This time last year, six women made history when they paddled out for the first-ever WSL women's big-wave event, the Pe'ahi Women's Challenge, on Maui. This week, they'll be back again to charge 40-foot-faces and blaze a trail at the 2017 edition of the event.
The invitees for the 2017/18 BWT Women's Pe'ahi Challenge include Paige Alms, Justine Dupont, Andrea Moller, Keala Kennelly, Felicity Palmateer and Bianca Valenti. The alternates include Emily Erickson, Nicole Pacelli and Championship Tour surfer Laura Enever. Before they paddle out, here's a rundown of who they are and what they bring to the lineup.
A Maui local, Alms won last year's inaugural event and the first-ever women's Big Wave Tour Title along with it. She's also won a Women's Performance of the Year Award at the BIg Wave Awards -- the Oscars of big-wave surfing -- and garnered wider fame with the 2015 documentary, The Wave I Ride. Considering her local knowledge and domination of the field at Jaws so far, Alms is the favorite to win over a stacked field of chargers.
The French surfer is something of a renaissance woman when it comes to competition. Traditionally, she has focused her competitive efforts in mortal-sized waves on the Qualifying Series, on which she's ranked No. 51, and the Longboard Tour, on which she's ranked No. 2 in Europe. In recent years, however, she's answered the call of the wild, opting for swell-chasing, jet skis and giants over grinding out wins in small-scale surf. At the first Pe'ahi Women's Challenge, she finished in second place.
Originally from São Paulo, Brazil, Moller answered a call of her own and moved to Maui in her late teens. Since then, she's not only become a distinguished waterwoman, competing in SUP races as well as surfing the biggest days at Jaws, but also works full-time as an EMT. Add to that a teenage daughter, and Moller has her hands full. Still, in a WSL interview she credited her daughter with teaching her time management to be a better athlete, mother and more. Back from injury in 2016, look for her to match Alms' local knowledge and hard charging.
For anyone who has been following professional surfing in the past two decades, Kennelly has been a no-holds-barred pioneer in every way. Credited as the first woman to surf Teahupo'o, Tahiti's treacherous wave, the Kauai native was also the first woman to win a Big Wave Award in the tube category -- traditionally dominated by men -- for a gut-wrenching wave at that very spot. After retiring from the Championship Tour, she tried her hand in Hollywood, starring in an HBO show and making an appearance in Blue Crush, but more recently has focused on her biggest love: big waves.
The cousin of former CT surfer Josh Palmateer, Felicity is following in the family footsteps -- er, paddles. While Palmateer does throw her hat in the ring on the QS, she's made her career more as a freesurfer and model, with drool-inducing trips splashed across her Instagram. Don't mistake her turn as a fashion icon, however, for anything less than committed in the heavy stuff. In 2015 she became the first woman to tackle the infamous Cow Bombie, the remote offshore reef near Margaret River, and is the only woman to have received a nomination in the Australian Surfing Awards' Heavy Water category. In 2016, she surfed as a wildcard at the women's Margaret River CT event, despite an injury, and finished third in last year's Pe'ahi Final, proving her mettle in Maui's biggest waves.
Something of a Mavericks specialist, Valenti started her career in the kid's stuff of SoCal beach breaks and longboard events. When she moved from Santa Barbara to San Francisco, however, her surfing took a turn for the massive. A serious pounding at Ocean Beach was all it took, and she was hooked. Since then, Valenti has won a handful of big-wave exhibition events, and has slowly raised her profile in the milieu, despite a lack of sponsors. She doesn't know Jaws as well as Alms or Moller, but is a consistent charger who's in it to win it.
2017/18 BWT Women's Pe'ahi Challenge:
Invitees: Paige Alms, Justine Dupont, Andrea Moller, Keala Kennelly, Felicity Palmateer, Bianca Valenti
Alternates: Emily Erickson, Nicole Pacelli, Laura Enever