Coastal Commission

Oct 12, 2018, California Coastal Commission hearing in San Diego

I’m Sabrina Brennan, I’m currently serving a second term on the San Mateo County Harbor Commission and I’m a co-founder of the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing. I’m here today as a representative of CEWS.

When it was my turn to speak at the Nov 2015 Coastal Commission hearing, I explained that the San Mateo County Harbor District had a five-year exclusive permit with Cartel Management, the Titans event promoter. The permit specified that only one surf contest could be held at Mavericks from Nov 1 to March 31.

Three years ago, I asked you to add a condition requiring a women’s heat to a CDP for the event. It was the first time the Coastal Commission had ever considered permitting the Mavericks competition and some of you were surprised to learn that the event’s founder, Jeff Clark, had a history of gender-based discrimination.

At your Nov 2015 hearing a motion was made to approve the CDP application, and that was the moment Coastal Commissioner Mark Vargas said, “I'm a little concerned about the fact that there is no clear plan for highlighting, involving, or encouraging the growth of women in this event or in this sport. I'll float it out there. I'd like to see if I can make an amending motion to add a specific condition that we ask the applicant to provide a plan for encouraging equal opportunity for women surfers in future events.”

A clear mandate was issued in a 7-4 vote to approve Vargas’ amended motion. And in 2016 and 2017, your Commission voted unanimously to include women in the Mavericks competition.

There have been many hurdles including Griffin Guess’ discriminatory behavior and retaliation against women and his company, Cartel Management, filing bankruptcy in federal court.

In Aug 2017, the World Surf League bought the San Mateo County Harbor District multi-season permit out of bankruptcy for $525,000. We were hopeful that, women would finally have an opportunity to compete. However, by the time the WSL got their permits in order the seasons best surf conditions had already passed.  

In 2018, the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing requested a meeting with the WSL on numerous occasions to address concerns about gender-based discrimination and equal pay. The WSL refused to schedule a meeting with us until after we sent Coastal Commission staff a letter on July 9, 2018, that said, “Unfair business practices prevent women professional surfers from utilizing public resources and coastal access. Please take action to prohibit gender-based discrimination.”

On July 23, 2018, CEWS met with the WSL in Redwood City. We presented a proposal for equal prize money and a multi-heat Women’s Division in the 2018/2019 Mavericks Challenge. 

On July, 30, 2018, the WSL agreed to a three heat Women’s Division that would include up to 10 athletes. 

 On Sept 5, 2018, the WSL agreed to full prize money equality across all global WSL controlled events.

  • Starting in 2018, equal prize money will be awarded in the Big Wave Tour.

  • The season schedule for the 2018-2019 Big Wave Tour Women’s Division will include the Mavericks Challenge and the Pe'ahi Challenge.

  • In 2019, the Championship Tour, the Longboard Tour, and the World Junior Championships will be awarded equal prize money.

 This is a precedent setting victory!

Recently, economics professor David Berri was quoted in a Cal Matters article by Laurel Rosenhall. Berri said, “the Mavericks case could set a precedent for local governments to demand equal pay in any sporting event held on public property.”

We hope that our success will expand future opportunities for inclusion and pay equity for all sport leagues and we look forward to future legislation.  

The persistence of women and girls paid off

Women surfers and their supporters stood together, united in their demand for equality and pay equity. We did not back down and we refused anything less than equal pay when offered compromises such as equal pay at some future date in the next few years.

In July 2018, the WSL threatened to cancel the Mavericks surf competition and we stood our ground with helpful collaboration and assistance from two state agencies.  

We thank the California Coastal Commission members and staff who have worked tirelessly to bring equality to the use of state resources for the Mavericks Challenge. 

We thank the California State Lands Commission members and staff for their work in bringing equality to the publicly owned sovereign lands of California. 

Army Corps delivers Surfer's Beach erosion reports

In March 2016, the following three reports were provided by the Army Corps of Engineers: Engineering, Environmental, and Economic Reports.

James G. Zoulas, Civil Engineer with the Army Corps will give a presentation about these reports at the Coastside Sea Rise & Erosion Forum on May 24, 2016 in Miramar. 

Coastside Sea Rise & Erosion Forum

Tuesday, May 24 at 6:00pm  (presentations will start at 6:30pm)

Douglas Beach House
311 Mirada Rd, Half Moon Bay (Miramar), CA 94019
Please take either Magellen or Medio to Mirada Road


This event was inspired by the recent Pacifica Sea Level Rise Forum, and we hope it will be just as well received on the Coastside. 

