“The women stood out more than anyone today. To me, it was the best performance I’ve ever seen by women in big barrels, especially by the top three.”
That was Jamie Sterling’s analysis, as I chatted with him shortly after the Puerto Escondido Cup finished yesterday. In addition to being the nicest person on Oahu’s North Shore, Jamie is also a former big wave world champ, and was a competitor yesterday in Puerto (packing some oversized barrels, but coming up just short of advancing after getting blatantly stuffed on a bomb by a fellow competitor). In other words, Jamie has the credentials to make statements like that.
But you didn’t need to be an authority on big wave surfing to recognise that a new standard was set at the Puerto Escondido Cup. While the women have had a handful of heats at various big wave events over the past couple of years, most have been more about surviving than thriving (with the exception of Paige Alms, whose performances at Peahi are definitely on a level of their own).
But this event was different. In the space of an hour, the entire women’s field stepped up, and a number of them did so in a big way. Sure, everyone took beatings (especially Polly Ralda, who ended up in the hospital with a suspected knee injury), but that’s what happens when you are packing XL barrels—and the women were definitely packing.
The highlights of what Sterling called the best day in the history of women’s big wave surfing were a pair of tubes from local charger Isabelle Leonhardt and outspoken Bay Area standout Bianca Valenti. Isabelle ended up scoring a 9.5—the highest wave score of the event—while Bianca found a 9.0 and a solid backup score to win the first women’s big wave contest in Latin America.
“We got completely beat down on the paddleout,” said Valenti. “I was like, ‘Oh my dear goddess, am I even going to make it out to catch a wave?!’ And then I thought, ‘Wait, this is what I live for. Let’s go!!”
Valenti has arguably been the most vocal advocate for women’s big wave surfing over the past few years, not afraid to ruffle a few feathers in pursuit of equal opportunity for women. So it was only appropriate that she should deliver a performance today to back up her on-land campaign, and come away with the win.
“The ocean belongs to everyone. Diversity is strength and high performance, and science is the proof that backs up diversity. So people need to get on board or get left behind. Our major goals are equal opportunity, pay, and media exposure. Once those three goals have been met, we can really start exploring human potential, and get to the point where we can all play bigger! I’d love to see an opportunity where we can mix it up at the highest level and the craziest venues—an opportunity to compete in clean, contestable size at Nazare would be amazing!”
Speaking of competing at Nazare, you may recall that Lucas “Chumbo” Chianca won the last event of the 2017/18 Big Wave Tour at Portugal’s infamous, oversized wedge, qualifying for the 2018/19 tour and winning the Big Wave Awards’ Overall Performance award in the process. To say that Chianca is leading the charge for the new generation of big wave surfers is an XL understatement, and his performance at the Puerto Cup was further evidence of that.
In an event stacked not only with local talent, but also some of the biggest names in professional big wave surfing (Jamie Sterling, Jamie Mitchell, Pedro Calada, Will Skudin, Nic Lamb, Jojo Roper, and Rusty Long, just to name a few), Chianca comboed the entire field in the final, running away with the win after snagging a solid right and a long, run-out barrel on a left.
The 2018/19 Big Wave Tour doesn’t kick off for another five months, but if I were a betting man, I’d already have my money on Chumbo to win his first of what will surely be many big wave world titles this year.
Congratulations to all of the competitors, the local community, and event director/all-around legend Gary Linden for keeping the Puerto contest alive, and proving that you don’t need to be on tour to put on a great show.
1) Bianca Valenti
2) Isabelle Leonhardt
3) Keala Kenelly
4) Raquel Heckert
5) Emi Erickson
6) Polly Ralda
1) Lucas Chianca
2) Jimel Corzo
3) Angelo Lozano
4) Sasha Donnanno
5) Jafet Ramos
6) Jojo Roper