A man surfing on a very large wave.

Mavericks is one of the most well-known and competitive events in big-wave surfing. Recently renamed “Titans of Mavericks,” the annual contest invites surfers from around the globe to ride Half Moon Bay’s legendary waves. But no woman has ever competed in the final round at Mavericks. The California Coastal Commission recently asked Mavericks officials to come up with a plan to include women for next year’s competition. We look at Mavericks and the larger question of gender equity in professional surfing.

Mavericks Faces Pressure for Women to Surf Big-Wave Contest 11 December,2015forum

Bianca Valenti, professional surfer
Bruce Jenkins, sports columnist, San Francisco Chronicle

  • thucy

    “…there are a group of female surfers — including Savannah Shaughnessy, Sarah Gerhardt, and Jamilah Star — would like women to be included in California’s annual Mavericks Invitational surfing competition. According to 38-year-old Gerhardt, women can physically handle giant waves but says that “The percentage of all surfers who will actually surf big waves is very small. If you look at men, it might be 1 percent.”

    -article in jezebel

    • The Truth

      Sarah Gerhardt was actually invited to be a member of the Committee 5 so she could have had a hand in the voting of the Athletes herself.

      • How is it that you know which surfers were invited to be a part of the Committee 5 and did or did not join the committee? Whoever you are, it certainly sounds like you are connected with Cartel Management.

  • Sabrina Brennan

    Read the Half Moon Bay Review Editorial:

    Add women to Mavericks lineup and be on right side of history

    Clay Lambert—Nov 11, 2015

    The most compelling sports stories of the summer, in the United States at least, were the dominance of a mixed-martial arts fighter, historic play by a one-of-a-kind tennis sensation and victory on the soccer pitch. In case you missed it, all those sports moments featured women.

    The most important sports development on the coast in a long time may also involve pioneering women. By virtue of a motion made by California Coastal Commissioner Mark Vargas, of Los Angeles, the Mavericks surf contest organizers are encouraged to allow women to compete at one of the world’s premier big waves, on a stage that has been hogged by men since it was discovered decades ago.

    This is a good idea that came from San Mateo County Harbor Commissioner Sabrina Brennan, who suggested it before Thursday’s Coastal Commission vote. The commission gave Mavericks organizers a coastal development permit, clearing the way for this season’s event, with the proviso that they include women going forward.

    This doesn’t mean that women need compete directly with the men who ride mountains. There could be a parallel event or heat, similar to the way major professional tennis events operate. They could be afforded the same prize money, publicity and prestige. Inviting women to be Titans of Mavericks would elevate the sport and bring attention to worthy competitors.

    Not that contest organizers need worry themselves with any of that. They merely have to look at the bottom line: This is a chance to make more money by marketing female athletes. They may not appreciate a mandate for gender equity delivered by a state agency ostensibly charged with land use, but the Coastal Commission did them a favor. Here’s guessing some day the contest community recognizes it as such.

    Late last year, a dozen or more prominent female surfers gathered at Mavericks for something called the WickrX Super Sessions. That wasn’t a surf contest per se, but rather a gathering after an extended travelogue as well as an innovative photo-sharing effort. It was a step toward legitimacy. This year, there was further significant headway toward gender equality in professional surfing. The World Surf League recently hired a woman, Jessi Miley-Dyer, as its deputy commissioner and doubled its prize money for women in order to bring their payday in line with the men. A Mavericks heat would be another step in the right direction.

    Think the American public won’t pay to watch the women? Think we won’t buy licensed apparel worn by female surfers? Think sponsors aren’t interested in seeing women ride the waves? Tell that to Rhonda Rousey, Serena Williams and the proud women of the U.S. women’s soccer team.

    This is a no-brainer for the Mavericks brain trust. They would do well to welcome the change.

    Link: http://www.hmbreview.com/opinion/matters_of_opinion/add-women-to-mavericks-lineup-and-be-on-right-side/article_e1a933ec-88cb-11e5-bd00-13b9cba2c34c.html

    • The Truth

      Sabrina Brennan has done everything in her power to try to disrupt and malign this event. I don’t need to go into details about how horrible she is at her job, you can google her and just read the first 6 articles that come up about how she has cost the district time and money in multiple lawsuits based on her actions. Great person to align yourself with women of the super sessions……

      • The Truth
      • Another Mike

        She certainly seems to be a polarizing figure. But she sounded quite reasonable in her Coastside Radio interviews.

