Fighting for equity in women's big wave surfing at Mavericks

Checkout this video segment from Dayla Soul's 2016 documentary “It Ain’t Pretty” about women big wave surfers.

The film provides insight into professional surfer Bianca Valenti’s struggle to include women in big wave surf competitions and San Mateo County Harbor Commissioner Sabrina Brennan's fight for equity in the Mavericks surf event.

Video segment:


Women (Finally!) Get a Big-Wave Heat at Mavericks

by Kim Cross

The female pros say they’re stoked to compete at Mavericks, but they wish it was a legitimate multi-heat division...What they’d like to see is a multi-heat competition, where women have to surf against one another to make it to the finals. As it is, “it’s a token,” Brennan says. “Six women, one heat? That’s nowhere near equality.”

Outside Magizine, Jan 29, 2018



Mavericks surf contest gets the go-ahead

by Bruce Jenkins

The most significant development in the ownership change will be the inclusion of women. For the first time in contest history, a six-woman heat will be staged on contest day, featuring Bianca Valenti of San Francisco, Sarah Gerhardt of Santa Cruz, Justine Dupont of France and Hawaii’s Paige Alms, Keala Kennelly and Emily Erickson.

This comes as good news to Sabrina Brennan, a San Mateo County Harbor Commissioner who has lobbied tirelessly on behalf of the women surfers and charged the Cartel group with “sexist, discriminatory behavior” in restricting the event to men. The next step, Brennan said, will be to “make a multiheat women’s division a requirement for the 2018-19 event and the future.”

San Francisco Chronicle, Dec 14, 2017


Mavericks surf contest sold; will there be an event this winter?

Some welcomed the Big Wave Tour’s takeover that will give the surfers a platform to showcase their talent. The contest would be particularly meaningful for six women invitees competing at the fearsome wave for the first time. Women were included last year before Cartel canceled the tournament because of financial struggles.

“The WSL has a track record of inclusion of women so it makes me feel good,” Harbor commissioner Sabrina Brennan said. “It’s a start.”

News of the sale was bittersweet for Jeff Clark, who remains frustrated over losing control of his event to Cartel. But the famed surfer is “stoked it’s the WSL,” he said Thursday.

“It’s going to be a good event,” added Clark, who hopes to be involved with WSL organizers. “I’m sad to see Cartel get away with what they did. They’ve gotten away with it for now but they will get their due.”

Mercury News, Aug 24, 2017


World Surf League Wants to Purchase Mavericks Contest Permit for $525,000

“The World Surf  League demonstrated their commitment to women athletes when Paige Alms became the first-ever Pe’ahi Challenge women’s champion. The Harbor Commission has an opportunity to support Mavericks becoming part of the Big Wave Tour,” says Sabrina Brennan, one of the harbor commissioners.“

The Inertia, Aug 24, 2017

World Surf League strikes Mavericks deal

Harbor District Commissioner Sabrina Brennan, who’s advocated on behalf of the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing, said she’s pleased the WSL may bolster their efforts.

“I support women being included in the event and clearly the WSL has a proven track record of including women in the Big Wave World Tour,” Brennan said. “I hope that everyone on the [Harbor District] board is supportive of what’s in the best interest of the athletes, the fans and San Mateo County.”

San Mateo Daily Journal, Aug 25, 2017

LA Times

Mavericks big wave contest plans to auction business assets amid bankruptcy proceeding
by Dan Weikel

“That is the sad state of affairs at this time,” Brennan said.

Los Angeles Times, May 8, 2017


BBC News

Fighting for equality in big-wave surfing
by Joanna Jolly

Brennan's presentation argued that if a permit was given as things stood, women would be excluded from coastal access, and the commissioners agreed, demanding that the organisers of Titans of Mavericks should come back within a year with a plan to include women.

BBC News Magazine, May 7, 2017



Harbor Commissioner Sabrina Brennan talks with Gabe Slate on the Cartel and Titans of Mavericks double bankruptcies and the Red Bull lawsuit on KRON 4 News.



Bianca Valenti, Grant Washburn, and Sabrina Brennan talk with Robert Handa on NBC Bay Area.



Mavericks, a Premier Surfing Event, Is Canceled Amid Financial Woes
by John Clark, Sports Columnist 

This year’s Mavericks was to have been the first to allow female surfers. Sabrina Brennan, who heads the San Mateo County Harbor Commission, which manages the Mavericks surf area, helped in the fight to include women.

“This event has been plagued with problems since its inception,” she said. “Trying to generate revenue from an event like Mavericks is a challenge. You need a more organized and committed group of people to pull it off.”

She added, “This is not good for the sport, and it’s not good for the athletes.”

Several surfers have reached out to Brennan and requested that the commission terminate the five-year event permit with Cartel, which is also Brennan’s recommendation. That would allow another party to apply for a Mavericks permit in the future.

