Surfer Girls Blog Archives

Women brave wild waves, buck male surfer scrutiny

By Elliott Almond, MEDIANEWS STAFF

It's supposed to be the emblem of minivan-driving soccer moms, not big-wave charging surfers. Yet, there was Naomi Gerhardt, tucked beneath four millimeters of neoprene, in the belly of mother Sarah last February at the infamous break Mavericks near Half Moon Bay.
"You are the youngest surfer to ever catch a wave at Mavericks," Gerhardt told 3-month-old Naomi recently. "What do you think about that?"

Naomi probably won't know for a few years. But some young female surfers think plenty about Gerhardt and what she means to their future as serious waterwomen.

The Cabrillo College chemistry professor has helped inspire a new wave of women to paddle into the once-male sanctuary of extreme surfing. Only about 20 women worldwide venture into super-sized surf aEUR" waves that measure more than 20 feet on their faces.

And though there are few big-wave career opportunities for even the men, more and more women are being drawn to the dangerous sport because of the exploits of such adrenaline junkies as Gerhardt and fellow Santa Cruz surfers Jenny Useldinger and Jamilah Star.

Central Coast teenagers Savannah Shaughnessy, 17, and Sierra Partridge, 18, lack the necessary experience to try Mavericks this winter but want to join the exclusive club someday.

"It's a pretty macho atmosphere, but these girls have worked their way up the ranks," said Evan Slater, an accomplished Mavericks rider and editor of Surfing Magazine. "They are used to dealing with a bunch of big-wave manly men."

That so many hail from Santa Cruz is a testament to the city's reputation as a big-wave Mecca; nine of the 24 contestants of the Mavericks Surf Con-test come from Santa Cruz.

But until Gerhardt arrived in 1998, no woman had attempted to conquer the monster waves that break a half mile offshore near Half Moon Bay. Her feats inspired Useldinger, 21, who now gets her big-wave fix in Hawaii most of the year.

"We spend our whole lives with the boys telling us we can't," said Useldinger, the first woman to surf a treacherous break called Dungeons in South Africa. "When you see another female doing it, it's like, 'Oh, I can do that.'"

Most surfers tackle giant swells for the amusement-park thrill ride or for bragging rights. Gerhardt, 32, did it to escape.

Surfing transported her "to a totally peaceful world," where she could forget the difficulties of caring for her mother, who used a wheelchair, while growing up in Pismo Beach.

After graduating high school she made a pilgrimage to Hawaii to sample her first big waves. She embraced the challenge and for the next three years juggled classes at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo with surfing in Hawaii.

Word of a big wave at Half Moon Bay led Gerhardt to move to Santa Cruz. She paddled out to Mavericks in fall 1998.

"When I finally got there I didn't know if I could make it out and didn't know what I would find," said Gerhardt, who earned a doctorate at UC-Santa Cruz.

She discovered she wasn't mentally ready that first time in the lineup because of the demands at school. "Do I really want this?" Gerhardt wondered.

When Gerhardt caught a wave her third time out, all the men cheered in support, she recalled.

"Big waves help me know what I value most, what my priorities are, what I will settle for," said Gerhardt, who says she can't wait to return to the lineup after taking time off to have Naomi.

As the subject of the documentary film, "One Winter Story," she shares those lessons with other women interested in big-wave surfing. Gerhardt tells them it takes years of seasoning to overcome the fear of facing walls of water six stories high.

Her proteges, Partridge and Shaughnessy, have prepared for Mavericks by surfing big waves on Oahu's North Shore this winter. Gerhardt also took Shaughnessy to Mavericks last year for a test run. Although the Scotts Valley teen paddled out, it was for research only.

"I wasn't being silly," said Shaughnessy, a Cabrillo college freshman. "I wanted to know how far behind I am before I go out there to try to catch waves."

Partridge, whose twin Hailey also is a promising Santa Cruz surfer, wants to find out, too.

"Just the rush that you get," she said of her attraction to it.

Some surfers are wired for mainstream contests, where stringing together a succession of maneuvers, typically in smaller surf, is the goal. Others prefer specializing in aerial tricks, with a chance of going on far-flung trips to shoot magazine spreads.

The handful of big-wave riders? "We're another breed," said Dustin Tester, one of the few women to surf "Jaws," Maui's outer reef break that surfers can only ride using a personal watercraft and a tow rope. "It takes people who are almost desensitized to the extreme environment."

Places such as Waimea Bay in Hawaii and Todos Santos Island in Baja were popularized as big-wave spots in the '80s. But the big-wave revolution really began in the early 1990s when Mavericks was unveiled to the world. Later that decade came the advent of "tow-in" surfing, which uses watercraft to reach fast-charging waves far from shore.

Now surfers such as Useldinger track winter storms across the globe to hunt for massive swells at places such as Cortes Banks far off the coast of San Diego, Ghost Tree off Pebble Beach and Dungeons. Their pursuit has spawned a women's category in the Billabong XXL Big Wave Awards, a lucrative competition to see who gets photographed riding the winter's biggest wave. Jamilah Star, who like Useldinger lives in Hawaii most of the time, is the two-time defending champion for her conquests at Mavericks.

