With a significant storm heading east across the Pacific, the WSL Women's Mavericks Challenge -- as well as the men's Mavericks Challenge -- is poised to run early next week, for the first time ever. According to Surfline's lead forecaster, Kevin Wallis, a 12-foot swell is building for Monday, January 15, with face sizes predicted to be in the 25 - 30-foot range. The biggest sets could reach up to 35 feet on the faces, although with lulls between them.
While contests have run at Mavericks since 1999, the Mavericks Challenge will be the inaugural women's contest at the famous break, which sits about 25 miles south of San Francisco, in North California. A six-person selection committee -- including one of the break's local pioneers, Savannah Shaughnessy -- came up with their picks for invitees and, while a few names may be familiar to passionate surf fans, others may be less so. Here's a quick primer on who will be paddling out when the Mavericks Women's Challenge gets a green light.
The two-time winner of the inaugural women's Big Wave Tour events, the Pe'ahi Challenge, Paige Alms is quickly becoming a household name in big-wave surfing circles. If becoming the first-ever women's BWT Champion in 2016 wasn't enough, her award-winning tube ride at Pe'ahi -- her home break, on Maui -- cemented her reputation as a leader of the women's big-wave movement. While Alms spends more time in water that's far warmer than that of Northern California, she also has the confidence of two previous event wins under her neoprene belt -- not to mention a close friendship with Mavericks regular Bianca Valenti, who has likely imparted some local wisdom.
From becoming the first woman ever to surf Tahiti's seething left-hand reef break, Teahupo'o, to being the first woman ever to win a Big Wave Award for Best Tube, there's not much ground that the Kauai-born surfer hasn't broken. Along with her surfing creds, which began with a career on the Championship Tour, Kennelly has also tried her hand in Hollywood, appearing on the HBO show John from Cincinnati and in Blue Crush. When she's not catching waves, she's DJing for packed dance floors. As a veteran of the big-wave terrain, too, look for her to charge when Mavericks kicks off.
A French surfer with a well-rounded resumé, for the past year Justine Dupont has focused primarily on upping her big-wave chops. Last winter, she and her boyfriend started spending their Northern Hemisphere chilly seasons in Nazaré, Portugal, to train on that port's mammoth waves. In October, Dupont was among the finalists at the second-ever Women's Pe'ahi Challenge, finishing third behind Kennelly and Alms. While Dupont may be less familiar with Mavericks than her American and Hawaiian counterparts, her comfort in cold water -- and thick wetsuits -- should help her cause.
A Santa Cruz local who cut her big-wave teeth at Mavericks, Bianca Valenti is not only intimately familiar with the break, but also something of a spokeswoman for women of the Big Wave Tour. Valenti got her first taste of the heavy stuff while surfing at San Francisco's infamous Ocean Beach, but quickly graduated to the realm of XXL at Half Moon Bay. She competed in the WSL's inaugural Women's Big Wave Tour events at Pe'ahi, making the Final at October's event. When she's not taking on massive Mavericks bombs, she's working at her family's restaurant. Given her local knowledge, Valenti will likely be a standout at the Mavericks Women's Challenge.
In 1999, Gerhardt became the first woman ever to surf Mavericks, and that pioneer status has stayed with her ever since. Now, nearly 20 years later, she is a mother of two and an instructor of chemistry at Monterey Peninsula College. But surfing big waves is still a deep love -- as is the trail that she has blazed. "Women surfing big waves has not peaked yet, and it's just going to get better and better and better," she told NPR in 2016. "And it kind of feels almost like closure, and that I can pass the torch on to that next generation who's coming after me." As the elder stateswoman of Mavericks, Gerhardt has nothing to prove, but everything to savor.
Emily Erickson has been said to have big-wave surfing in her genes. Her father was a charger on Oahu's North Shore before the family moved to the East Coast of the US, and her first surfboard was a 10'6" gun -- the type of oversized board designed specifically for taking on massive waves. After high school, Erickson moved back to Oahu and began her affair with big waves. Since then, she has carved a freesurfing career, waiting tables between big-wave sessions, and she competed in the inaugural WSL women's big-wave event, the 2016 Pe'ahi Women's Challenge. Despite the making the Final at that event, Erickson suffered a terrible injury, tearing several ligaments, among other injuries, and spent the rest of that winter recovering. This winter, though, she's back in action and, possibly, hungrier than ever to put on a show.