Pe'ahi Women's Challenge

Breaking Barriers With Paige Alms

Anna Dimond

Among big-wave aficionados, Paige Alms has been a household name for years, charging on the heaviest days at Pe'ahi, her local Maui break. But earlier this month, she made history on the world stage when she won the first-ever women's Big Wave Tour competition, the Pe'ahi Challenge. Because the event is, for the moment, the only one on the newly created women's Big Wave Tour, Alms also became the first-ever women's Big Wave Champion.

Alms Paddles into History
The Maui local caps off a historic day for women's surfing with a solid wave at Jaws.

Just over a week since the historic day at Pe'ahi, the new champ and local hero reflected on her win, the work that went into it, and what it will take to continue this momentum for women in big wave surfing.

WSL: Now that you've had a few days to process your win, how does it feel?
Paige Alms: It still feels surreal. I've been overwhelmed with all of the support from all around the world, but especially here at home. I can't go anywhere without bumping into someone who was watching the contest, it just feels insane. I feel like I won the contest for all of my friends and family, and for Maui, I'm so proud to have done it here.

Paige Alms Makes History
Hawaiian native Paige Alms made history on November 11 when she became the first woman to win the Pe'ahi Challenge.

What was the overall sentiment among you and the group of surfers who competed at the first BWT event for women?
The feeling was really special, it isn't very often that a big group of female big wave surfers gather together. I'm usually surfing out at Jaws with only one or two other women, so for sure it was so cool to have us all together.

This event was the first of its kind, so it felt more like a reason to get together and surf together, rather than a contest.

This event was the first of its kind, so it felt more like a reason to get together and surf together, rather than a contest.

Paige Alms during the Final of the Womens Peahi Challenge in Maui. Along with the heavy waves, the challenges of Pe'ahi -- also known as Jaws -- include the trade winds that make every drop that much harder. For Alms, the effect is a mix of surfing and flying. - WSL / Kelly Cestari

What message does the event send -- to the surfing community, including men and women, and fans?
Well, I hope it sent out a wave of inspiration to everyone. This was the first time we've had a chance to surf along side the men, and I think it showed that we deserve to be there. I was blown away by all of the support, especially from all of the male competitors. They were all posting photos of the girls charging, it was really awesome to have that support. I hope I inspired some kids to go after their goals and dreams.

What needs to happen next to continue that momentum for women's big-wave surfing?
My plan is to have a strong winter, hopefully the waves cooperate and we get a few big glassy swells here, and have some friends visit and share more time in the water.

I hope we will have more opportunities to have events, that is a huge thing for the women. Being able to have empty lineups and not have to battle 60 other guys, I think the sky is the limit.

I hope we will have more opportunities to have events, that is a huge thing for the women. Being able to have empty lineups and not have to battle 60 other guys, I think the sky is the limit and we will continue to push the limits. More opportunity, more sessions around the world, we will continue to get better and better.

Paige Alms during Round One of the Women's Pe'ahi Challenge. Local knowledge likely played a role in Paige's win. She, like the rest of the competitors, took some heavy falls during the event. But then there were gems like this. - WSL / Kelly Cestari

What is the scariest part -- and perhaps most challenging -- of surfing Jaws?
The wave itself is the most powerful wave I've ever experienced, but when you throw in Maui trade winds, it becomes a whole different sport. You're surfing big waves but you're also kind of flying.

I was blown away by all of the support, especially from all of the male competitors. They were all posting photos of the girls charging, it was really awesome to have that support!

What is the best, or most rewarding, part of surfing Jaws?
The best part of surfing Jaws is getting spit out of the barrel, or riding a really challenging wave and kicking out in the channel to all of your friends.

How do you prepare -- daily, weekly, or otherwise?
I spend four-to-five days a week in the gym, at Deep Relief Peak Performance, doing everything from strength, agility, cardio, etc. Working really hard in the gym gives me the confidence to push myself physically and mentally. And of course I try to surf everyday, as surfing is the best training there is.

Alms' Pe'ahi Barrel
The women's contest at Pe'ahi wasn't Alms' first achievement at the break. In 2014, she won a 2014 Big Wave Award for best Women's Performance in part for this heaving tube.

Who are your mentors, and what is your dynamic with them like?
Chris Vandervoort was my mentor as a young kid and teenager, and the person who took me out to paddle surf big waves for the first time. I look up to Greg [Long], Ian [Walsh], Jamie Mitchell, and Shane [Dorian] for their surfing, how they carry themselves out of the water, and how hard they train to do what they do. Rochelle Ballard and Keala Kennelly were two huge inspirations for me growing up, I'm lucky to call them friends.

My mom has been my number one fan from day one and has encouraged me to do anything I was passionate about. She was definitely very proud the Friday of the contest, that's for sure!

Last year, you were the subject of The Wave I Ride, a film about your journey in big-wave surfing, and in which both your mom and your boyfriend (and shaper) appeared. What role have they each played for you in your pursuit of big-wave surfing?
My mom has been my number one fan from day one and has encouraged me to do anything I was passionate about. She was definitely very proud the Friday of the contest, that's for sure. My boyfriend, Sean Ordonez, was out on the ski in the channel, where he is every time I surf Jaws watching over me. He had the biggest smile after the horn blew in the final, we won it together. He makes the best Jaws boards for everyone and I'm so stoked we get to share our dreams together.

Trailer: The Wave I Ride
The story of big-wave surfer Paige Alms, from director Devyn Bisson.

Kohl Christensen has compared big-wave surfing to backcountry snowboarding and skiing, because of the survival element, interdependence, and close-knit community. What role does your community play for you, and for women's big-wave surfing?
I don't think I would feel comfortable out at Jaws without our whole family out there watching over us. When someone goes down hard, everyone stops what they are doing and focus goes to that person. I'm so grateful to have friends and family that are some of the best watermen and water-women in the world, we are in good hands out there.

The next WSL women's contest is a Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour event, the Maui Women's Pro, which has a holding period from November 23 - December 5.

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