the Fight for equity in womens big wave surfing started with 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:


Equal Prize Money Is Great—But Only Half the Story

by Kim Cross

“Every time I drive by one of those ginormous sports stadiums, I’ve always thought about how much public funding goes into them,” Brennan says. “So now we’re looking at what can this do for other sports?”

Outside Magizine, Sept 13, 2018



by  Dylan Heyden

Did Maverick’s Force the WSL to Pony Up an Estimated $1.4 Million for Pay Equality?

CEWS wrote in a July 9 letter to Renee Ananda of the California Coastal Commission insisting that attempts to pay women anything less than equal prize money at big wave surf contests constituted “gender-based discrimination,” and was therefore against the law. The letter implored the Commission to make equal pay a stipulation for event permitting at Maverick’s.

According to Sabrina Brennan, San Mateo County Harbor Commissioner and CEWS member, it was this letter and the fallout from it that led the WSL to schedule a July 23rd meeting in Redwood City. During the meeting between representatives from CEWS including Brennan, Karen Tynan (CEWS’ attorney), Bianca Valenti, and Paige Alms, and WSL CEO Sophie Goldschmidt, Graham Stapelberg, WSL attorney Dylan Budd, WSL Deputy Commissioner and Director of Athlete Development Jessi Miley-Dyer, BWT commissioner Mike Parsons, and others, executives of the World Surf League were emphatic that prize parity would not be feasible at Maverick’s this year.

“When we got to the hardest part of the discussion, which was about equal pay, they just completely shut down,” Brennan said in a phone interview. “They said things like, ‘We don’t negotiate with outside groups.’ And, ‘If we did this at Maverick’s then there’d be the expectation that we’d do it across all categories.’ And we were like, ‘That’s exactly what we want…’ Then they were like, ‘Absolutely not. There’s no money.'”

The Inertia, Sept 12, 2018



by Laurel Rosenhall

California just forced equal pay for female surfers. Could that change other games?

“We believe there ought to be gender equity with respect to the purposes of any use of our state lands,” Betty Yee said in an interview.

Gavin Newsom also supported the requirement, said his chief of staff Rhys Williams: “A lease application that doesn’t reflect equal pay isn’t going to fly with him.”

The Mavericks case could set a precedent for local governments to demand equal pay in any sporting event held on public property, said David Berri, a professor of economics at Southern Utah University who researches gender in sports.

“In any event where you are going across public land, then any government entity could say ‘You have to make this equal,’” he said.

CAL Matters, KQED, Mercury News, Capital Public Radio News, Santa Cruz Sentinel, Mendocino Beacon, Ukiah Daily Journal, Sept 6, 2018



Finally, World Surf League offers equal prize money for women and men

by Bruce Jenkins

Bianca Valenti said she was “in shock” when she heard the news, because women surfers had been so thoroughly stonewalled in their quest for equality. 

The CEWS is spearheaded by Valenti and Hawaiian surfers Keala Kennelly, Paige Alms and Andrea Moller, all of whom are expected to be in the Mavericks contest. The event’s previous owners, Cartel Management, balked at the notion of including women until finally agreeing last year to a six-woman heat that would accompany the men’s competition (poor conditions prevented the contest from being held). But Cartel arrogantly excluded Valenti from the entry list, and “I’ll never forget how my heart sank when Cartel retaliated against Bianca because she dared to speak at a Coastal Commission hearing,” said Sabrina Brennan, a San Mateo County Harbor District commissioner who has worked tirelessly for the cause. “Now we finally have what’s right. Those four women worked so hard and they weren’t backing down. They took the professional risk.”

San Francisco Chronicle, Sept 6, 2018



Equal pay or no one plays? Big-wave women draw line in the sand at Mavericks

by Elliott Almond

Sabrina Brennan said during a public session at the State Lands Commission meeting on Thursday that the World Surf League claimed it needed to raise additional funds to provide equal prize money.

“We see this as a red flag and urge the State Lands Commission to consider requiring financials in support of proof that the entity has the financial resources to put on the Mavericks event,” she said.

Brennan is a co-founder of the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing, which includes big-wave stars Paige Alms and Keala Kennelly of Hawaii and Bianca Valenti of San Francisco.

“Not getting your permits in order, we’ve seen it before,” said Sabrina Brennan, who also serves as a San Mateo County Harbor District commissioner. “That’s a recipe for not being able to hold the competition.”

Bianca Valenti, the Bay Area’s leading female big-wave rider, praised the State Lands report in a text message from Croatia.

“Lawmakers get it; they know that responsible use of our coastline and coastal access is a top priority for all Californians,” she wrote. “As a professional big-wave surfer I believe this recognition will help leverage progress towards achieving equality. When we share the ocean everyone has an opportunity to explore surfing, improve their performance, and earn equal pay in the water.”

Mercury News & Santa Cruz Sentinel, Aug 24, 2018



Equal pay in big-wave waters: Mavericks women fight for same prize purse

by Elliott Almond

“We’re definitely happy about getting three heats,” said Sabrina Brennan, a San Mateo County Harbor District commissioner who co-founded the Committee for Equity in Women's Surfing. “Where we are in a very clear disagreement is on prize money.”

The women’s equity group wants the same purses for men and women no matter how many contestants are competing in each division. In a July 23 meeting with WLS officials in Redwood City, the women presented a proposal to increase the women’s purse at Mavericks by $40,000. The change would allow the top ten surfers in each division to receive the same prize money. 

“If the WSL can’t afford it then they can pay the male athletes less,” said Brennan, who added the women are risking their lives on the same giant waves as the men.

The committee's letter to the Coastal Commission said that “it’s difficult and sometimes impossible for women professional athletes to compete internationally without an opportunity to earn equal money. The lack of parity must be addressed. Unfair business practices prevent women professional surfers from utilizing public resources and coastal access.”

The equity committee’s lawyer Karen Fuller Tynan said the group has been transparent about its position: “Prize money equality is required.  Prize money parity by ‘fuzzy math’ is not going to work for the women athletes.”

Mercury News & Santa Cruz Sentinel, Aug 3, 2018



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.

It was a joy to celebrate with San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim.

Jane Kim Sabrina Brennan

Through outreach, education and research, I support good waterfront planning, restoration and public access.


San Mateo County is beautiful, our cities and towns float on a shimmering bay and breathtaking ocean. Though our bay and ocean are rising, and our waters have been mistreated over the years, most people would pick the beach and waterfront over just about anything else. 

We are loyal to it.  And we will fight for it.



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