New York Times, Sports, Feb. 3, 2017



Frustrated Mavericks surfers long for simpler times
by Bruce Jenkins, Sports Columnist  

As much as the Half Moon Bay and Bay Area surfing communities felt a sense of relief at Cartel’s apparent demise, there was also sadness, for it seems this event will never be freed from the shackles of corporate interest.

“There is absolutely and unequivocally no way that Cartel and Titans of Mavericks can possibly transfer every permit and asset required in time for the contest to run before April 1,” said attorney Karen Tynan, who represents the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing. “And don’t forget that media companies and vendors need time to evaluate the assets that are for sale. Lastly, it’s not clear that the permits are all transferable.”

Without question, the women’s big-wave surf movement has suffered the biggest setback. This year, for the first time, women were granted their own one-hour heat (a field of six) on contest day, a chance to display their talents right alongside the men. Now it looks like a long wait until next winter.

San Francisco Chronicle, Feb. 1, 2017



Bankruptcy filings threaten to wipe out this season's Mavericks surfing contest
by Dan Weikel

If held, this year’s contest would for the first time include a heat for women. The California Coastal Commission, which issues permits for the event, required Titans of Mavericks to allow female entrants for the 2016-17 wave season.

San Mateo County Harbor Commissioner Sabrina Brennan, who has worked to get women into the contest, said the event probably won’t happen this year because of the financial problems.

The commission also issues permits for the competition. Court records state that Titans of Mavericks owes the San Mateo County Harbor District about $6,700. 

“Logistically, I don’t see how this is going to happen, and I don’t see another group coming in and getting the permits,” Brennan said. “This will be super disappointing for the contestants. As you know, this was the first year for women to compete.”

In a news release, the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing said the group suspected there were problems.

“There were two days with perfect conditions in November and one day in January but no contest was called,” the release said. “What a let down.”

Los Angeles Times, Feb. 1, 2017



Big-wave breakthrough: Female surfer leads Mavericks revolution
by Bruce Jenkins, Sports Columnist

It took a lot of behind-the-scenes work to make it happen, with Bianca Valenti and Sabrina Brennan, a San Mateo County Harbor District commissioner, at the forefront. Along with the three most accomplished female big-wave riders in Hawaii — Kennelly, Paige Alms and Andrea Moller — Valenti created the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing. They established a website, welcoming support and commentary.

San Francisco Chronicle, Christmas Day, Sunday, Dec. 25, 2016



First Wave: The women chosen to surf Mavericks
by Bruce Jenkins, Sports Columnist 

The unsung hero of the women’s big-wave movement is Sabrina Brennan, a San Mateo County Harbor District commissioner who lives on a bluff near Pillar Point and has followed the Mavericks contest from the beginning. When it was her turn to speak at the California Coastal Commission hearing in November of 2015, she noted the absence of women in the event and argued strongly for equality. The result was an amended motion that allowed Cartel Management a contest permit on the provision that it would include women in the future.

Two months ago, in submitting its permit application, Cartel made promises only for the 2017-18 season. “It was like they were dangling this little carrot,” Brennan said. “To me, it was a scheme to stay in control of the event and not include women at any point in the future.”

Just five days later, Cartel had switched gears. A Coastal Commission report threatened a permit rejection unless Cartel included women this year. After requesting a four-year extension of its permit, Cartel had to settle for just one year.

San Francisco Chronicle, Christmas Day, Sunday, Dec. 25, 2016



Women to make history surfing big-wave contest, but struggles for equality remain

Women will have the opportunity to compete this year largely because of one woman’s crusade. Sabrina Brennan, the San Mateo County Harbor Commissioner, fought for a separate women’s heat at Mavericks. 

Brennan lives in Moss Beach in a home that overlooks where Mavericks is held. 

She’s attended nearly every contest since the first one was organized in 1999 by the surf-clothing brand Quiksilver. At the time, the contest name was Men Who Ride Mountains. “With that name, it’s not really very welcoming,’’ for women, she said.

Peninsula Press, Stanford Journalism Program, Dec. 15, 2016



Let women compete, Coastal Commission orders famous surf contest at Mavericks

“This is a great step forward for our sport, women’s athletics and women. You know, it’s about human rights,” said Bianca Valenti, a top female big-wave rider and co-founder of the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing.

Supporters who lobbied the commission to add women included representatives from the Surfrider Foundation, the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing, the Coastal Protection Network, the Brown Girl Surf organization and San Mateo County Harbor Commissioner Sabrina Brennan.

Los Angeles Times, Nov. 5, 2016



For First Time in 17 Years, Women Will Compete in Top Big-Wave Surfing Contest

Sabrina Brennan, who heads the San Mateo County Harbor Commission, which manages the Mavericks surf area, helped in the fight to include women — which at times grew tense.

“Organizers would show up at meetings with their attorneys and just stare at you with a menacing look,” said Brennan, who is also a member of the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing. “It was intimidating.”

She also said some event organizers had told several female surfers to get their own Mavericks event.

