Bianca Valenti – Big Wave Surfing, Gender Inequity, and Winning the Fight for Inclusion and Equal Pay

Bianca Valenti Big Wave Surfing

Bianca Valenti
Big Wave Surfing, Gender Inequity, and Winning the Fight for Inclusion and Equal Pay

Bianca is one of the best big wave Surfers in the world. A true warrior, she is recognized for many victories including winning equal pay and access for all athletes in professional surfing. Notable recent surf victories include a podium finish at the 2021 XXL Big Wave Awards for biggest paddle of the year, 2X winner of the Puerto Escondido CUP in 2018 + 2019, and Bianca is the first woman in history to win a big wave competition in 2014 at Nelscott Reef in Oregon.

Lookout for an upcoming Hollywood Film with Charlize Theron telling the story of Bianca’s “fight for gender equality in one of the most dangerous sports on earth” based on the NYT Magazine cover story from February 2019. SheChange is the documentary film version of the story following Bianca, Keala Kennelly, Paige Alms and Andrea Möller, as they fight to be included in the competition at Mavericks.

In her free time when she’s not practicing and playing pro surfer, she’s fighting for all athletes in outdoor sports, by creating BETTERWAVE an investment vessel enabling athletes to focus on “athleteing”.

For more info about Bianca, visit her website and follow her on Instagram.

Contests, Pros, and Ice Beanies mentioned in the episode: 

05:52  Bianca explains how she became Starrett aware
06:40  How Bianca got into surfing
08:10  Bianca’s surf trajectory; Kelly Slater (the greatest surfer of all time)
09:23  It was evident from the beginning that Bianca was going to be great
10:45  There weren’t girls or women’s divisions when Bianca started competing, so she competed against boys, and often won
11:20  In her teens, Bianca was winning a lot but started understanding that women weren’t really included or valued by the magazines (aside from the Reef models) which led her to want to use her voice for change
12:15  Bianca first collected a check from a pro event at 15
13:34  The Malloy Brothers; John John Florence
14:50  Nate McCarthy, co-founder of Proof Lab, encouraged Bianca to go back to competition which led to her Women’s Pipeline Pro win after taking 7 years off of competition
17:10  Kelly and Juliet thought they could take their white water kayaks out at Ocean Beach, but after 10 years of getting worked, they decided kayaks weren’t the right tool
18:14  The Starrett’s put on a kayak competition at Ocean Beach to benefit their non-profit
18:45  Juliet’s friend Sue Norman, a world champion white water paddler, and even she couldn’t get out
19:45  Bianca got into big wave surfing after getting thrashed in a huge wave at Ocean Beach
22:23  Even after winning the Women’s Pipeline Pro in 2012, it was still hard as a woman to get sponsors and make a living
23:14  Bianca spent the summers in Puerto Escondido after college and started surfing some bigger waves; Pascuales
24:01  In Puerto, Bianca surfed with Savannah Shaughnessy who was already surfing at Mavericks which led her to believe she could surf Mavericks
24:18  When Bianca tried to buy a board for Mavericks, the shaper made her promise not to die because he didn’t usually make boards for women
24:32  In 2012 Bianca paddled out at Mavericks the first time, which happened to be the same day they were shooting a film about Jay Moriarty
26:00  Bianca was unable to go back to Mavericks for 2 years after that first time due to an MCL injury in 2013
26:24  In 2014, women were invited for the first time to compete in the Nelscott Reef Pro, albeit with no prize purse for the women ($55k purse for the men)
29:57  Bianca wins the Nelscott Reef comp just four months after her MCL injury
31:15  There was no prize money for women at the Nelscott Reef competition, but at the last minute a local brew company threw in some money and the women all split it evenly
31:45  Oregon was the first competition (for men or women) that was live streamed and the response was overwhelmingly positive
32:30  After her Nelscott win, Bianca wanted women to be included in all the stops of the tour, so she started fighting to get women included in the Mavericks event
33:14  Bianca called into a radio show and asked Jeff Clark to include women in Mavericks – she heard “yes”, but technically it wasn’t a yes
35:25  Bianca and her crew formed the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing (CEWS) and together they decided to appeal to the coastal commission and ended up winning inclusion and equal prize money as well
36:40  Bianca was terrified to ask for equal pay, but in the end figured they had nothing to lose
37:17  The coastal commission is responsible for equal access to the coast and they were instrumental in helping the women
39:35  WSL realized they were backed into a corner and decided to do the right thing and implement equal prize money across all divisions and contests
40:35  100 Foot Wave; Jess Fox
41:15  CEWS advocacy paved the way, not just in big wave surfing, but for women in other sports starting with cycling; Katie Hall
42:25  Bianca is stoked to think about the little girls today that will get the opportunities that she fought for, and the little boys that will now see the girls as equals
43:22  Bianca is working with several organizations dedicated to improving equity and access in surfing: MeWater Foundation, City Surf, and Brown Girl Surf
45:15  What Bianca is working on now; Outdoor Sport compensation
46:50  Safety protocols in big wave surfing have evolved in recent years
48:40  Juliet was attacked by a hippo on the Lower Zambezi River in 1997 and therefore has a healthy fear of large animal attacks
51:15  A documentary, SheChange, is being made about how Bianca along with Keala Kennelly, Paige Alms and Andrea Möller fought for inclusion as well as equal pay in big wave surfing; A feature film is also in the works that will be produced by Charlize Theron and directed by Niki Caro; Carrie Mulligan’s name has been tossed around to play Bianca
53:15  Lynn Hill
54:34  Bianca founded Better Wave an organization that seeks to invest in and empower outdoor athletes by getting them healthcare, 401k, and support
55:55  Outdoor athletes often face hard realities when they retire from sport; Gabby Reece
60:55  Bianca’s Socials
61:52  Kelly had Bianca wearing an ice beanie under a sombrero in Puerto because she was having a problem overheating, she won

Full Transcript


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