Speakers' Biographies

Dan Hoover, PhD

Dan is an Oceanographer with the U.S. Geological Survey Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center in Santa Cruz, studying coastline evolution and managing beach and near-shore bathymetry survey programs at several sites in California, including Santa Barbara, northern Monterey Bay, and at Ocean Beach, San Francisco.  Dan holds a PhD and MS in Oceanography from University of Hawaii, and a BS and ME in Engineering from Harvey Mudd College.  Dan has worked on a wide variety of biological, geochemical, physical and geological oceanographic research projects at coastal sites in Hawaii, across the Pacific, and along the California coast.  Prior to returning to graduate school to study oceanography, he worked as an engineer on the Space Station and Space Shuttle programs.

James G. Zoulas, PhD, E.I.T.

James is a coastal engineer at the San Francisco District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, where he has been involved in developing solutions to coastal erosion and navigation problems in the San Francisco region.  James received a B.A. in Geography at UC Berkeley, and then received his training in coastal geomorphology at UCLA, where his Ph.D. dissertation addressed long-term beach changes in Orange County, CA.  James was the primary author of the Coastal Regional Sediment Management Plan for the Santa Cruz littoral cell, which includes San Mateo County from Pillar Point southward.  James served as the primary coastal engineer on the North Half Moon Bay Shoreline Improvement Project, where he collaborated with a team from the USACE Engineer Research and Development Center to model the effectiveness of several erosion mitigation measures.  James also conducted an evaluation of bluff erosion in the project area in order to better understand the influence of the east breakwater on bluff retreat.

Robert Battalio, PE

Bob is vice president, chief engineer, and leader of ESA’s Environmental Hydrology Coastal Zone Engineering & Management team.  He has dedicated his career of over 25 years to coastal and estuarine engineering, wetland and creek restoration design, and waterfront civil engineering projects throughout the U.S.  He has addressed erosion and flooding hazards on the West Coast, including shoreline mapping, sand budgets, wave and run-up studies, design of hard and soft erosion protection, and design of shoreline retreat and realignment. He was integral to pioneering projects such as the San Francisco Bay Conservation & Development Commission’s 1990 San Francisco Bay sea level rise study; effects of coastal sand mining in southern Monterey Bay; FEMA’s 2005 Pacific Coast Flood Hazard Mapping Guidelines; and coastal erosion response to sea level rise for Pacific Institute and the California Ocean Protection Council in 2009.  Bob holds a Masters of Engineering in civil/coastal engineering from UC Berkeley.  He is a member of the San Francisco Bay Conservation & Development Commission's Engineering Criteria Review Board; Northern California vice president of the California Shore and Beach Preservation Association; member of The Surfrider Foundation; and former president of the California Marine Parks and Harbors Association.


In May 2016, John R. Dingler, Army Corps Oceanographer will release a Detailed Project Report for public review. This is the only Army Corps of Engineers report currently outstanding.


Pillar Point Harbor is a protected harbor of refuge with two rubble-mound outer breakwaters constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers. The outer breakwater was built in 1959. The length of the east and west breakwaters is approximately 4,500 ft and 3,600 ft, respectively. In addition, three rubble-mound inner breakwaters were constructed by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1980s.


April 7, 2016 - Half Moon Bay Review -  by Carina Woudenberg

The crumbling Coastside: Winter leaves ominous signs of erosion

March 18, 2015 - Half Moon Bay Review -  by Mark Noack

Cost of incomplete erosion study surpasses $1M

Hey guys, Mavericks needs women

by Sabrina Brennan

When it was my turn to speak during public comment at the November 2015 California Coastal Commission hearing, I explained that the San Mateo County Harbor District has a five-year exclusive permit with Cartel Management, the Titans event promoter. It specifies that only one surf contest can be held at Mavericks from Nov. 1 to March 31. I noted that the Mavericks contest does not include a women’s heat and no women have ever surfed in the final competition. I asked the Coastal Commission to add a condition to the Coastal Development Permit that would require a women’s heat.

My expectations were low. To my surprise my public comment was not lost on Commissioner Mark Vargas. He was concerned about inequality.

Contest organizers defended their all-male selection process. Contest founder Jeff Clark said, “The way we choose those invitees to surf in the Mavericks event is through a polling of the peers, the guys that surf out at Mavericks and the guys that are pushing it to the level of performance, that is the absolute highest level of performance. Now, there are women that surf Mavericks, I’ve surfed with many of these women at Mavericks and there’s the bowl at Mavericks, the most extreme and intense place to take off, and there’s, (pause) well we call it the west bowl, the much easier place to catch the waves, and the guys that get invited in this event, men or women take off in the bowl. And at this point we haven’t seen that kind of performance that would, you know, when the Committee 5 is watching a group surf Mavericks it’s like there’s always one guy that stands out. It’s that kind of, okay, can that person beat the guy who won it last year or the year before. Who has the ability to win this event. And the guys on the Committee 5 were with me when I first talked someone into going out there with me. They’re the guys in the early 90’s that actually surf Mavericks and still surf Mavericks, and they know, they have a very good eye of the performance level that we’re looking at, not only to surf Mavericks at the highest level, but to surf it safely and be in the condition that if you go down out there it’s not going to become a problem for the lifeguards, we want to avoid the rescue situations.”