Still, Brennan said she was pleased with the outcome.

“It’s about time,” she said. “It feels like it shouldn’t have taken this long. And I wonder why it’s taken so long. It’s exciting and thrilling. But we’re not there yet. Women athletes have to keep asking for what they want.”

New York Times, Sports, Oct. 28, 2016



Women Finally Get A Spot In Legendary Big Wave Surfing Competition

The inaugural women’s event is a huge milestone for female big wave surfers, but Sabrina Brennan, a San Mateo Harbor District commissioner who first raised issue with the state Coastal Commission last year, believes that there’s still more work to be done.

A single one-hour heat “does not match up with what the women athletes have asked for,” Brennan told HuffPost, noting that the women’s committee specifically recommended three.

Brennan, who has lived next to the California surf break since 1999, also believes that a woman should be included in the Committee 5, the currently all-male panel that decides which surfers are skilled enough to compete at Mavericks.

These are much-needed changes, Brennan says, for an event that was originally called “Men Who Ride Mountains.”

“I would really love to see women get more recognition for the risks that they’re taking out there,” Brennan said.

Huffington Post, Women, Oct. 28, 2016


New York Times

Female Surfers Tear Down a Big Wave Barrier

Ultimately, it took the state to force the change at Titans of Mavericks, which was known in its early years as the “Men Who Ride Mountains” contest.

The decision by Cartel Management, the company that owns the tournament, followed a campaign over the last year by a small group of female surfers along with Sabrina Brennan, a San Mateo County harbor commissioner.

Organized under the banner “Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing,” the surfers pressured California’s Coastal Commission into demanding that Mavericks add a women’s heat or risk losing its permit to hold the event.

The campaign worked. 

New York Times, California Today, Oct. 28, 2016



Mavericks Surfing Contest Will Include Women for First Time

“There was no hint that anything like this was brewing,” said Sabrina Brennan, who serves on the San Mateo Harbor Commission and who first brought the issue to the attention of the Coastal Commission.

“I wasn’t expecting this,” Valenti told Surfer Mag. “But I think it’s awesome. I’m just excited to see the women’s side of the sport strengthen. It felt weird always asking for them to let us women in. So it feels great knowing they know want us to be apart of this rad big-wave community.”

Sabrina Brennan said some of the event’s organizers would like to hold a roundtable discussion with the women and are considering the possibility of a two-day format, weather permitting.

She also said there are still some issues to be worked out.

“I’d like to see something in writing,” she said. So far the news has only been mentioned on social media.

The female surfers have also requested a woman sit on the selection committee.

KQED, Oct. 21, 2016


SF Gate

Women to ride big waves in 'Titans of Mavericks' competition for the first time

Sabrina Brennan, a San Mateo County Harbor District Commissioner, had been fighting for female inclusion in the competition. She's cautiously optimistic.

"It's great they want to include women, but the women asked for a multi-heat event, which is what the men have. They should have a multi-heat event, and the same amount of prize money. Those issues haven't been addressed in this one-hour heat, but maybe it's a good starting point."

San Francisco Chronicle, Oct. 21, 2016



2016 Endorsements 

Half Moon Bay Review

“No one has done more to change the culture there than Sabrina Brennan. She has demanded to know where the money went for computers that were never installed. She has sought to hold complacent employees accountable. She has championed the rights of fishermen and is proud of a newly reconstituted relationship with the Half Moon Bay Seafood Marketing Association. She has fought for equity at Mavericks; her call for a women’s heat in the surf contest led directly to the California Coastal Commission demanding as much in this year’s contest.”

Half Moon Bay Review Endorsement, Oct. 26, 2016


“Brennan is bright, creative, hard-working and aggressive.” 

Daily Journal Endorsement, Sept. 23, 2016

Sabrina Brennan Sierra Club Endorsement

“The Sierra Club is proud to endorse Sabrina for re-election to the Harbor Commission. She’s a courageous environmental leader with an outstanding record on planning for the impacts of climate change, sea level rise, and water quality protection.”   Sierra Club Endorsement


Silicon Valley NWPC
“Sabrina is an outstanding Harbor Commissioner with strong democratic values. Her advocacy for women athletes, support for commercial fishermen, and passion for environmental stewardship make her an excellent choice for the San Mateo County Harbor District.”

—Angelica Ramos, Chair, National Women's Political Caucus of Silicon Valley


“Sabrina Brennan has blazed trails as the first lesbian candidate to win a countywide election in San Mateo County, as the only openly LGBT member of the county Democratic Central Committee, and as the county's highest-ranking lesbian elected official. We're proud to endorse her.”

—Rick Zbur, @Executive Director, Equality California, the nation's largest statewide LGBT advocacy group.




On Tuesday, June 7, 2016, I was elected to represent Democrats on the county Democratic Party Central Committee. I'm deeply moved by the voters support and I look forward to serving a four-year term.

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Jane Kim Sabrina Brennan

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