While Titans of Mavericks, a big wave surf competition held Friday at the renowned break in Half Moon Bay, Cali., has seen crowds of over 100,000 in previous years, local government has warned event organizers that their future is in jeopardy. The California Coastal Commission will not issue permits in the future unless the event makes an effort to include women in the event.
The invite-only event has been held nine times since its inception in 1999, and a woman has never competed.
"Those arguments saying, 'there aren't enough women, they don't surf well enough,' they maybe used to hold true, but now, those excuses don't work anymore," said Bianca Valenti, who has been surfing Mavericks for eight years, according to CBS.
Titans of Mavericks is one of the most elite surf competitions. For it to occur, the weather criteria is simple: the waves must be huge. The 24 surfers who competed on Friday rode waves as high as 60 feet.
The event's organizers, Cartel Management, and the five male judges-known as Committee 5 faced criticism from community members and commissioners last November, as they believe the event has not made an adequate effort to include women.
The Coastal Commission upholds the Coastal Act, which mandates that beach access cannot be limited by gender. Cartel Management told Surfer Magazine that Sarah Gerhardt and Savannah Shaughnessy were on the long list of potential invitees but were cut in the end. Cartel also invited Gerhardt to join the selection committee, but she declined.
Jeff Clark, the event's founder and Committee 5 member, says that the event is open to anyone who can surf at that level. He says that the event judges have yet to see a woman with the skills to compete.
Grant Washburn, 48, has surfed in every competition held since it was founded, and he agrees with Clark.
"There is a huge difference between the top 24 who make it into the competition and the rest of the group," he told The Guardian. "The women are just not at that level yet. There are a lot of guys who belong on that list first."
Clark is also quick to draw attention to women's participation in other aspects of the event. Committee 5 invited a woman to be an alternate competitor for its first year and again this year. "We've had women judges, we've had women in our water patrol and water rescue," Clark said, according to CBS. Many, however, see these nominal examples as mere tokenism. "I think it was a publicity stunt," said Bianca Valenti, according to CBS.