Women Up – It’s ON for women’s surfing

For the first time ever, women compete in the WSL/SOL’s Big Wave, Puerto Escondido Cup


On the same pivotal day that Saudi Arabia lifts the ban on woman driving, Six big wave women paddled out in Puerto Escondido, Mexico making their own leaps for gender equality. They charged down the face of massive waves on surfboards for the first time in competition, at Puerto Escondido. Known as one of the heaviest waves in the world.


In a historic decision, the World Surf League and Surf Open League allowed six women a heat of their own in the Puerto Escondido Cup, where waves reached heights of 30-foot faces.


Women Big Wave surf competition Puerto Escondido
Isabella Leonhardt going for a bomb to take second place


At a time in history when movements like Me Too and women’s marches are calling for massive change around equality and fair treatment for all, these six women stood on top of giants. They risked their lives, and put everything on the line in a call for women everywhere to WOMEN UP! And Women Up they did!


We’re all in this together. Women-up!

– 1st place winner, Bianca Valenti


The ladies surfed with such confidence and skill that event organiser Gary Linden is quoted in our video below saying that some of the women really stepped it up and some of the women would have gotten through in the men’s event. They didn’t have to change the judging scale at all, with all women judged them equally to the men.  He confirmed that this was the best event for the big wave women, yet!


I’m proud of all of the girls. I feel like we were just charging. I’m gonna sleep so good tonight!

– Keala Kennelly


We are thrilled to see the balance scales at a tipping point and congratulate the WSL and Open Surf League for taking a big step in the right direction. For this event, the event organiser Gary Linden put up his own money as prize money for the women, as well as confirming a premium Tequila brand The Bad Stuff Tequila to sponsor the future women’s big wave surfing events. We hope that next move in the direction of more sponsorship support for the women and more equal prize money. For this event, first place women took home $1,750 USD while first place men took home $7,000. Although the winning men would have surfed more heats due to the number of men competing, this discrepancy did not go unnoticed in the surfing community amongst men or women. Thank you Gary for being an absolute legend and true supporter of women’s surfing.


The risks are the same so why aren’t the prizes the same? I think we deserve it.

– Emily Erickson


Bianca Valenti wins Puerto Escondido big wave event
Bianca’s winning foamy barrel


The winners

1st place Bianca Valenti (USA)- $1,750

2nd place Isabelle Leonhardt (MEX) – $1,000

3rd place Keala Kennelly (USA) -$500

4th place Raquel Heckert (BRA) -$250

5th place Emily Erickson (USA) – $150

6th place Polly Ralda (GUT) – $100

Watch all the action:


Photo gallery from Puerto Escondido


Words & photos by Melanie Williams

Read more from Melanie including her hugely successful article on Overcoming the Fear of Wiping Out – In surfing and in life



What do you think about the big wave women surfing this event? Do you also think they should get equal pay as prize money to the men? How can we show out support?


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 www.melanielainewilliams.com


  1. Maybe we would have got our big wave comp earlier if we surfed with our asses out like Alana Blanchard?
    We got the vote 100yrs ago, but STILL don’t have equal pay?? Please fk off wsl.
    Oh and thanks to Alana Blanchard for single handedly destroying the image of female surfing, I hope the 2 mill was worth it🤑
    fking disgraceful 👎

    • It is frustrating but change is happening. The WSL just announced equal pay for women in surfing. Hopefully, along with tennis, volleyball and a small handful of other sports, that will help set a greater precedent for other codes to follow. As for Alana, yeah… she is a product of a fucked system but she definitely had a part in creating and fueling the fire of that system. There is a movie coming out called SHe Change that Sachi Cunningham is making about the change in women’s surfing, especially Big Wave. It will come out this winter. Make sure you check that out!
      Here’s the story on equal pay: https://www.stillstoked.com/feature/equal-pay-womens-surfing-wsl/


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