The Puerto Escondido Cup 2019 

Conditions for The Big Wave Competition Were “Way Better than Jaws” Says Keala Kennelly. 


On July 15, 2019,  Six women and twenty-four men took on massive barreling waves in the 2019 Puerto Escondido Cup, part of the Surf Open League.



“I felt Strong. I felt really playful out there!” Says second-place finisher Emi Erickson of Hawaii. “Jaws was survival conditions. This was big and gnarly and I felt good!” Her stoke was evident in her demeanor all morning. Two years ago Emi suffered a devastating knee injury at Jaws where she tore all three major ligaments right off the bone. This was only her third contest since then, and only her second time riding a quad. 


Emi Erickson
Emi Erickson of Hawaii


Raquel Heckart, 4th Place finisher broke her board with eight minutes to go in the final. “I was getting sets on the head over and over. I didn’t even have time to pull my board up on the jet ski.” Conditions heavy enough to break 9-foot surfboards with a super heavy glass jobs merit major respect for these brave competitors. 


Read our exclusive interview with this totally inspiring unsponsored big wave charger, Raquel.


Raquel Heckart
Raquel Heckart of Brazil doing her classic backside barrel attack.


All of the women got multiple opportunities to ride massive waves during the one-hour final. Sadly, Michaela Fregonese suffered a deep laceration to her abdomen when she collided with the board of Leonhardt. She was released from the hospital after one night and is expected to make a full recovery.


Michaela Fregonese
Michaela Fregonese with Puerto Escondido’s fast-acting lifeguards.


Results for the Men’s and Women’s Final:

1. Bianca Valenti (USA) 
2. Emily Erickson (HAW) 
3. Isabelle Leonhardt (MEX) 
4. Raquel Heckert (BRA) 
5. Keala Kennelly (HAW) 
6. Michaela Fregonese (BRA) 

1. Billy Kemper (HAW)
2. Gabriel Villaran (PER)
3. Marcial Monreal (MEX)
4. Jafet Ramos (MEX)
5. Cesar Petroni (MEX)
6. Cristian Merello (CHI)


Puerto Escondido Cup 2019


Also noteworthy is that three local Mexican men passed through to the final round, making for a very proud hometown. The Mexican state of Oaxaca was very proud to be a major sponsor for this event. Oaxaca is not only home of “Mexican Pipeline” but also over a dozen sand bottom point breaks. 


Check out our complete guide for surfing Puerto Escondido for all ability levels


Equal Pay

The Puerto Escondido Cup is a part of the Surf Open League rather than the WSL. Therefore equal pay is not required. When the contest was first announced, the women were set to receive about 1/3 the prize money as the men. 

Bianca and Keala have been fighting for equal pay for years now. “We love coming to Puerto,” Says big wave world champion Keala Kennelly. “Last year Gary (Linden) was so rad, he put up his own money. But my ticket was $1100. When I got third I got $500. I went home $600 in the red.”


Billy Kemper And Keala Kennelly World Champions
Billy Kemper and Keala Kennelly, follow big wave world champions.


Raquel Heckart found herself in a similar predicament this year with airfare from Brazil costing her $1,000 one way. The event was sponsored in part by Hotel Selina which provided two nights accommodations for the competitors. But arriving to the event a day in advance leaves no time for the competitors to warm up and feel confident in the heavy beach break conditions. It isn’t practical or safe. Paying for hotels, airfare, and meals, out of pocket for these unsponsored competitors, is nearly impossible. Raquel turned to crowdfunding to raise money just to attend the event.


Raquel Heckart
Raquel Heckart double checks her fins before heading out to charge. Unfortunately her board snapped during competition.



Keala noted “Some of the girls were thinking they were going to shine the contest. So I came up with the idea to crowdfund the contest and Bianca pulled the trigger. The people have spoken, they want to see equal pay.”

It took just over 48 hours to raise over $9,000 for equal pay. The campaign actually reached $12,405, well over the goal. After paying taxes and fees, the women were able to contribute $200 to each of the six men’s finalists as well as buy some equipment for the lifeguards. Something they were happy to do because raising the prize purse for the women, meant taking money away from the men, something no one wants to see. 

Bianca And Keala
Bianca and Keala


“I believe equality is a great thing, I don’t know why it’s so hard for people to grasp.” Says Emi Erickson, but she also understands that change takes time. “I also believe in the old school way of doing things. Show up and be present and keep doing a good job. Don’t focus so hard on the money problems. I focus a lot on other things.” And it shows in her surfing which earned her second place.


Emi Erickson
Emi Erickson


The most meaningful moments in this campaign have been hearing from the female competitors in Latin American on how meaningful it would be and what a deeply symbolic moment for Latin America to see a female and male earn a dollar to dollar equal pay check”

Bianca Valenti, 2019 Puerto Escondido Cup Champion


An Historic Moment for Latin America

Equal pay in Mexico is a huge leap forward. Third Place finisher Isabelle Leonhart,  a doctor and the only Mexican woman to compete in the event had this to say:

I want every woman and man, every boy and girl in this country to be a witness to this. To be aware of it, because it will initiate a change of thinking in their minds: an eye-opener to what is possible. This shall be a spark plug to a chain reaction we really need in our society. It will encourage women to appreciate the value of their work, the value of their daily efforts and strengthen their self esteem. It will open young girls minds to pursue their dreams, work hard and invest in their future, because they can believe that they WILL be rewarded; according to achievements and not gender.”

-Isabelle Leonhardt, Mexican Big Wave Surfer and Third Place Finisher


Moving Forward

Keala says next year she’d like to see a bigger sponsor come in and support equal pay. She says this year’s crowdfunding campaign was more of a social experiment. Clearly, it worked. The support is there for women’s big wave surfing and equal pay. A smart CEO will jump on board as a larger sponsor. 


Raquel Heckart and Keala Kennelly
Raquel Heckart and Keala Kennelly


“For us it’s not about the money. We want little girls to know they are just as good as boys and that women can have the same opportunities as men. We are trying to set a presidence in the world.” Parting words from Kennelly on the podium. 

Check out all the photos from the very successful event.


I am a writer and wanna-be big wave surfer. Surfing is my muse. I write about it and how it’s teaching me to live better. I hold certification as a nutritionist, personal trainer, yoga instructor, and lifeguard instructor. My story “100 Days in Mexico” of how a solo road trip surfing my way through Mexico changed my life can be found here


  1. Before the event, when Valenti heard the news that she would be invited to defend her title, she noticed there was a disparity between the women s prize money and the men s (the men’s winner was to receive $7,000 and the women’s winner only $2,500). Over the past few years, Valenti and the Committee for Equity in Women s Surfing (which she helped establish) have been tirelessly advocating for equal pay for men and women in competitive surfing and likely had a huge impact on the WSL s decision to enact equal pay across the board last year. So after seeing the prize purse for the 2019 Puerto Escondido Cup, she knew she had to do something.


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