Bianca Valenti is a professional big wave surfer, gender equality activist, and the definition of a Badass!
The champion of various big wave events such as Big Wave Tour event in Nelscott Reef, Oregon, and most recently, the Puerto Escondido Cup, which included women for the first time in history. Bianca Valenti is not just charging the big waves, she’s making some big waves of her own. She is the co-founder of The Committee for Equity in Women Surfing and was instrumental in WSL’s decision to pay men and women equal prize money starting in 2019. She told us that this is her greatest achievement to date.
We are a representation of strength power and love. We show the world through riding big waves and going places that people have never been before that anything is possible.
Just days ago, the WSL big wave tour held the opening ceremonies for the Mavericks event to be held on the next big swell between Nov and March 2019, with first-place prize money around $25,000 for men and women. For the first time ever, women will be included in the event. Bianca Valenti, who Mavericks is her home break, couldn’t be more excited to compete. We sat down with her to get the lowdown on how she has risen to be such a voice and activist for women everywhere, and what she still wants to see happen.
The Bianca Valenti Interview
How old were you when you started surfing. Do you still remember the first wave you stood up on?
I begin surfing when I was seven years old. I love surfing more and more each and every day and I am constantly learning something new from being in the ocean. So I maintain that fresh feeling. Just like the first time I caught a wave at Doheny Beach when I went right, left, and right again. From that point on, that’s what I want to do with every surf, SURF.
We heard you were a longboarder until the age of 16th. Do you feel your background on longboards helped you with big wave surfing?
Yes, very much so. It helps to be comfortable riding big boards — because we ride big boards in big waves.
Have you ever had a moment where you thought you were going to die in the water?
I had a moment at Ocean Beach. When I paddled out it was big and offshore, and I had no idea how big it was going to be. As we paddled out all of a sudden, I saw a 20-foot wave in front of my friend Parker and I. It was about 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide.
I looked at Parker and he said, “well, see you on the other side.”
As I dove under the wave I was being thrashed like a ragdoll and spun around in every single direction. In fact, I had no idea which way was up. Then I opened my eyes, and I saw black. My foot touched the sand. I slowly took three strokes to get to the top. Right before I surfaced I thought, “if there’s another wave, I’m going to die because I am out of gas.” Luckily, when I surfaced there was not another wave! I was convulsing in my entire body and gasping for air.
When I saw Parker, I said: “I’m going in“. When I got back to land, I looked at those waves those big, beautiful, perfect waves with nobody out there, and I said, “I want to surf those waves! I know I can do it and I’m going to put in the training in the prep preparation to do whatever it takes to get me out there, and feeling strong.”
I knew all along that I could do it and it was a matter of preparation.
This was one of my foundational and transformational moments. There was also a moment where I watched one of my friends at UC Santa Barbara, get a gigantic 30-foot barrel. I was so excited, I started jumping up and down. So, I’ve always been attracted to the mystical energy that presents itself — big wave energy that is so powerful! It represents a world of possibility which is the world that I like to live in: actually exploring what is possible in the smartest and most tactical, safe, prepared, method.
We heard you were a tennis player in college. Did you ever have to make a decision, surfing or tennis?
I decided not to play tennis in college because I wanted to surf. I had to chose surfing over tennis, because to be a professional tennis player or even a division one collegiate tennis player, it requires hours and hours of dedication and training. I chose to put those hours into surfing because it’s my true love and passion. It felt great because I had more hours at the beach and wasn’t forcing myself to play a sport that I was good at, but didn’t love wholeheartedly like I do, surfing.
The first time I surfed Jaws I surfed with Kai Lenny and Kelly Slater. They were cheering me into amazing waves.
Have you ever had people tell you that you don’t belong out there? Does it ever shake your confidence?
Yes, I have been warned and cautioned my entire life. At various breaks, and various styles of waves. There are definitely moments that have ruffled my feathers. But I have also had many moments with some of the best surfers and most influential people in the world, cheering and encouraging me through example.
The first time I surfed Jaws I surfed with Kai Lenny and Kelly Slater. They were cheering me into amazing waves. Those are the moments that I choose to hold onto and to drive me forward to go places that I believe I can go.
