In the past year, women’s big wave surfing has climbed to new heights. Rather than a fringe sport, it’s turning into something more mainstream, with women’s heats incorporated into the Maverick’s, Nelscott, La Vaca, and Pe’ahi events, and a holding period for a women’s Waimea contest.
Keala Kennelly won an open-category Big Wave Award 18-months-ago, Emi Erickson was on the cover of Outside Magazine, Bianca Valenti is all over the Bay Area media, and Paige Alms has won the women’s big wave world championship two years running at her home break of Pe’ahi.
After sharing an XXL session with Paige in Oregon last month, I sat down with the two-time big wave champ to talk about the recent push in women’s heavy water heroics.
You seem to be leading the charge for women's big wave surfing at the moment, and particularly at Pe’ahi. What do you think has contributed to your success over the past couple of years?
I’d say there is a group of women right now truly pushing the sport, and I am just lucky enough to be a part of it all.
Pe’ahi is where I learned to surf big waves, and I am fortunate to have grown up in Haiku and have this wave right in my backyard. It is by far the heaviest big wave that I have ever surfed, and the most technical when it comes to manoeuvrability and the lines you can draw.
Years of hard work, training, preparation, perseverance, and trusting in the path that I believe has already been paved for me
As far as the success that the wave has brought me, there has been a lot of love, respect, and constantly humbling by the power of the ocean. I think maybe the wave knows how much I appreciate it, and wants to share the love. That and years of hard work, training, preparation, perseverance, and trusting in the path that I believe has already been paved for me—what some people call fate.
There is a solid group of women who are starting to really push it in bigger waves. Who are you most impressed with?
I’ve looked up to Keala Kennelly since I was a little kid. She always pushed the sport and threw herself over the ledge harder any other girl I knew.
Now, 15-years later, she’s one my good friends, and I think she’s still charging harder than ever. Bianca Valenti is, for sure, pushing the limits, and is very calculated and constantly hungry to improve.
She inspires me to continue to want to get better. There are so many women—Andrea, Justine, Savannah, Emily, the list goes on. Those are the girls I’ve seen the most incredible surfing from over the past few years.
Most of the guys think it's great to see the women progressing, and to see a number of events give you heats. But I have heard a few say things like, "Be careful what you wish for," and they wonder what's going to happen if the ladies are sent out to surf a heat at Mavs when it's 20 plus foot and focusing on the bowl. What do you think about that?
I try not to get too wrapped up in the drama that men like to create over the “what ifs,” and the doubts that women aren’t capable of. If I did, I never would have paddled out at Pe’ahi for the first time, and for sure would have never gotten barrelled out there.
We’re ready to push it and learn, and do our best. We aren’t trying to compete against the guys—we’re competing against ourselves. I look forward to the opportunity.
Peahi is in your backyard, so your focus is obviously there, but what other spots are exciting for you? Is there anywhere in particular on your list of waves to chase this year? And are there any spots you don't have any desire to surf?
Oregon, Mavericks, and Todos are all on the radar. There are so many places I’d love to go chase big swells, but a lot of them aren’t necessarily for the XXL stuff.
I love getting barrelled too. Mex, Micronesia, and Fiji all sound good. I don’t have a huge desire to surf Nazare, but maybe there will be a time for that too. I’d love to surf all those right slab points around there, for sure.
Most of the media we see on you involves surfing XXL waves, but obviously it can't be massive every day. Do you also enjoy surfing smaller waves, or is that just something to do between big swells?
Of course. I surf pretty much every day, be it on a shortboard, big wave gun, longboard, or my new passion—foil surfing. It’s all about keeping the stoke alive.
What other interests do you have outside of surfing? Who is Paige Alms when she's not out packing barrels at Pe’ahi?
I guess in a dream world I would have a small farm and be able to trade food for things I need. I absolutely love growing my own food, playing sports, doing anything that involves the ocean, laughing, training, playing with my dog, cooking, creating, and inspiring.
Well you definitely inspire us. Thanks Paige.