For many from Santa Cruz to San Francisco and beyond, the nasty break at Half Moon Bay is surfing's premier proving ground.

Here, the Force isn't with you; it's against you. Frigid temperatures, a long, arduous paddle, a jagged bottom and frequent great white shark sightings make Mavericks one of the world's most dangerous waves.

Useldinger learned the hard way last winter after tearing an anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus, a knee injury that kept her out of the water for seven months.

It happened after she paddled over the lip of a rogue wave that pulled her and her nine-foot surfboard backward into the pit of a good 20-foot Mavericks wave.

"There was an explosion on my knee," Useldinger said. "Basically, it blew it to pieces. I told myself, 'Forget about the knee. Just survive.' It is so dark and black" in the undertow, or what Mavericks surfers call the "Cauldron." "It'll let you up halfway and then push you down again."

The experience humbled Useldinger, who for the first time had asked fellow surfers for help.

No one surfed Mavericks until 1975 when Jeff Clark, a Half Moon Bay teenager, went out on a medium-sized day. He rode the break alone until 1990 when a handful of Santa Cruz surfers joined him. Now as many as 50 regularly ride the place named after a local surfer's dog, though it normally doesn't break more than a dozen times each winter.

About half of those Santa Cruz surfers are invitees or alternates in the 2007 Mavericks Surf Contest, which will be held sometime before March 31 aEUR" when Clark and his fellow organizers deem the conditions just right. Gerhardt's husband Mike is a veteran of the contest. Sarah Gerhardt herself was the first female to be invited, though as an alternate, in 2001.

Might there eventually be a women's-only contest at Mavericks? The leaders of the charge say that's not an immediate priority.

"What's next is guys not being leery of us on big waves," said Useldinger, whose mother Anne Bayly was a professional surfer two decades ago.

Although it takes confidence and aggression to handle roaring surf, Useldinger says she doesn't want to lose her femininity in the water. Useldinger likes that she stands out.

"It is almost more fun to be feminine, because my whole world is surrounded by a macho industry," she said.

Useldinger doesn't welcome every woman to the big-wave lineup because of the serious commitment it takes. Her preparation includes running underwater in the ocean carrying a large rock, long-distance swimming and paddling heavy surfboards. She also mixes in yoga and singing as ways to train her lungs for long holddowns.

Useldinger encourages only the ones who have a deep desire to challenge themselves.

"I don't want to be responsible for their injuries or deaths," she said.

Useldinger believes she was meant to surf because her mother rode waves until a week before she was born. Like Naomi Gerhardt, she was on board with the ocean long before she even entered this world. Someday she'll probably be able to exchange big-wave stories with Naomi.

"It has a huge part to do with my life," Useldinger said. "It will play a huge part with Naomi's life as well."


Women's Pipeline Pro

The Women's Pipeline Pro is scheduled to run March 1 to 14 at the Banzai Pipeline, although contest officials are still seeking a title sponsor for the event.

The contest features divisions for shortboard surfing, longboard surfing and bodyboarding. It is the only women's contest held at the famous Pipeline break.


Roxy Pro Fiji


Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 24 April, 2006 : - - Two-time defending event champion Sofia Mulanovich (PER) made her intentions to remain atop the Roxy Pro podium crystal clear when she reached the quarter-finals of the US$78,300 event today.

Mulanovich, the 2004 Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) WomenaEUR(tm)s World Champion, was in dynamic form in the perfect 4-6 foot (1.2 - 2 meter) waves at Cloudbreak Reef, off the islands of Tavarua and Namotu, Fiji.

She earned the dayaEUR(tm)s highest heat score with a brilliant round three heat against South AfricaaEUR(tm)s Heather Clark, scoring 19.10 out of 20 possible points with a 9.5 and a 9.6 ride.

aEURoeI just love this place! Plus I feel way more comfortable after that win,aEUR Mulanovich said after the victory. aEURoeI was pretty nervous in my first heat and not really surfing top to bottom, but then I said to myself: aEUR~If you canaEUR(tm)t surf top to bottom, maybe you donaEUR(tm)t deserve to win this contest.aEUR(tm) So I gave it everything I had in that heat and I am feeling really confident now.aEUR

Mulanovich, like reigning world champion Chelsea Georgeson (AUS), needs to post a solid result here if she wants to factor into the 2006 world title race. Both Georgeson and Mulanovich, numbers one and two in the world respectively last year, fell victim to early exits in the first event of the year, the Roxy Pro on AustraliaaEUR(tm)s Gold Coast.

Blue Wahoo Wet and Wild Water Women's Weekend

Celebration of Womens Surfing in Ireland - May 6-7 2006

Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 13 April, 2006 : - - Blue Wahoo Wet and Wild Water Women's Weekend is back in Enniscrone on the 6/7 May 2006. If you are a woman (any age) and surf in Ireland (anywhere) then this weekend is for you.

