Red Bull Hosts a Surf Contest for Women in Hawaii. Several Big Wave Mothers are Sending it!
When you think of the word “Mother” you might not think of waves showing 30 feet on the faces and the women who ride them. But that is exactly what these big wave mothers are doing. And with $40,000 on the line, in the 2020-2021 Red Bull Magnitude Women’s big wave competition, some of Hawaii’s hardest charging moms will be paddling out.
Nobody is arguing that 2020 was a shit year. But one thing we can say is that it has certainly forced innovation. From Zoom happy hours to reverse parades (the floats are in yards and the spectators drive by), one thing is sure, the way we do life has been turned upside down. One more casualty of 2020 was the women’s big wave surf competition sponsored by Red Bull known as the Queen of the Bay.
The Queen of (Waimea) Bay has never actually run. Some have called it a contest on paper only, just to placate the women. Scheduled for October to November, the contest window doesn’t align well with the window for XXL swells on Oahu’s North Shore. For the last few years there has been a big opening ceremony with lots of big wave hell women hoping to finally gain recognition for being some of the hardest charging humans on the planet. Only to be let down when the contest doesn’t run… again. But this year the contest was canceled all together due to concerns over the CoronaVirus. But then Red Bull announced on it’s Queen of the Bay website:
“Red Bull is looking forward to bringing the esteemed event back to Hawaii in 2021 and, in the spirit of providing opportunity, producing a Hawaii-focused big-wave video contest this winter.”
Enter Red Bull Magnitude, a video only contest for women, running from December 1, 2020 until February 28, 2021. Entries will be accepted from any women surfing Jaws, Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach, and Oahu’s outer reefs. As long as the wave is 15 feet Hawaiian (30 foot faces), the entry will be considered. Forty thousand USD are up for grabs with the Overall Best Performance award winner taking home $25k.
The Big Wave Mothers
As a new mom with big wave ambitions myself, I was impressed when I looked at the list of contest invitees. At least eight out of eighteen women are mothers. As I breastfed my five-month-old, I clicked through each athlete’s bio, wishing I felt strong and confident enough to submit an entry myself. When I saw how many of them were also mothers I simply had to know how Hawaii’s hardest charging moms found time to balance family, work, and surfing big waves. So I sat down with a group of these ladies to talk story. A nice double overhead + swell was filling in at Sunset beach. The ladies rolled up in SUVs with big wave guns poking out the backs. I ordered a smoothie at the organic cafe across the street and lowered my mask as I took sips. It was actually one of the ladies’ partner’s who spoke first before I even had a chance to get the voice recorder going.
The Interview with the Big Wave Mothers
“Momo has the balance.” Said big wave surfing icon Derek Donner, referencing Momo Sakuma, mom of two, including one child with special needs. “She understands the order: first family, next work, then surfing. She doesn’t get that mixed up and so everything flows for her.” Then he added, “And boy she surf’s hard!”.
Momo Sakuma and Remi Nealson, Big Wave Mothers
That’s a big statement coming from a big wave founder like Donner. Remi Nealon, mom of three, agrees that it isn’t always easy to find support for what she is trying to do. “Someone told me once that my mouth is bigger than my skill.” But Donner disagrees, “These girls (Sakuma and Nealon) are smart. They know when to say no and when to go for it“. I asked Momo if she gets scared out there: “Well, I’ve built confidence over many years. Many times I have felt like I was going to die. But actually, it’s really hard to die”. I cracked up. Spoken like a true big wave surfer!
Prior to becoming a mother I had huge big wave ambitions. I thought they were incompatible with children. I assumed I would be trading riding giants for the gigantic joy of raising a human. But that isn’t the case for these women. They have found a way to have both. I was curious what motivated these women to surf big waves. Remi told me the story of getting her first shortboard as a teen. She hated it, saying with a laugh, “I was really bad at it!” . So she just kept trying the big boards that she found in her dad’s shed. In Hawaii, sheds are often filled with big wave boards, just waiting for the perfect swell to be ridden. She surfed all the waves on the North Shore until they would max out on XXL days. But when the swell was overloading most spots she still wanted to surf. Big wave Legend Lyle Carlson offered to loan her a board for Waimea and paddled out with her. She was hooked. “When was that?” I asked. Her response shocked me. “After I had my second baby“.
Momo Sakuma grew up in Tokyo as a swimmer. But each year she watched the Pipe Masters on TV and dreamed of one day getting barrelled on a surfboard. At the age of 20 she got her driver’s license specifically so that she would have a way to get a surfboard to the beach. As soon as she got on a board she was hooked. This was the early 90’s and she was one of only a handful of women who surfed in the area.
