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Trailblazing women share their surfing journey to The Eddie

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Stephanie Han
From left to right: Emily Erickson, Paige Alms, Andrea Moller and Makani Adric

Six women made history this year by competing in The Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational. The surfers paddled out alongside the men for the first time in the contest’s 39-year history.

At a recent ceremony, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi, Councilmember Matt Weyer, and Myra Aikau thanked the trailblazing women.

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Stephanie Han

The Conversation had a chance to speak to the women who surfed The Eddie about their journeys and how the community can support women surfers.

Read what Keala Kennelly, Makani Adric, Paige Alms, Andrea Moller and Emily Erickson had to say. The sixth, Justine Dupont, was not able to attend the city event. Instead, her niece Mahina Hailstones was there to pick up her award.


STEPHANIE HAN: Keala Kennelly was the first woman ever invited in 2017 by Clyde Aikau, but the last time The Eddie was held was in 2016. In 2023, she was joined in the water by five of her surfing sisters. Kenneally also started her own boardshorts brand, AKKTIVE, for women. So what's the big message you want to give to young women out there?

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Stephanie Han
Keala Kennelly

KENNELLY: Just that they can do it. They can, you know, there's a place for them in the sport. It's an amazing sport, and they should go after it if that's what they want to do. We fought really hard for and got equal pay in WSL events, but events that are not WSL events don't necessarily have to pay us equally. So that's one thing. I think there's a big incongruency in sponsorships, you know, like brands, endorsement deals. The men make like 10, 20 times more than the women do. So there's a big discrepancy there with sponsorships, with a lot of women not even having any sponsorships. I mean, getting the events back here on the North Shore was something I had to fight for — the women were excluded... A way that individuals can support the women is come down to their events, cheer them on, come watch them on the beach. One of the excuses we get a lot for the women not being paid equally, not having the same sponsorship money is they don't have the viewership. So watch the women's heats on the live webcast, get the viewership up for us.

Makani Adric was born and raised on Oʻahu's North Shore and said that this event also speaks to women's athletics.

ADRIC: I think this whole event has been a very good opportunity for the woman and the sport of surfing. I think it'll potentially open up new doors for women's events, and not just in surfing but other sports. And as you see, nowadays, there's so many young girls wanting to do sports that men do. And nowadays, it's like the girls are training hard for it. They want it and they're here to show the world what they can do. So I'm stoked that this opportunity has come up for us... A message I would give to the young girls out there wanting to do anything would be to believe in yourself, follow your dreams, and work hard for the things that you want. And do things because you want to do it.

Paige Alms of Maui said that riding big waves is her dream and hopes that others may find inspiration.

ALMS: The Eddie Invitational was one of the most special days ever. I mean, that swell, the crowd and the whole day and everything that accumulated all together, it was a lifetime achievement to be able to be in an event like this. So it was hard to see it all like come all so quickly in one day. But it was honestly one of the most special days of my life. And I think it's just like the beginning for opening the doors for the next generation and I feel like a lot of the work that we're doing now and the achievements are basically just laying the groundwork for the next generation... As far as supporting women in all sports, surfing is a pretty unique sport, especially big wave surfing since it doesn't happen very often. Being there, supporting women, encouraging little girls to get into it. Sponsoring athletes, like businesses can reach out and sponsor athletes. It's an amazing opportunity for a marketing strategy. And yeah, just cheering us on and advocating for inclusion.

Andrea Moller is originally from Brazil, now of Maui, and gave us insight into the appeal of surfing and what it means to those back in her country of origin, and her excitement about women surfers in Brazil.

MOLLER: To me, it's history and it's also opening the doors for the next generation. It is a time where we're finally accepted. We're finally received. Yes, big wave surfing, there's women and they can compete and they can have a category. You know, young girls can invest in big wave surfing or in athletic careers because there will be opportunities for them. For many years, we struggled just to get that opportunity for us to pay off all the training or the investment that we put into the sport. And now I feel like this is it, like it's happening, you know, you are invited, you will possibly have better sponsors, you will be able to train and dedicate to the sport. And we're going to see this sport evolve.

MOLLER: Brazil is an amazing country and has a beautiful coastline. But also it is a place where there's difficulties. So I feel like the surfers in Brazil, they really you know, saw that as an opportunity to get a career and travel and compete and do that as their work... and I want to see Brazilian women now coming out and having that pathway, having that opportunity to grow as a surfer.

Emily Erickson began surfing seriously at age 17 and said surfing has been a beautiful way to live.

ERICKSON: I am really stoked The Eddie finally ran and that the women were able to join in and surf. It's been a dream for sure since I started surfing. Although I did come to it relatively late in life. I didn't surf when I was a kid. So it's always just been this really great passion to stay in the ocean. And it's been a beautiful way to live. So being able to surf in The Eddie and all that, I think it's gonna leave a beautiful legacy for the kids of tomorrow and it'll be amazing to see how things develop from here on out... I'm just really, really thankful that I rediscovered my love of the ocean and discovered surfing and you know, it's been a wild story.

This interview aired on The Conversation on March 6, 2023. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Stephanie Han is a producer for The Conversation. Contact her at shan@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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