expand opportunities for women in big wave surfing, which shows what a unique and relevant law it continues to be.”
In other news, during the Coastal Commission’s public hearing portion of Wednesday’s meeting, a group of advocates urged the state agency to act and help reopen the contended Martin’s Beach to the public.
Billionaire venture capitalist Vinod Khosla has been in a long, drawn-out legal battle with state and county officials since he closed the property to the public in 2013. Once open for more than a century, the gate to the contended crescent-shaped property just south of Half Moon Bay has only sporadically been open. The contentious issue pitting the rights of private property owners against Californians’ right to access the coast has spawned numerous county, state and federal lawsuits, as well as state legislation.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106