EVENT: Another Historic Move As Women Take On Puerto Escondido Cup In XXL Waves


One after the other, events and event directors are waking up. Many events now beginning to draw a women’s division and hopefully bring us and our daughters, closer to equality in sport. (If only the upcoming Rip Curl Cup Padang Padang would follow suit…) There’s no event more exciting than the incredible big wave events. This week, The Surf Open League went onto orange/standby alert for the start of the event at one of the world’s most gnarly waves.

Six women including Keala Kennelly (Hawaii), Bianca Valenti (USA), Emily Erickson (Hawaii), Polly Ralda (Guatemala), Raquel Heckert (Brazil) and Isabelle Leonhardt (Mexico) made their way to the firing Mexican beach break where they waited for the official call.

Puerto Escondido is located in Mexico, and on the right swell and wind can grow in front of your eyes, barely meters from where you stand on the shoreline. It’s like Pipeline Mexico style.

For the first time ever, a big wave event in South America was opened to women. Shannon Quirk, a women’s surf journalist and television personality was involved and stoked on the announcement to invite six of the best big wave women to the event thanks to event director and World Surf League Big Wave Tour Director Gary Linden.

After a day of extra-large swell peaking in the sets at 15 feet, it was Bianca Valenti from the USA who took out the highest combined heat score. Bianca has been a pioneer in modern big wave surfing, recently fighting for women to be fairly and rightfully considered in the controversial invitational Mavericks event.

Event director Gary Linden was also heard making the comment that the women would have moved through the men’s division if they were combined. Which begs the question, how far are we really, from seeing combined gender heats run?

We spoke to Bianca right after her win at Puerto Escondido. She’s not just girl from Dana Point, now living in San Fransisco. She’s also an Italian wine specialist and owns her own restaurant.

Tell us about how you got invited to the event, what the prerequisites were?

I was invited to the event because I surf Puerto every summer. To earn an invitation to the event, prerequisites are the same as for any WSL big wave event. Basically, to qualify, you must have experience at the break and/or be part of the WSL Big Wave Tour and/or XXL nominations. I have all those qualifications, which earned me the invite.

So it’s sanctioned by the WSL but not listed on tour, what does that mean for you guys? Are there any points accumulated for the Big Wave World Tour?

I believe it’s a WSL specialty event and so there are no points accumulated for the tour. However, it can lead you to earning an invitation to the WSL sanctioned big wave events. To be honest this event was much smaller than the past years in Puerto Escondido and it gave it a really really fun grassroots feeling. The beach was filled with encouragement, energy and passion.

How long have you been coming to surf the wave?

I LOVE Puerto Escondido. I have come here every summer for the past 10 years.

Tell us about the wave; when does it work best, how big was it today?

Puerto comes to life during the southern hemisphere season. It is known as the Mexican Pipeline and it is a small town with amazing people, food, and culture. Also, it is one of the best beach breaks in the world. Today was pretty big during our heat. I would say the waves ranged from 20 to 30 feet on the face.

Does it really break as close to the beach as it looks in the photos?

Yes! It breaks super close to the beach, especially for a big wave. It is one of the most fun places to watch surfing in the world. The crowd was amazing today.

How heavy is the lineup?

The lineup is very crowded on the daily basis and full of some of the most hungry and gnarly chargers in the world. It pays to have an opportunity to surf it with five of my surf sisters. It just amazing, a very special moment for sure.

When did you first get into big waves?

I first got into big waves about 10 -11 years ago, more or less the same time I started coming to Puerto Escondido every year.

Who introduced you to it and describe your first breath-taking wave?

My neighbour in university had a boyfriend who surfed a big wave up north of UC Santa Barbara, where I went to university. I went along with him and got a stand-up barrel and the worst beating of my life. Strangely, at that moment, I was hooked and started putting in the training to be the safest and smartest big wave surfer I can be.

Women are really pushing the limits now, (check out this video of these two 14-year-olds from Bells Beach charging) What do you see is the future of big wave surfing?

Anything is possible, girls/women/females, we can do it all. I am so happy that we are making strides in creating gender equality. There is still a long way to go before we have equal opportunity, equal pay, and equal media exposure. That’s how I see the future.

What boards are you riding as your big wave boards, talk to me about the dimensions and what you look for to hold your line?

I am currently deliberating over what I like best. In Puerto, one doesn’t need as heavy of a board as at Pe’ahi/Jaws, Mavericks, or Nazare. Travelling with big boards is a hassle and they often don’t arrive. My dream is to have boards stashed everywhere, ready to go when a swell hits, without the hassle of trying to get them on planes and round the world in time.

Paddle or tow?

I paddle. I’ve never towed, but I’d like to learn.

A motto you live by?

Dedicate, don’t hesitate.

PHOTOS BY SURF OPEN LEAGUE / EDWIN MORALES & MARIA FERNANDA PHOTO (2018 International Photographer Search People’s Choice Winner)

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