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Big-Wave Surfer Bianca Valenti - High Fives

Bianca Valenti might not strike you as one of the best female surfers in the world. She’s not covered in sponsor logos and her muscles don’t ripple like Laird Hamilton’s. But she charges, in and out of the water.

Valenti is one of few women to surf cold water big waves like Mavericks and the winter swells of San Francisco’s Ocean Beach. Her latest performance at Oregon’s Nelscott Reef landed her at the top of the Big Wave World Tour’s women’s trial heat. While the men continue around the world on the tour, Valenti is pushing the Association of Surfing Professionals to include women in more events.

She took a minute to speak with Teton Gravity Research from her home in San Francisco.

What are you up to this summer?

We just had some pretty good south swell up here. It was decent size, but I would’ve loved to go down to Mexico for it. I am training here for a small wave contest in August. It’s a WQS 6-star. And I’m working at my family restaurant we just opened.

What’s training like for you?

For training I do a lot of different stuff, from cardiovascular exercises to dynamic activities. I work out with these guys that used to train the Oracle sailing team. They’re called Foundry Performance. Basically, they keep it always changing and always intense, always out of your comfort zone. We’re in the pool, mountain biking, surfing, in the gym-everywhere.

You’ve been surfing for so long and you’ve been a professional for many years, competing on long boards and short boards. When did you start getting into big waves?

In 2007, right after I graduated college. I think as your skill level improves, you start to need a little more and a little more to get that rush feeling. It takes more and more to challenge yourself in the water.

I would just paddle out and be super scared. Then, the conditions that scared me became not so scary. All of sudden you’re at Maverick’s going, “holy shit!” I love that adrenaline rush and feeling of being out of your comfort zone. I love questioning whether or not I can do something and then proving to myself that I can.

I would just paddle out and be super scared. Then, the conditions that scared me became not so scary. All of sudden you’re at Maverick’s going, “holy shit!” I love that adrenaline rush and feeling of being out of your comfort zone. I love questioning whether or not I can do something and then proving to myself that I can.

You sure had a big win in Oregon. Can you talk about that contest a little bit?

It was super cool. We got the invitation in November. That was when the waiting period started. There were 16 women invited. You never know when it’s going to run. There’s a 3-month window when they can run it. We were wondering if it was even going to run. With one week left, that swell just showed up.

They give you a yellow light signal about 4 days ahead of time. Once it’s a green light you have three days to get up there.

How were the waves?

For the big wave events to run, it has to be a minimum of 30-foot faces. The night before I was a little nervous-I’d never surfed up there before. I just didn’t know what to expect from the spot.

When we woke up in the morning, it looked absolutely perfect. Just nice big clean waves, but not too big. I was just coming off a knee injury, so I didn’t feel any pressure. I just wanted to get a few big clean rides.

We were so lucky. We got to surf in the first hour. It was so picturesque, just perfect peaks with about 30 foot faces. As the day went on, it got really windy and the tide dropped out. By the time it was finals for the men, it was pretty gnarly.

So that was kind of a women’s trial for the Big Wave World Tour, right?

Ya, it sort of was-it was a super heat. There were eight women in there. A typical heat will have six. Because there are not enough women for a full day of competition, they just run a super heat. So it’s one hour with eight of us.

Now the ASP has taken over the Big Wave World Tour. They just ran the Peru Pico Alto contest and I thought we would’ve done really well there too. I won the (Oregon) contest, but I hope it was a success on behalf of all big wave women. But they haven’t invited us to any other events. To me, it seems silly. I think they should keep the momentum going. They already have all the events organized; all we’re asking for is an extra hour of the day. The response I got most recently is that they’re working forward and moving in our direction, but please be patient. They said it was really complicated. I think it’s not that complicated, but when you’re starting something new and there’s just one more thing on the list, it can be overwhelming.

Why do you think women are not included?

I think the real reason is that it’s run by men. I really respect and look up to Gary Lindon and Peter Mel. But I don’t see any other reason. They don’t put the same value on us as they do the men.

All my life since I was a little girl surfing, I’ve always been one of the only women out. Surfing is just hugely male dominated; it can intimidating for a women just to start surfing.

I think the real reason [there aren't more big-wave contests for women] is that it’s run by men. I really respect and look up to Gary Lindon and Peter Mel. But I don’t see any other reason. They don’t put the same value on us as they do the men.

When you get into those bigger, more challenging waves, it is, by and large, all guys. One of my dreams is that 25 years from now, it won’t be all guys. The big wave guys have great energy and I love them, but it would be nice to have more women.

It seems women’s surfing has progressed in the last few years. What do you think of where it’s at today?

I am so pumped up for the level of surfing right now. The pay, the sponsorships and the media exposure have a long way to go to catch up to the men. But the level of surfing is starting to compete.

When you watch women on the tour, it’s really entertaining and it’s fun to watch. It’s kind of like men’s and women’s tennis. There’s a different style and grace and flow that’s just easy on the eyes. The men are more radical and aggressive. That’s cool too, but still half the population is women.

Do you think we’re going to see more women in big waves?

We already are seeing it. There was a pretty big swell at Teahupo’o last month. I saw Frankie Harrer, a 17-year-old from Malibu, get a giant tube. I was super impressed. The Hawaiian girls have the opportunity to surf big waves a lot. That encourages other women to do it. It’s exciting and fun, and I think we’re already seeing more women and I think we’ll keep seeing even more women.

Do injuries scare you?

It’s definitely scary. There’s always going to be injuries in sports. Especially in big waves, you want to keep a positive mind. If you envision the best-case scenario, you have a better chance of manifesting that. Even if you’re envisioning the best, shit will happen. But…

What are your favorite waves in the world?

Definitely Backdoor Pipeline. And Ocean Beach here in San Francisco. Those are probably my top two favorites.

Are there waves you haven’t surfed that you’d like to?

Oh yeah, there’s a lot. I’m dying to surf Cloud Break in Tavarua. I’m dying to get down to South Africa and surf big waves down there. There are a lot of big waves spots that I want to surf like Pico Alto, Dungeons and Jaws. If I had sponsors and money to travel, I would be doing it. That’s what I’m working on right now.

What are some of your other goals?

We’re making a documentary film called It Ain’t Pretty that’s about women who surf Ocean Beach. What has happened is that the community of women who surf Ocean Beach has really come together. I think it helps and it's encouraging for more women to say, "Hey-I can do that and get on that board!"

I think it would be really satisfying to help women move forward and get paid more and get more sponsors. That could be a direction I go in, training and coaching, being an agent and a mentor. Having struggled to find sponsor support and having a hard time living as just a professional athlete, it’s something I’m passionate about.

Are you pushing to make the world tour?

I’m not really pushing. But every once in a while I like to enter an event and see how it goes. That’s what I’m going to do in Oceanside in August. But I like the big wave energy and the big wave female competitors. We’re also kind of all in the same age range. We’re not teenagers. To get to surf more big waves with other women is my biggest goal.

From The Column: High Fives

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