        • The only reason she is a polarizing figure is that there are very specific interests and people within the status quo who are against the type of issues she advocates for. For instance, former members of the board she currently serves on resisted for a long time her attempts to have their meetings videotaped and made available to the public, and current members of the board have criticized her for expressing concerns about invoices she had looked ove, despite the fact that investigation into those invoices led to a refund of over $50,000 their district. These aren’t radical, polarizing actions, but within the culture of politics in San Mateo County, such honesty and attempts at inquiry are seen as strange and problematic.

      • Sabrina Brennan

        On Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015 Coastal Commissioner Mark Vargas made the following remarks and motion:

        “I’m still a little concerned about the fact that there is no clear plan for highlighting, involving, or encouraging the growth of women in this event or in this sport. I would really love to see an amendment. I understand that were too close to the event this year, but if this is going to be contemplated as an extension (permit extension) that could possibly have four more years of extension we should start contemplating a plan for encouragement and inclusion on women in this event. So that we (Coastal Commission) can review it, and have that information available for next year when this permit comes back up for renewal. I appreciate that it’s a one time, one year permit but Mavericks has been going on for a long time and Mavericks will continue to go on. I’m sure we’ll be back here next year and it would be unfortunate if we don’t start planning now for the inclusion of women and to see more women involved in this program, and not wait until a year from now.”

        “I’ll float it out there. I’d like to see if I can make an amending motion to add a specific condition that we ask the applicant to provide a plan for encouraging equal opportunity for women surfers in future events.”


        Bochco – no
        Cox – yes
        Groom – no
        Howell – yes
        Lueveno – yes
        McClure – yes
        Shallenberger – no
        Turnbull-Sanders – yes
        Uranga – yes
        Vargas – yes
        Kinsey – no

    • thucy

      It actually looks from the articles and accompanying comments provided by the person posting as “The Truth” that many women and many reputable groups support you and your efforts, Sabrina. Thanks for helping to make change.

      • The Truth

        support her efforts to ensure that there is no event at Mavericks?

        • Sabrina Brennan

          Santa Cruz Sentinel – Haven Livingston – Nov. 6, 2015

          Women to get fair shake at Mavericks

          Half Moon Bay resident Sabrina Brennan, who holds the elected position of San Mateo County Harbor District commissioner but appeared at the hearing as a member of the public, raised the issue during the public comment portion of the meeting. During her three minutes on the floor, Brennan requested the Coastal Commission require the contest include a women’s heat because, she said, it was unreasonable to expect women to compete directly against the men for one of the 24 slots that are chosen by a group of veteran Mavericks surfers dubbed “the Committee 5.” She also pointed out that the five-year permit recently issued by the Harbor Commission to Cartel (event management group) precludes any other big wave surf contests from being held during that span, meaning there could not be a separate women’s contest at Maverick’s.

          Coastal Commissioner Mark Vargas motioned to amend the Coastal Development Permit to ask the Cartel to provide a plan for encouraging equal opportunity for women surfers in future events. The motion was seconded by Commissioner Martha McClure and after some discussion the motion was narrowly passed by a vote of 7-4.

          Link: http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/sports/20151106/women-to-get-fair-shake-at-mavericks

        • How does a local resident asking that a women’s heat at Mavericks happens ensure that the entire event is canceled? If all the permits are in place no one can cancel the event aside from the event organizer.

  • powfarmer

    I would love to see Bianca and all the other female big wave shredders in the mavericks competition.

  • Robert Thomas

    Since when do professional surf nazis own the ocean?

    The conflict here appears to be that a commercial entertainment club is reluctant to invite female performers – is that right?

    Cherchez la cash.

    • Another Mike

      I tried to drive though Golden Gate Park a week after the $$$$ Outside Lands $$$$ Festival.
      The promoters still had blocked off the roads I am used to taking.
      Privatizing public spaces is the name of the game today.

  • Sarah Rich

    I’m not a surfer, but I cannot believe that in 2015 we are actually having a discussion about whether women should be allowed to compete in an athletic event. Yes, they should compete in Mavericks.

    • Another Mike

      Have you heard of the PGA tour? MLB? the NFL?
      Most sports are boys’ clubs.

    • MattCA12

      I know. Unbelievable. Of course they should be let in.

      • Drago

        If male and female sharks are allowed, why not male and female surfers?

