A group of Oahu-based women are on a mission to realize their collective dream of holding the first-ever women-only big-wave surf contest at Waimea Bay.
After eight years of applying for permits, contest organizers for the Women's Waimea Bay Championship (WWBC) were finally granted one in early August from the City and County of Honolulu to run a standalone women’s big-wave contest in waves at least 15 feet high (Hawaiian scale).
But whether the contest will actually run comes down to a race against the clock: With an assigned waiting period of Oct. 1 to Nov. 21, contest directors Betty Depolito and Wrenna Delgado have limited time to finish securing funding for the event.
“Usually you are given over a year’s notice,” Delgado told GrindTV. “This year was different. The surf permits were awarded last minute. It’s a challenging situation, but Betty and I are honored to be creating a new event here at Waimea. We are looking for a sponsor who loves this idea as much as we do to come in and save the day.”
While women’s competitive big-wave surfing has had a few brief moments in the spotlight, the Women’s Waimea Bay Championship would make history as the first big-wave competition solely focused on women.
In 2010, a three-woman heat was folded into the men’s contest at Oregon’s Nelscott Reef (Kauai’s Keala Kennelly won), and in 2014, an eight-woman heat was held at the same contest (San Francisco’s Bianca Valenti took the prize).
Last year, during the Pe’ahi Challenge, a women’s contest consisting of two preliminary heats and a final was held to crown a women’s “world champion.” The women’s heats took place during challenging conditions caused by strong sideshore winds. Keala Kennelly, Laura Enever and Emi Erickson all suffered knee injuries, preventing them from competing in the final. Maui’s Paige Alms won the event.
Should the WWBC run, it would position a women’s big-wave contest as a main event and an opportunity for the women to truly showcase their skill. “It’s about time we had a women’s contest at the Bay,” Erickson told GrindTV. “I love surfing proper Waimea, and it’ll be great to surf with only a few other people in the lineup. That’s pretty rare these days.”
Contest director Depolito fought a long, difficult battle to secure the permit. After receiving two permits for time periods when there would almost surely be no large swells, Depolito decided to go to the mayor's office directly. She and Delgado organized with surfers like Erickson, Kennelly and Alms to write letters to the City and County supporting the contest.
When they received notice this month that the permit had finally been granted, Delgado could barely believe it. “It’s a miracle that they did [grant it], it really is.”
Delgado is a regular herself on big days at Waimea, but never took a personal interest in competitive surfing until Depolito approached her with the idea for the WWBC: “Professional big-wave surfing never called to me, but this was interesting, helping put on this contest, so that young girls might watch it and say, ‘I want to do that.'”
Delgado stresses that the objective of the WWBC is not to imitate or compete with a men’s contest. “This needs to be designed by women, for women. We understand each other. We’re not trying to have carnage; every girl that’s going to go out there is going to get a wave, which is going to advance the sport.”
The history of women surfing Waimea goes back farther than many might think. In 1959, on her first trip to Hawaii and just days after winning the Makaha International Championships, Linda Benson was the first woman to surf Waimea. Today, women like Erickson, Polly Ralda and Makani Adric are seen out on some of the biggest days at the Bay.
Their goal will require dogged commitment on the part of the contest organizers: There are five weeks until the waiting period is supposed to start, and significant sponsorship dollars must be secured to be able to hold the event. The early window is due to a rule that dictates that two contests cannot have overlapping holding periods. The WWBC must be complete 10 days before the waiting period for the Eddie Aikau Invitational begins.
“I’m confident we will get a swell,” says Delgado, who is more focused on raising the necessary funds to put on the event.
An all-female team is working tirelessly, unpaid, to try to see the WWBC come to life. “Some of the women who are helping us don’t even surf. They just love the idea of this,” says Delgado.
When asked what she will do if unable to raise the funds in time for this year’s waiting period, Delgado is resolute: “Betty and I won’t give up. Funds or no funds, we believe in this contest too much to let the dream fade.”
More about big-wave surfing on GrindTV