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WSL Heritage: Sarah Gerhardt

The WSL Heritage Series will bring you monthly features on notable women in surf -- trailblazers, record-breakers and vanguard activists that have paved the way.

With help from Matt Warshaw at the Encyclopedia of Surfing, we're proud to share the stories of these outstanding women who have broken down barriers to shape a new norm. Pioneering a sport is never easy, and in 1999 Sarah Gerhardt became the first woman to surf Mavericks.

These are the shoulders we stand on.

Sarah at Mavericks Gerhardt at Mavericks WSL / Frank Quirarte

Big-wave rider from Santa Cruz, California, the first woman tow-in surfer and the first female stand-up surfer to ride Maverick's -- Gerhardt was born Sarah Livermore in 1974 in Port Townsend, Washington. She learned to surf in the late 1980s at Pismo Beach, California, but started riding waves of bigger consequence during her freshman year at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

During her second visit to Oahu's North Shore in the winter of 1995-1996, Gerhardt dated big-wave veteran Ken Bradshaw, who also served as her board maker and coach. On Thanksgiving day, Bradshaw took her out to ride 20-foot waves at Waimea Bay. A few weeks later she became the first woman tow-in surfer when Bradshaw launched her into some 15-foot outer-reef waves. Gerhardt and Bradshaw split later that year and two years later she married Malibu surfer Mike Gerhardt. The newlyweds moved to Santa Cruz, where she began a doctoral program in physical chemistry at University of California, Santa Cruz.

"Surfing Mavericks the first time was quite a shock," said Gerhardt. "I'd spent a lot of time on the North Shore of Oahu surfing outer reefs and had long paddle-outs and crazy conditions and surfed waves that were just as big. But Mavericks was meaner, it was definitely a lot colder and I think that made a big difference. It's dark and it's just mean."

Gerhardt paddled out twice at Maverick's without taking a wave (bodyboarder Sara Lucas broke the Maverick's gender barrier in 1994, catching a left-breaking 15-footer). Then on February 26, 1999, Gerhardt dropped in on her first wave at Mavs and was hooked.

"My third time out I was able to ride a wave successfully and almost every time since then," said Gerhardt. "But it's always kind of a shock, the fear never goes away, it's always terrifying."

'One Winter Story', a documentary on Gerhardt, came out in 2003. She was also featured in the 2001 photo book, 'Game Face: What Does a Female Athlete Look Like?'. Gerhardt was included as an alternate on the invite list for the 2000 Quiksilver Maverick's Men Who Ride Mountains competition. In her personal life, she and her husband have two children.

"Maverick's surfers are pushing the boundaries and living their lives to the fullest on every level and Mavericks just happens to be another level," continued Gerhardt. "Some of the women who have surfed out there are incredibly brave and a little bit insane but they're all chargers."

The Women's Mavericks Challenge window runs from November 1 through March 31.

During the Big Wave season window, the WSL Big Wave team is constantly monitoring an array of weather charts and tracking big storms crossing the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans with the help of our forecasting partner, Surfline.

The waves must be a consistent minimum 25-feet on the face of the wave throughout the entire time of competition. Wind, tide and the effects they have will play a part when making the call.

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