  • Carlisle

    After decades of following surfing I’m appalled that women are still portrayed as “the chic” feature in national surf mags

    • thucy

      Women should be invited. If we fail, so be it, but at least we should be allowed to compete.

  • Another Mike

    “Who gets the waves” has long brought forth the male ego. Locals vs. Vals, etc. How did women ever make their way into the sport?

  • Gee Whiz

    Fish come in all sizes and genders.

  • Elizabeth Kelly

    What type of conditioning does Bianca and other female big wave surfers do? I grew up as a competitive swimmer and still work out in the pool regularly and have been practicing yoga for 15 yrs. Wondering what other preparation is necessary, especially with regulating breathing when you get pulled under a wave for a while..

  • Virginia

    I wonder if men are actually threatened by the competition women may pose. The excuse that the final caller made for women not being invited was lame.

  • The Truth

    This whole “show” was a joke- cutting off Darryl like that and letting Bianca have the last say when she is just on there to promote her super sessions and has nothing to do with Titans of Mavericks was a joke.

  • Robert Thomas

    I’m still confused by this. What legal mechanism keeps women in particular from surfing when or where they please on the California coast?

    Surely, any legal entity could only prohibit all persons of both genders from surfing at a place and time – perhaps due to some safety designation (“NO SURFING”), not one or the other gender.

    If women want to surf at this place during this event, what prevents them from doing so?

    Is it merely participation in some commercial entertainment group, the consideration of that group’s privately hired judges, private award of their private prizes, use of their trademarks and so forth, that’s at stake?

    • Robert,

      The permit the Mavericks event organizer obtained from the Coastal Commission essentially stipulates they are the only company allowed to hold a surfing contest at the Mavericks site if surfing conditions are right. This means that if another entity wanted to create a women’s event at Mavericks, they would not be able to because the permit belongs solely to one event organizer If that event organizer doesn’t have a contest for women who surf, then there is no women’s contest.

      Therefore a majority of the Coastal Commissioners saw fit to amend the permit given to that event organizer with the language that any future permits to hold surfing contests will require a plan for the inclusion of women athletes at the event.

      • Robert Thomas


        I’m disturbed that the CCC has the power to enfranchise the behavior of the ocean to a commercial entrainment operation.

        I guess the CCC board felt uncomfortable enough to act in this way.

  • tkathenry

    I’ve been surfing since the late 70’s and back then I was typically the only woman in the water. I was always nervous paddling out–and once in the lineup, I was just “scenery” according to the male surfers around me. I always had to prove myself before I’d get noticed, and no one would ever give up a wave for me until I proved that I could actually surf. Now there seems to be so many women surfing–but I’m sorry to hear it hasn’t changed as much as I thought it had…shame on all you ego-maniacal, testosterone-fueled males who are stuck in some ancient century…

  • London2

    I groaned when Bruce Jenkins said that the Coastal Commission’s request
    to include women was “strident.” Does he not realize that that word,
    like “shrill” is used pejoratively when women speak out?

    • Another Mike

      Although the gender composition of the Commissioners is seven women to five men, the executive director is a man. So I think “strident” can safely be used to describe Commission requests.

      • London2

        The point is that a journalist should know the connotations, especially when the topic is gender equality. For him to not be aware of that speaks to how well he knows his craft. In journalism you choose your words carefully because that is how you are judged.

      • thucy

        I’m with Mike on this. Amd hey, women should be liberated to be more strident in being called strident – we shouldn’t be so sensitive. I consider strident women a good thing.

  • John Ullom

    Titans of Mavericks is owed by Cartel Management Inc. which owned by a wanna be hip hop mogul by the name of Griffin Guess.

    Ever since GG showed up his company has failed to provide liability insurance on time, failed to apply for a Coastal Development Permit, banned the two previous champions, and has yet to even obtain the required San Mateo County Business License. For some reason they are using a front man to apply for the Business License which a classic ploy used by organizations that per their history, are not allowed to obtain the license for themselves.

    Here is a video that shows just how Cartel Management behaves. Be sure to catch the part where Jeff Clark threatens to cut the Harbor District out of the action if they refused to give Cartel Management a Five Year Exclusive on the wave: -https://youtu.be/KxtasDI6Ugg

    The Committed Five has at least one member on it that has admitted to surfing the contest while on LSD and Meth. Ken Collins who is featured on the Titans Of Mavericks website is a bully who was arrested in February for asserting another surfer over a two foot swell. The back story for Griffin Guess includes a 400 million dollar tax fraud scheme that financed his first company, Machete Records. Machete went belly up and failed to pay its employees. To this day, the owner of Titans of Mavericks, Griffin Guess, claims he sold Machete.