This event is a celebration of women's surfing in Ireland offering an opportunity for women surfers and those who are interested in trying surfing to meet, to share advice and information and to surf with other women of all ages and surfing abilities. It's the most exciting and fun event of the year for Irish women surfers.

With an action packed programme and all female coaches the weekend will include novice surfing lessons, advanced coaching, information on safety, clubs, schools, suitable beaches for surfing, equipment, making and repairing surfboards, forecasting waves and fitness for surfing.

The fun doesn't stop on the beach and there are a number of social events to check out over the weekend. These include a beach barbecue on Saturday afternoon, and music by the Surf Chixxx, (Aine O'Doherty and Niamh Hamil), who will be playing on Saturday night at the Benbulben Hotel.

Billabong Girls Easter Surf Festival

Billabong Girls Easter Surf Festival

Surfing Queensland
Maroochydore QLD
15 - 18 April

"World's Best Bundled Out"

Surfersvillage Global Surf News, 16 April, 2006 : - - A day of upsets on the Sunshine Coast has seen world tour surfers Trudy Todd (Coolangatta) and Samantha Cornish (Crescent Head) eliminated in the second round of the Billabong Girls Easter Surf Festival at Maroochydore.

World number three ranked Cornish was bundled out of the 1 Star Rated World Qualifying Series (WQS) event by former top tier competitor Pauline Menczer (Ocean Shores) and Central Coast surfer Melissa Sherringham while fifth ranked Todd was convincingly beaten by West Australian Sarah Beardmore and CaloundraaEUR(tm)s Linda Fisher.

Both surfers struggled in the blustery 1m conditions, failing to post any score higher than a two-point ride in their respective heats.In contrast to the shock loss of the top ranked pair, fellow World Championship Tour (WCT) surfers Silvana Lima (BRZ) and Serena Brooke (Coolangatta) had little problems moving through to tomorrowaEUR(tm)s Quarter Finals from their round two match-upaEUR(tm)s.

NoosaaEUR(tm)s Rebecca Oakley became the second local surfer through to the Quarter Finals after progressing in second position from her opening heat of competition behind Tweed Heads surfer Lauren McGregor. Both McGregor and 19-year-old Oakley narrowly edged out Jessica Hickson (Boomerang Beach) and Ayla Whitney (Thirroul) in todayaEUR(tm)s second round.

In a day of low scoring heats, it was former pro Menczer and 15-year-old Sally Fitzgibbons who broke the mold, posting strong wins and emerging as early favourites. Dynamic South Coast surfer Fitzgibbons (Gerroa) won four divisions at the Billabong Girls Easter Surf Festival in 2005 including a career best result after finishing runner up to Rebecca Woods (Copacabana) in the 1 Star Rated WQS component.

Only entered in three divisions this year, the young natural footer started strongly in her second round WQS heat, winning comfortably over Nicola Atherton (Bronte), eliminating Cecelia Enriquez (USA) and Angie Koops (NZ). aEURoeThe waves are just like last year,aEUR said Fitzgibbons. aEURoeThere are some really fun little left and right peaks with double-ups that are running through to the beach.aEUR

aEURoeIaEUR(tm)m a bit older now so I have only entered three divisions this year, I just want to concentrate on those.aEUR aEURoeSilvana and the other WCT girls just rip, but if I can focus on just catching my own waves and surfing my own heat I should be able to do well.aEUR The 15-year-old has already won two Australasian Pro Junior events in 2006, defeating her older opponent Atherton in the final on both occasions.

Her two wave total of 14.75 out of a possible 20 was enough to win the heat easily over AthertonaEUR(tm)s 10.40 and secure the rounds highest combined score. aEURoeI have surfed against Nicola a lot this year and I guess it is just the luck of the draw that I have won,aEUR said Fitzgibbons. aEURoeThe waves have just come my way.aEUR

Fitzgibbons will face Atherton again in the Quarter Finals in what is proving the most anticipated heats of the event to date. The pair will surf against Brazilian WCT surfer Lima and former top ranked star Amee Donohoe (MacMasters Beach). The Billabong Girls Easter Surf Festival will finalise on Tuesday with Maroochydore being the most likely venue.

The Billabong Girls Easter Surf Festival is supported by Vodafone, Sea FM, Surfing Australasia and Surfing Queensland.

WQS Quarter Final Match-Ups
Quarter 1: Amee Donohoe (AUS) Silvana Lima (BRZ) Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) Nicola Atherton (AUS)
Quarter 2: Lauren McGregor (AUS) Rebecca Oakley (AUS) Serena Brooke (AUS) Tara Christie (AUS)
Quarter 3: Pauline Menczer (AUS), Melissa Sherringham (AUS) Lyndsay Noyes (AUS) Mischa Davis (NZ)
Quarter 4: Sarah Beardmore (AUS) Linda Fisher (AUS) Jenny Quam (USA) Airini Mason (NZ)

Simon Barratt

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