Bay Area big wave surfer aims to end gender disparity in the sport

When California native Bianca Valenti started surfing at 7-years-old, she wanted to surf the biggest waves she could find. 

She spent her child surfing up and down the California coastline. 

Then, she became one of the few females to brave the behemoth waves of Mavericks, a legendary surf spot in Half Moon Bay. 

Mavericks is certainly not for the faint of heart, and is notorious for being one of the roughest, most intense big waves spots in the world.

The closest thing Valenti could compare the waves to are Mount Everest or Niagara Falls. 

"The biggest day we surfed there were maybe like 80 foot waves in 2020," she said.

An 80-foot wave is equivalent to an eight or nine-story building.

Fear of ‘what if it goes wrong’ keeps most people out of the water all together with waves of that magnitude, but Valenti chases them.

But, she insisted she's not fearless.

"I definitely have a healthy respect for fear," said Valenti. "It's a drive and desire to explore what's possible and prove to myself I can do something."

Her drive has taken her to the edge.

We met Valenti on a sunny, windy afternoon at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, the spot triggered a memory that may drive some away from the sport all together. 

"I actually almost died here at ocean beach the first time I started surfing big waves," Valenti said. 

A three-story wave broke right in-front Valenti, the force of the wave came crashing down on her. 

"I ducked down, and I got throttled, spun and rag-dolled, and I was spinning and twisting and flipping."

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She blacked out and couldn’t tell which way was up or down. 

"I thought ‘oh my gosh if there is another big wave I am going to die’," Valenti said. "There was no time to have emotions, it was just fact."

Valenti was not seriously injured. She said the incident made her want to chase more big waves. 

And while Valenti, now a world champion big wave surfer, is not in the water, she focuses her attention on ensuring equality in the male dominated sport. 

"Every time I catch a big wave that's a platform to create more opportunity for women in sports," Valenti said. 

She said women have come a long way, but pointed out that there are still many disparities. 

"There are more spots in competitions for men than women." Valenti said. 

The last competition Valenti was in, there were 34 men and six women.

More opportunity translates to more money.

"At the very top level there is more support for men than women," Valenti said. 

Financially, Valenti has had to get creative, so she can keep surfing for a living. She co-owns Valenti & Co. in Marin, teaches surf lessons, speaks to businesses, and has a number of other side hustles. 

"I hope that people will look back and be like she fought the good fight, and she stayed stoked the whole time," Valenti said.