    Yet these guys yet these guys banned the reigning champion Grant Baker because Mr. Baker advocated for the previous champion who also had been banned. Not a single Big Wave Surfer has the balls to say anything about it and why would they. the money is where it is at and with Baker and Mel banned from the wave their odds of scoring the prize money are enhanced by the banning.

    • The Truth

      You sound like an obsessed loser.

      • thucy

        He sounds like he’s making a point. If you’d like to refute those points, you should. But ad hominem attacks don’t help your case.

  • SeaLevelTV

    I wrote this article for The Inertia Last month:

    “How Women Will Evolve Big Wave Surfing”


    thank you, Bianca, for working so hard to evolve this conversation and make history in women’s sports.

  • It’s great to hear all of these supportive comments from women and men, backing female big wave surfers. I reccently interviewed a pioneer female big wave surfer who caught upwards of 30ft big waves at Pe’ahi Jaws back in 2005 I also met another woman who has been surfing bigs waves for years and last year surfed 60ft waves at Pe’ahi. Women are doing awesome feats already, we just don’t get to hear about it so much beacuse there is less attention and coverage placed on our acheivements. Rock on all who support women who surf!…PS check out it aint pretty -a new big wave surf film by Dayla Soul

  • Sabrina Brennan

    Half Moon Bay Review – Carina Woudenberg – Nov. 5, 2015

    Mavericks organizers get crucial last permit

    San Mateo County Harbor Commissioner Sabrina Brennan spoke as a member of the public about her concern that women have never been represented in the surf competitions.

    “It’s really important to women athletes,” Brennan said. “Please consider requiring a women’s heat.”

    The idea resonated with many of the commissioners and Commissioner Mark Vargas made a motion to include that in their approval.

    “I understand you’re looking for the elite for your Titans of Mavericks,” Vargas said. “I think it would be great to highlight women big surf riders.”

    The Mavericks organizers said that they are encouraged by the rise of women in the sport and hope to see women compete in the event the future, but that women weren’t there just yet.

    “At this point we haven’t seen that kind of performance,” Jeff Clark said. “When the (committee that invites surfers) is watching there’s always one guy that stand’s out. … Can that guy beat the guy from last year or the year before?”

    Cassandra said she thinks the surf competition is getting closer to featuring women surfers.

    “Our intent is not to put aside a special class just for women but have the women head to head with the men,” she said.

    Vargas pushed to include the specific condition to the permit.

    “I’m still concerned that’s there’s no clear plan for highlighting the growth of women in this sport,” Vargas said. “I would really love to see an amendment.”

    Though all the commissioners spoke in favor of seeing more women compete, they were split on whether to require the condition on their permit approval or whether to take the organizers on their word that they would work to include more women in the events in the future. In the end the motion passed.

    Link: http://www.hmbreview.com/news/mavericks-organizers-get-crucial-last-permit/article_8445d17a-842e-11e5-b288-e736a915ed06.html

  • Sabrina Brennan

    Washington Post – Kristin J. Bender – Dec. 5, 2015

    Women want spot in big wave surf competition in California

    The California Coastal Commission recently told Maverick organizers (Jeff Clark and Cartel) that they better have a plan for including women if they want a permit to hold the event next year.

    Link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/women-eye-big-wave-surf-competition-near-san-francisco/2015/12/05/c1534556-9b72-11e5-aca6-1ae3be6f06d2_story.html?postshare=4251449703889863&tid=ss_tw

  • Thank you very much to KQED for covering this issue. As Sarah Rich says below, it’s hard to believe that in 2015 a discussion needs to be had about whether women should be allowed to compete in an athletic event.

    Also many thanks to Moss Beach resident Sabrina Brennan for suggesting the idea to the Coastal Commission of a plan to include women who surf at Mavericks at future contests. It was thanks to her suggestion that coastal commissioner Mark Vargas amended the motion for the event permit.

    While gender equity may not seem like an issue within the Coastal Commission’s purview, ensuring that the public has equitable access to the coast (and, by extension, equitable access to the for-profit events held on the coast) definitely is, and it’s for that reason I think the Coastal Commission’s action is very much justified.

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