A 1st at Mavericks in Half Moon Bay: Women will compete in legendary surf contest

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Mavericks season is upon us and this year it will be memorable. For the first time, women will compete at the big wave surfing competition.

Mavericks season is upon us and this year it will be memorable. For the first time, women will compete at the big wave surfing competition.

"You gotta put everything into it and put everything on the line," said Bianca Valenti, one of ten women who will be invited to compete when Mavericks happens.

Mavericks, off the coast of Half Moon Bay, can produce huge waves as high as 50-feet at times. Only the top surfers dare take it on. Valenti, who lives in San Francisco, surfs it often.


"I surf Mavericks whenever it breaks, so like 30 to 40 times a year. It's exciting every time. It always shows different faces," said Valenti.

While Valenti may surf Mavericks on her own, being part of the competition was not easy. The organizers said the waves were too powerful for women. So four years ago, Valenti and three other women surfers banded together to change the sport. This past summer they got what they were after, but they needed help from several California state commissions.

One required that women be allowed to compete for the contest to move forward, and then the California State Lands Commission said it would only grant a permit for the competition if women were paid the same as men.

VIDEO: Gigantic wave sweeps over surfers in Half Moon Bay ahead of Mavericks

It was a big victory for Valenti and the other female surfers. Ten women will compete along with 24 men. Women who place first through tenth will get the same as men in those same positions.

Sachi Cunningham has been following the movement closely. She is a documentary filmmaker who has been following the struggle for equity in surfing for four years.

"When these women heard no, they said, 'Well, too bad. We are still going to do it. They stood up for what they wanted in that moment and turned the tide in their favor,'" said Cunningham.

It's a tide Sachi has had to ride in four years of filming, with many ups and downs. The down for Sachi was cancer, which led to a mastectomy and hysterectomy. She says her time filming in the ocean helped her fight cancer.

RELATED: Mavericks has been challenging top surfers for 20 years

"You are in this massive, moving beast and you have no idea what is going to happen next, and all you can do is stay calm to survive and turn it into something beautiful," said Cunningham. "these women stood up for what they wanted.

Valenti knows people will be watching to see how women perform, but she said she is ready for the pressure and to quell the doubts.

"I am excited for the people who are doubting. I am excited for them to watch because they are going to be impressed. We're surfing amazing, huge waves all the time. All over the world. People are going to have their minds open," said Valenti.


The change at Mavericks has had repercussions worldwide. The World Surfing League will now offer equal pay in all the international surf competitions it sanctions.

But the battle is not over yet. This past summer, Valenti won the Puerto Escondido Challenge in Mexico. She got a $1,750 prize, but the male winner got $7,000. Valenti's next goal is to get equal pay in all surf competitions.

Cunningham is still fundraising to finish her film "SheChange" and for Mavericks to happen so she can document the final chapter in this battle for equality. For more information on the documentary, click here.

Take a look at more stories and videos about Mavericks in Half Moon Bay.
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