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Maui Women Surf Pros: Who's Making Waves Now?

By Kelly Potts
On February 11, 2012

When it comes down to it, women in the surf industry are considered by many to be sex symbols.

Yes, a handful are recognized by their extraordinary surfing talent on the world tour, but they only take home 10 percent of what male surfers do. That leaves the rest of us (and I say "us," because I am also a female surfing professional), to rely on sex appeal to stay afloat in a sinking industry: women in surfing.

While times have been tough, there are women who are reinventing themselves in the surfing world, and right here in our own backyard. Maui has cultivated exceptional female surfing talent, and I had the privilege of interviewing some of these amazing athletes.

From charging (surf lingo translation: surfing aggressively, often in big and dangerous waves) big waves to showcasing their talents around the world, these Maui women surf pros offer proof that females are holding their own in a male-dominated industry:

Big Wave 'Rippa'

Paige Alms has been riding the waves since she was 10 years old, and has been surfing professionally since her early teenage years. But what makes Paige stand out in a crowd of thousands of women surfers is her passion for big wave riding. With her warrior maiden physique, Paige needs a big wave to maneuver her board.

"I surf my best in big waves," she said with a smirk. And when Paige talks about big waves, she means "Jaws" big. "I've towed-in to Jaws the past few winters," she said, "but this year, there's going to be some paddling in." Paige's fierce gaze shows the intent behind her words.

"I usually go to Pier 1, Sprecks and Jaws... that's kind of it," she said modestly.

I look at her and stare in disbelief. This is a young woman-only 23 years old-charging.

Blowing up on the Bodyboard

Kelly Gordon is a force to be reckoned with. Don't let her size deceive you: she has been known to eliminate boys at the local bodyboarding competitions, and is now working the industry with sponsors Maui Jim, Kai Ulu Swimwear and Number 6 Bodyboards.

When Kelly is out in the water, spectators make it known. With her drop knee ease (through impossible barrel sections) and suave spinning maneuvers, "oohs" and "ahhs" frequent the beach airwaves.

Not only does she provide photos and videos for her sponsors on a daily basis, but she also makes her own films under the name "Keewee Productions."

"I love making movies," she said, "and being creative."

With girls struggling to maintain a seat in the professional surfing world, Kelly seems to be sitting comfortably.

Underground Heroine

Unlike Kelly and Paige, there are women who haven't quite secured a spot in the industry. One of them is Alicia Yamada. You won't see her on the pages of popular surf magazines, but you will see her frequently slashing the waves of Honolua Bay, holding her own amongst a crew of male surfers.

"I'm trying to do these little frontside 360 things," Alicia said, as she demonstrated the movement with her hands. "I think it's possible... I just have to tell myself to go for it."

Alicia is a prime example of where women's surfing is headed-doing tricks that only men were capable of doing but a year ago. She has an obvious hunger for progression, which is something that should be recognized.

Honolua Wahine

At the 2010 Honolua Bay Legends contest, Kayla Eubank was scouted by Honolua Surf Co. She has been working a sponsorship with them since. You may recognize her golden locks and model figure at Honolua shops around Hawai'i.

Another Honolua Bay local, Kayla has represented the spot with her smooth style and obvious love for surfing.

"You know how our lifestyles are," she said, smiling knowingly at me. "We're so into it... our heart, our happiness-it makes us feel whole."

Kayla is the epitome of "surf lifestyle," which is a commodity in the surf industry.

And her career has only just begun.

Butterfly Effect

You may know Tatiana Howard (we call her "Tati" for short) as the co-founder of the "Butterfly Effect," a free watersports event that (in just four years) has worked its way up from only 10 entries to 100. The event has gone global, and Tati's dreams keep expanding.

"There was nothing happening for girls, so I wanted to make the event for girls, and I don't like competing, so I wanted to make it non-competitive," Tati said about her famous "downwinders" from Ho'okipa to Kanahā.

"It started with windsurfing, kitesurfing and standup paddling, then surf sessions," she recalled. "Now we're doing it in the snow, skiing and snowboarding... I want to do all the board sports."

There is a sparkle in her eye whenever she talks about the Butterfly Effect.

But while her idea has proved successful, Tati said took some hard work, dedication and a persuasive attitude to get the backing she needed to get started.

"In the beginning, there was no structure," she said. "My heart wanted to do it, so my mind found a way to organize it... if your heart is into it, you're going to find a way to make it happen."

These words are wise words of inspiration for any entrepreneur, even outside of the surfing world.

The Big Picture

While these women have unquestionable talent as surfers, maintaining a top spot in the surfing industry is not so easy.

Paige pointed out that there are no women's surfing magazines in the U.S., and most of the money circulated is only for the top third of professional surfers on the competitive tour.

"Women definitely don't get the same amount of exposure as men in the magazines," she said, acknowledging that, for most women in the industry, gaining photo incentive through media exposure is the only way to make money.

Even though women struggle to be recognized, there is one common theme that resides within each of them, and that is their definition of success: "Being happy, and doing what makes you happy." Maui women surf pros are forging paths in their own unique way, setting the bar for the next generation of female surfers.

Maybe we don't get the recognition we deserve, and maybe we won't get to retire as professional surfers, but we will continue to be successful.

Why? Because we'll always be surfing-and that's what makes us happy.

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