Note that that the “Committee 5,” which selects competitors is not necessarily fair in its process. Case in point: Three days before the Coastal Commission hearing Sports Illustrated reported that the 2014 Mavericks defending champion, as well as 2006 Mavericks champion and 2014 Big Wave World Tour Champion Grant “Twiggy” Baker had fallen out of the Committee 5’s favor. Baker was banned from the 2015-2016 Mavericks contest for distributing a petition to support former 2013 Mavericks champion Peter Mel’s reinstatement in the contest. Mel was banned from the Mavericks contest because of a “conflict of interest.” The reasons given for banning Baker were convoluted. Jeff Clark told Stab Magazine that Baker had, “put other athletes’ at risk by being associated with a petition that was (circulated) on behalf of Mel to challenge the Committee 5’s decision on matters pertaining to the framework of their event protocol for the selection process.”

During the discussion at the Coastal Commission hearing, Mark Vargas said, “I'm still a little concerned about the fact that there is no clear plan for highlighting, involving, or encouraging the growth of women in this event or in this sport. I'll float it out there. I'd like to see if I can make an amending motion to add a specific condition that we ask the applicant to provide a plan for encouraging equal opportunity for women surfers in future events.”

In 1994, bodyboarder Sarah Lucas broke the Mavericks gender barrier and four-years later Sarah Gerhardt became the first woman to ride the enormous wave standing on a surfboard. On The Inertia website Gerhardt is quoted saying, “I live as though I don’t have any limitations, when I have many. Physically, mentally, I’ve got many limitations. But surfing, surfing at Mavericks, makes me forget about them. And I try not to think about those limitations. I just go.”

In November 2015 a clear mandate was issued by a 7-4 vote to approve Vargas’ amended motion. Moving forward, oversight by the Coastal Commission will be necessary to insure that equity for women athletes includes a Women’s Division with multiple heats, appointment of a woman to the Committee 5, and a condition that corrects the gender pay gap in prize money. The Coastal Act provides coastal access for all.


Granting a CDP to an athletic event that engages in gender discrimination is not in step with the spirit of the Coastal Act.


The Eddie at Waimea in Oahu and Mavericks in Half Moon Bay are examples of off tour big-wave events that showcase an athlete’s talent and help them gain valuable sponsorships. A total of 9 contests have been held at Mavericks. The first event was in 1999, the same year I moved to Seal Cove, a bluff-top neighborhood in Moss Beach. My wife Aimee and I enjoy walking out our front door to watch awe-inspiring surfing at Mavericks. For years we’ve been hoping that women would be invited to compete and we’re thankful for the 2015 Coastal Commission decision.

Last month, it was announced that Savannah Shaughnessy would be included as an alternate in the event. It’s a well-deserved honor and a nice gesture however few alternates actually surf in the event. The decision came after alternate Garrett McNamara had emergency surgery resulting from a Mavericks wipeout earlier in the month. A total of six new alternates were added in January, including Savannah and her brother Patrick. The first woman selected as an alternate was Sarah Gerhardt. She was the last alternate in the first two events held in 1999 and 2000; she was not selected to compete.

In the world of elite surf competition women compete against women, as is the case with most sports. In 2015 the World Surf League championed equal pay for men and women. For the first time, women surfers earned the same prize money as their male counterparts on the WSL’s Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour. However prize money doesn't solve the problem of inequality in the number of women selected to compete at the elite level. In 2015 WSL Women's Championship Tour included 17 professional surfers competing in 10 events and the men’s tour includes 34 professional surfers competing in 11 events. Increasing the number of events and the number of awards for women, as well as offering equal prize money, is the only way to achieve meaningful equity in competitive surfing.

The WSL Big Wave Awards first launched in 2000, to recognize the surfer who rode the year's biggest wave. Now into its 16th season, the Big Wave Awards has grown to include seven categories. The 2014/15 Big Wave Awards event included six categories for men to compete and win prize money and only one category for women. The 2014/15 purse for Performance of the Year was $15K for men plus a $4,500 watch and $10K for women. 

Paige Alms performance at Jaws helped her land the $10k women's award however she did not win a watch.

