waimea bay women

Female surfers at the opening ceremony. 

Photo By Gabriella Delgado/Women’s Waimea Bay Championship

Female big-wave surfers make history at Waimea Bay

Queen of the Bay is the first-ever women’s-only big-wave event at Oahu's Waimea Bay.

Female big-wave surfers finally secured an event, the Queen of the Bay, at Oahu’s iconic XXL surf spot, Waimea Bay. This is but one of many changes in the arena of big-wave surfing, a predominantly male sport. Now accompanying the Peahi Big Wave Challenge is the Women’s Peahi Challenge. The same treatment will be applied to the newest addition to the big wave professional tour, Mavericks.

The Queen of the Bay event, sponsored by Red Bull, brought down a cast of big-wave chargers, including Paige Alms and Keala Kennelly this October and November. Though the contest didn’t run because waves of 35 to 40 feet didn’t make an appearance, the event, which is the first-ever women’s-only big-wave event at Waimea Bay, still serves as a step forward for female big-wave surfers.

Betty Depolito, co-organizer of the Queen of the Bay and noted big-wave surfer, has been on the forefront of this battle for equality. “I’ve been on the North Shore doing contests for a lot of years.” Depolito says. “There are no pro events for the girls except the Wahine Pipe Pro, and now they’re doing some out of Turtle Bay, but we need more.” 

The biggest challenge that faced the Queen of the Bay contest was the acquisition of a permit. “There’s a rule that says there can only be one big-wave event in the whole winter period; that’s not fair to anybody else.” says Depolito. “So we went to the mayor’s office and talked to them and they agreed with us and they worked it out and gave us a permit, but it took them awhile.”

“I did have permits before but it was like, a week in April and a week in March.” Depolito adds. Swells on the North Shore in both April and March rarely produce wave heights near the needed requirement for a big-wave contest. “Why are they giving me these permits? It’s like a slap in the face.” But things are looking up now, as Red Bull picked up the event as a major sponsor.

“It’s gonna be bigger and better,” Depolito says about plans for next year. “I’ve already applied for the same waiting period because it didn’t conflict with anybody else.” The local community also banded together to sponsor this groundbreaking contest, with names such as Pakaloha Bikinis, Surf ‘N’ Sea and Chronic appearing on posters.

The contest honors Queen Kaahumanu, favorite wife of King Kamehameha I and a powerful political figure during her lifetime. Kaahumanu broke kapu (an ancient Hawaiian code of conduct) by sitting to eat with the king and redefined the roles of Hawaiian women. And now we see history repeating itself, with these powerful women sitting in the same lineups as men, catching the same monstrous waves and now competing in the same locations. When asked about future steps for women’s big-wave surfing, Depolito’s response is simple: “Surf in some big waves and keep it moving.”

Next year’s contest takes place Oct. 1–Nov. 21, 2018. For more information, visit waimeabaychampionship.com and redbull.com/us-en/events/queen-of-the-bay.