Finding Time to Surf and Train as a Big Wave Mother with Small Children
But how do these moms find time to surf? I had to know! Big wave charger and mom to a not-yet-one-year-old, Polly Ralda, hasn’t missed a swell since becoming pregnant. “I have a good schedule with my husband. We alternate with the baby. I usually surf early in the morning and then when I come home he goes to work.” Remi’s husband is a fisherman in Alaska so when he is home she has plenty of help. “But what if the other parent isn’t around?” I wonder aloud. Momo had the best response to this question, “Then I’m going to take my kids to The Bay!”. Then she turns to Remi, whose kids aren’t old enough to be left unattended and says, “If that happens to you then let us know”. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this sentiment. Polly Ralda and I have already discussed helping each other out watching the little ones so we can chase swells. Remi also says friends are a huge help. “You just make it work somehow”. I was reminded of what professional adventurer Debora Searle said when asked how she continued to adventure with children…. “No one ever asks the dads that.” Oh, yeah.
When I asked the ladies if they were worried that they might have to give up their big wave ambitions once becoming pregnant, they answered differently. Momo just knew in her heart, since she lived near the beach in Hawaii, there would always be time for surfing. She really only took a three month break before jumping back into her normal surfing routine. Remi and Polly were both hesitant however. Polly says: “Yes I was hesitant at first. But I kept surfing through all my pregnancy. I saw many other moms charging so I knew it’s all a mindset. Moms like Silvia Nabuco, Michaela Fregonese and Andrea Moller have proven it to me”. Remi didn’t plan her third pregnancy and was already well into her big wave journey when she became pregnant. The second year of the Queen of the Bay opening ceremony, she had a big pregnant belly. She worried she would have to put everything on hold. But now, two years later, those concerns seem insignificant. Remi told me, “I realized that if I wanted to be a good mom then I also needed to be able to do things by myself“. Big wave charger Brittnay Gomulka summed it up perfectly, “I knew my surfing life would change, and sure, the uncertainty caused some anxiety… but doesn’t all major life changes cause a bit of irrational fear?”.
Momo really hit the nail on the head when she said, “As a mom, you need to be smiling all the time. So surfing is the perfect sport for moms“.
All three veteran moms encourage me to just surf and not worry if the baby cries. As long as the baby is safe and being cared for, it is fine to leave him for a couple hours. Even if he gets upset, they remind me. “But….” I want to protest, my heart seems to break when I hear him screaming for me. “Yup, that’s normal with your first”. They assure me it gets easier. Polly adds something I resonate with. “I like to think that my baby chose me because of who I am. I am many things but I’m also a big wave surfer. No need to become a certain way because I am a mom now. My baby loved that I was a big wave surfer so I stayed true to myself during the whole process”. Polly’s baby has given her the time she needs to be out charging and working. My baby hasn’t been that easy, but that is actually exactly what I needed. I needed something to help me to slow down the pace of life and ground me for a while. And that is what I got.
But your surfing does change after you become a mother, the women assure me (what doesn’t?). “I’m definitely more cautious, my kids are always in the back of my mind” says Remi. Polly says her surfing has improved. “I usually have two hours to surf daily so I take them very seriously. Now I notice that big wave surfing is something I do for myself not to impress anyone. So I surf when I feel it and where I feel like surfing. The veil of pressure had been lifted. My goal of ‘just go for it’ changed to ‘let’s make this wave’”. I had a similar feeling when surfing while pregnant. And Brittany agreed, “My surfing has improved after becoming a mom. I think birthing a human has made me physically and mentally stronger.. not weaker”.
Surfing for Pictures and Prizes Versus Surfing for the Thrill of the High
Upon doing research for this story, I was surprised to find very little footage of some of the big wave mothers actually surfing. Even some of their own Instagram profiles were surprisingly bereft of waves. The reason quickly became clear. It’s not that these moms don’t send it, they just don’t care if anyone sees them doing it. “Sure it’s always nice to get a photo”, says Remi, “but I’d way rather avoid the crowds“. “I’m just in the competition to have fun,” chimes in Momo. One of the cool things about the Red Bull Magnitude competition is that the North Shore’s outer reefs are included as admissible big wave submissions. “Outer Reefs” are not really secret spots but they are definitely not traditional contest spots. As the name implies, they break way off shore, up to a mile out to sea, very hard for spectators and judges. Even if one felt like making the long paddle, some of these spots are only accessible by jet ski because there is no deep water channel. One of the amazing things about the Red Bull Magnitude contest is that not only are they sending in-water film crews to shoot the ladies at these outer reefs, they are also sending safety crews. So the humble big wave mothers of the competition might finally get the recognition they deserve. “A big wave surfing contest is a platform to compete with other surfers in which we push each other’s limits further and further to encourage progression in the sport”, stated Brittany.
Big Wave Mother’s Advice for Younger Women
I asked the ladies my favorite question to ask of successful, strong women: What would you tell your younger self if you could? Momo says, “Follow your heart, be good and enjoy your life.” No truer words were ever spoken. Remi responds similarly, “Don’t worry about what you think everyone else is saying or doing. Try to be yourself and be authentic. They have their own style and you have your own”. Oh how I wished I had heard those words when I was a teen.
Mothers or not, all the women are stoked for what a women’s big wave competition might mean for society as a whole. This competition “gives younger women hope,” says Remi. And Polly echoes the same sentiment, “Seeing a girl charge…it’s inspiring!”.
Well we are inspired ladies! We will be glued to our screens as we wait for each entry to post. Go send it Red Bull Ladies!