The 2014/15 WSL Big-Wave Ride of the Year award exemplifies the gender pay-gap. One could argue that women aren't excluded from this event, presumably if a woman got the best ride of the year she could win, however, because women are not included in many year round competitions there are limited opportunities for them to win. Fewer events and less prize money makes it challenging for women athletes to surf big-waves as frequently as required to win Rider of the Year. Currently the WSL Big Wave Tour holds seven international events with 24 contestants in each event, and none of these events include women. This results in Rider of the Year prize money going to men, first place $60k, second $15k, third $10k, fourth $5k and fifth $3k. The same is true of Maverick, with a $120k purse for the 2015/16 event.

Pioneers like Gerhardt and Shaughnessy deserve recognition for their inspiring contribution to big-wave surfing. Requiring women athletes to compete against men blocks women from equal pay, marginalizes professional athletes, and discourages women and girls from participating in sports. It’s time all athletes had an equal opportunity to compete at Mavericks.


Women to compete at Mavericks!

To-date no women have competed in the Mavericks surf contest and the event does not include a women’s heat. Typically competitive surfing heats are not mixed gender. Requiring that top women athletes preform like top male athletes is unreasonable. By doing this the Titans of Mavericks board of directors and “Committee 5” have effectively blocked women from competing.

I support including an all women’s heat in the Mavericks event. Not a mixed gender heat.

 Paige Alms of Haiku, Maui

Please checkout my Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015 presentation to the California Coastal Commission. 

After my presentation Coastal Commissioner Mark Vargas of Los Angeles made a motion to amend the Coastal Development Permit for the Titans of Mavericks surf contest and add a condition to allow women to compete in the 2016-2017 event. Commissioner Martha McClure of Del Norte County seconded the motion.  The motion passed in a 7-4 vote.

Coastal Commission 7-4 vote count

  • Bochco - no
  • Cox - yes
  • Groom - no
  • Howell - yes
  • Lueveno - yes
  • McClure - yes
  • Shallenberger - no
  • Turnbull-Sanders - yes
  • Uranga - yes
  • Vargas - yes
  • Kinsey - no


Coastal Commissioner Mark Vargas made the following remarks and motion:  

“I'm still a little concerned about the fact that there is no clear plan for highlighting, involving, or encouraging the growth of women in this event or in this sport.  I would really love to see an amendment.  I understand that were too close to the event this year, but if this is going to be contemplated as an extension (permit extension) that could possibly have four more years of extension we should start contemplating a plan for encouragement and inclusion on women in this event. So that we (Coastal Commission) can review it, and have that information available for next year when this permit comes back up for renewal. I appreciate that it's a one time, one year permit but Mavericks has been going on for a long time and Mavericks will continue to go on.  I'm sure we'll be back here next year and it would be unfortunate if we don't start planning now for the inclusion of women and to see more women involved in this program, and not wait until a year from now.  
I'll float it out there.  I'd like to see if I can make an amending motion to add a specific condition that we ask the applicant to provide a plan for encouraging equal opportunity for women surfers in future events.”


My presentation is 2:10:37 minutes into the video and the motion is 2:56:24 into the video.

 Maya Gabeira of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil


News links:

Mavericks needs women

Half Moon Bay Review — Op-Ed by Sabrina Brennan — Jan 27, 2016

Just Add Water: Women seek equal footing at Mavericks

Santa Cruz Sentinel — Haven Livingston — Dec 19, 2015

Half Moon Bay local Sabrina Brennan presented a sideshow of female big wave surfers during the California Coastal Commission hearing in November when the commission approved a coastal development permit for the Titans of Mavericks big wave surf contest. Brennan, also a San Mateo Harbor Commissioner, said she attended the meeting as a concerned citizen. She has been watching women surf Mavericks, located near the Pillar Point Harbor, for years and has been disappointed to never see them in the contest. She intended to illuminate inequality in the selection process that newcomer Cartel Management and its “Committee 5” use to select Titans of Mavericks invitees.

Mavericks Faces Pressure for Women to Surf Big-Wave Contest

Forum KQED radio — host Mina Kim — Fri, Dec 11, 2015

  • Guests: Bianca Valenti, professional surfer and Bruce Jenkins, sports columnist, San Francisco Chronicle

Women want spot in big wave surf competition in California

Washington Post — By Kristin J. Bender — Dec 5, 2015

How Women Will Evolve Big Wave Surfing

Inertia — by Beth O'Rourke — Nov. 16, 2015

Add women to Mavericks lineup and be on right side of history

Half Moon Bay Review — by Clay Lambert — Nov. 11, 2015

Women to get fair shake at Mavericks

Santa Cruz Sentinel — by Haven Livingston — Nov. 6, 2015

Titans gets Coastal Commission approval: Permit issued for Mavericks surf competition

San Mateo Daily Journal — by Samantha Weigel — Nov. 6, 2015

Mavericks organizers get crucial last permit

Half Moon Bay Review — by Carina Woudenberg — Nov. 5, 2015