Keala Kennelly Interview: The Women to Finally go at Pipeline and More?

Jason Lock

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Updated 22d ago

This resolution has been years, decades in the making. But last week, Honolulu City Council voted to improve gender equity in surfing competitions, a move that could see the women finally compete at the likes of Pipe and more.

Members of the council were 'shocked' to learn that some surfing competitions only have a men's division. So, on Wednesday, they unanimously voted to urge the city and state to adopt new rules on permits issued to contest promoters that will ensure gender equality on all surfing competitions on the North Shore.

Did you know one of the last women events in the big leagues was back in 2010? Not including the Pipe invitational in 2015 with only four competitors. At the meeting, a cast of your favourite big wave surfers turned out to lend their support to the resolution including Keala Kennelly and Bianca Valenti. This fresh perspective could now see the women get their own divisions at some of the most prominent competitions in surfing.

Forecast: Pipeline

In light of the decision, we tapped up Keala to get her opinions on the situation. Kennelly, along with Valenti, Paige Alms and Andrea Moller started the group, 'Committee for Equity in Women's Surfing' and have been campaigning for equality across the surf industry for years. And could this set the precedent for more locales, could we see KK at Chopes, like the cover image above? Here's what Keala had to say.

CEWS: The women paving the way for equality, Bianca Valenti, Keala Kennelly, Andrea Moller and Paige Alms.

CEWS: The women paving the way for equality, Bianca Valenti, Keala Kennelly, Andrea Moller and Paige Alms.

Firstly, the decision was made to help promote gender equity in female surfing – basically promoters will be urged to include women in competitions on the North Shore. So, does this mean a women’s Pipe event is on the cards?
KK: I think so. I think that women are capable of surfing Pipe and if they are actually given a chance I think they will impress everyone, and themselves.
 
Ok, that would be incredible. The ink's just drying on this resolution from the city of Honolulu right now, but what’s next?
Next is getting women on the Mayor's Surf advisory committee. 20-12 [the resolution that was passed] stipulates that the committee needs to have female representation.
That committee has been made up of only men since its inception and for some reason they have excluded the women in every single event on the North Shore for years.
 
This has been some time in the making, what do you think has taken decision makers this long to get up to date?
I think they were simply not aware that this was going on. The council members (especially the women) were absolutely shocked that this was happening and that this kind of gender discrimination was still continuing here in Hawaii in 2020.

That’s a full 50 years after Patsy Mink introduced Title 9 legislation that was made into Federal Law to end gender discrimination in this country. Every winter season, I keep waiting to see the return of the women’s triple crown of Surfing on the North Shore or a professional surfing contest period.

The men have 5 qualifying events on the North Shore this winter season; the women have zero. So, what this means in layman’s terms is that if you are an aspiring pro surfer, who wants to qualify for the professional circuit and you are a male, the opportunities are here for you. If you are a female, however, you will need to travel to qualifying events in foreign countries at your own expense. The men have 5 qualifying events on the North Shore this winter season; the women have zero. So, what this means in layman’s terms is that if you are an aspiring pro surfer, who wants to qualify for the professional circuit and you are a male, the opportunities are here for you

So unless their parents are very wealthy, female surfers in Hawaii will have to recalibrate their dreams to match the opportunities they have here, which is none.

Hawaii is the birthplace of surfing and the North Shore is referred to as the Mecca of surfing. So why are we forcing our female athletes to travel to foreign lands to compete?

I consider this to be a travesty. I also consider this to be gender-based discrimination which goes against our Hawaii State Constitution and federal law. So rather than wait another decade for WSL and the event sponsors to do the right thing and have WQS events for women on the North Shore again, Community for Equity in Women's Surfing (CEWS) and a few other women decided it was time to have our elected officials remind everyone what the law is. 


 
Where would be your ideal spot to host a competition?
The women used to have a Hawaii Triple Crown of Surfing (same as the Men). They didn’t start crowning a Triple Crown Champion for women until 1997, although women were competing alongside the men’s triple crown events at Haleiwa and Sunset as far back as 1990 maybe further back than that but that was as far back as I could trace.

And actually, if you search past Triple Crown champions, only the past men’s champions can be found. It’s like that part of history has been erased.

When  I began doing pro events to try to qualify for the WCT we had events at Haleiwa and Sunset. I won the Hawaii Triple Crown of Surfing in 2003 competing at Haleiwa and Sunset same as the men (the only difference was the last event; the men have the Pipe Masters and the Women have Honolua.

So your readers are probably wondering what happened to the Women’s Triple Crown of Surfing?

Well the sport of surfing grew. There are way more competitors now (both male and female) and the number of competition days allocated for each permit did not grow. In order to make room for the growing number of male competitors the women’s events got eliminated entirely.

The women have not been part of the Triple Crown of Surfing on the North Shore since 2010. That’s an entire decade of exclusion.

That's seems insane and rightfully called out. So, with this resolution it's a right step forward, but as with most things, there’s lots more to do, what can people do to help?
When they have men’s QS events on the North Shore and don’t include the women; ask the event organisers...why?

When they start having women’s events on the North Shore again come watch and cheer the women on. Watch the women’s heats on the live webcasts so we can get our viewer numbers up.

If you own a business consider sponsoring the women’s events. When women are given more opportunities to succeed in life it lifts us up as a society. I could go on a whole social/economic tangent with that... but I’ll save that for another article. 

Cover shot; Keala at Chopes by Raihei Tapeta.