We saw some pretty nasty comments on the video of you nailing that bomb last month in Puerto. Stuff like, “Women should just stay in the kitchen.” Why do you think people feel so threatened by what you do?
My take on people who say negative or mean things is, that they are probably suffering. I choose to mostly, not read the comments because, I am clear about my vision and my purpose. I don’t do it for anybody else except for myself, and to create positive change for the future girls and boys.
You’re an activist. Leading the charge for equality in women’s surfing, specifically in the big waves. What are some of your proudest accomplishments and what do you still want to see happen?
My proudest accomplishment to date is creating The Committee for Equity in Women Surfing which leveraged equal pay for women to compete at Mavericks and thereby influence the World Surf League to implement pay equality through the entire organization.
We owe a lot of thanks to the State of California for supporting us in this liberal and progressive movement. Also, a big thank you to the WSL for deciding to be a leader in pay equity, in sports. I think that true equality will come once boys and girls, and women and men, have equal pay equal, corporate sponsorship, equal opportunity in high-profile events, and equal media exposure.
Do you ever get burnt out on surfing? Do you ever feel relief when the swell ends? Do you ever see big waves predicted in the forecast and some part of you gets so anxious you almost wish it doesn’t get too big?
I get burnt out on surfing small waves, or just bored. I am always ready and excited for a big day and I wish we had more opportunities to surf big waves all the time. The only way that that can happen is by having more resources to chase swells around the globe.
Fear is natural. It’s up to you how you handle it.
What do you say to girls who are trying to improve their surfing but often miss waves because of fear?
Never give up. Keep trying. Keep preparing. Train hard. Work hard. Take safety courses. Take freediving courses. Get a sports psychologist. That’s it. Fear is natural. It’s up to you how you handle it.
You seem to always be in a good mood and have very little ego about what you do. What kind of mental training do you do to stay so even-keeled?
I wake up every morning and give thanks for being alive and for being blessed with health and opportunity. I intentionally try to feel good and do things that make me feel good, like surfing big waves, surfing every day, and doing as much good as I can. I really believe that we can control our feelings, and that our perception is our reality. So you get to decide how you perceive your reality.
What does the ocean give you, that keeps you coming back every day?
The ocean space gives me joy, euphoria, and bliss. The ocean humbles me every single day. The Ocean gives me a constant adventure that is never the same. I love it to infinity. So I always come back. I know, even in the worst conditions going out, the ocean improves the quality of my life.
We still need more support. Male and female big wave surfers are mostly working three or four jobs, just like me, to support our surfing.
You just had the opening ceremony for the Mavericks Challenge. What was this moment like for you after you fought so hard for the inclusion of women?
It was a really great ceremony. It felt normal. Like a normal contest. I’ve been surfing in contests all my life, and they always pretty much, have men and women. So it was really, really fun and I’m so glad that now everybody is focusing on having the best possible event ever. We still need more support. Male and female big wave surfers are mostly working three or four jobs, just like me, to support our surfing. So that’s where we’re at right now. It’s an exciting time. We still need more support in order to fully focus on performing.
We represent the idea that women are amazing and capable of doing anything and being anything. There are no limits to our awesomeness.
How do you see female big wave surfing fitting into the larger conversation about gender equality and women’s rights?
We are a representation of strength power and love. We show the world through riding big waves and going places that people have never been before, that anything is possible. That as risk tacticians and technicians, we employ strategies that are responsible and are ready to be held accountable. Therefore, I believe we represent the idea that women are amazing and capable of doing anything, and being anything. There are no limits to our awesomeness.
Well Bianca, if anyone represents that idea, it is you! Thanks for being a massive inspiration to both surfers and non-surfer alike. Keep on charging into the unknown! Bianca is part of a documentary on women’s Big Wave surfing and the journey that they have been on to date, being made by her good friend and award-winning film-maker, Sachi Cunningham (check out our interview with Sachi, she is incredible).
The movie is called She Change and is due for release in 2019. Please show this project some support and follow their updates. If you can, donate by buying the girls a virtual beer or coffee, to help get this incredible story told. They are raising $365,000 to complete production by December 31, 2018. Support SheChange to document this monumental point in women’s big wave history!
Watch the She Change trailer