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Not Yet, Surfragette: Women Athletes Still Sidelined At Big-Wave Competition


Not Yet, Surfragette: Women Athletes Still Sidelined At Big-Wave Competition HALF MOON BAY, CALIFORNIA — Despite a regulatory requirement to develop a plan to include women surfers, the organizers of the iconic Mavericks big-wave surf competition – staged most years on a deadly section of coastline here — did not include any women in this year’s contest, which took place on Friday.

This year, Nic Lamb of Santa Cruz, CA, won the event — re-branded “Titans of Mavericks” by Cartel Management when it took over the event in 2014 — taking home the $30,000 first prize out of $120,00 in total prize money. Second place went to Travis Payne, of Pacifica, CA, and third to Greg Long of San Clemente, CA.

Not competing in the event was another Californian, Savannah Shaughnessy of Santa Cruz. She was the only woman invited to participate this year, but as the seventh on a list of ten alternates to the 24 men named to compete.

Shaughnessy was the second woman ever named as an alternate to the event — called “Men Who Ride Mountains” before the re-branding — over its 15-year history. The first was Sarah Gerhardt, reputedly the first woman ever to surf Mavericks, named an alternate in 2000 but also not activated. Both women still surf the renowned break on their own, along with several other big-wave women forced to set up their own version of Mavericks, an off-the-media-grid competition in remote Nelscott Reef, Oregon. Held only twice, the event has no name recognition in the adventure sports community and none of the history, public infrastructure, or commercial support of Mavericks.

By contrast, the Mavericks event is well-known in the adventure sports industry for its extreme technical difficulty and deadliness. Calm much of the year, the break is the product of a sudden and steep wedge-shaped rise in the ocean floor that slams into a pronounced point just half a mile off shore at the northern end of Half Moon Bay. In winter, large storms from as far away as the Gulf of Alaska send massive swells southwest; when they reach this section of coastline — only 30 miles south of San Francisco — they focus their energy up the wedge, resulting in waves that explode in a few seconds from out of the deep to heights of 30 to 50 feet.

These waves, which displace megatons of water as they crest and collapse beneath a surfer’s board, arrive in sets, with successive waves holding fallen surfers under the water for extended periods. Sections of these waves also crash directly into a football field sized maze of craggy rock, partly submerged and partly protruding, all around the point. Two surfers have died at Mavericks, one from a confirmed drowning and the other, whose body was never recovered, from a suspected drowning.

The inclusion of Shaughnessy this year and Gerhardt in 1999 as alternates for “Titans of Mavericks” is at odds with statements by organizers of the event who, in response to the demand by regulators in November, claimed that women surfers do not compete at a level sufficient for inclusion.

“At this point we haven’t seen that kind of performance,” Jeff Clark told the California Coastal Commission in November. As the local surfer credited with discovering and first surfing Maverick’s as a teenager, Clark is the founder and public face of the event.

Clark had been as clear on the subject in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle back in 2012. “We’re not there,” he said. “If in 10 years there are 10 or 12 women surfers who surf Mavericks, who knows?”  […]

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