Keala Kennelly talks about the Red Bull Magnitude contest and women’s equality in surfing

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Big wave surfer, Keala Kennelly speaks on the unique format of the Red Bell Magnitude contest and the fight for women’s equality in surfing. 

As winter approaches, the ladies of big wave surfing are ready to turn heads. From Dec. 1 to Feb. 28 the Red Bull Magnitude contest will see the best women in big wave surfing try to get the ride of a lifetime in a whole new format for big wave surfing. This contest will be run digitally, over several different big wave breaks throughout Hawaii. With film crews on site, the women of big wave surfing will be able to create their own path to a victory over the next three months. Keala Kennelly spoke exclusively with about this new brand of contest and what it means for women’s surfing as a whole.

“I’m actually really excited about this new digital format,” Kennelly said. “It’s going to be amazing because it gives you the whole winter so every big swell that comes is part of the contest. So instead of having an actual event where you schedule it on one day and you go out and compete and you have maybe an hour heat to perform. This format leaves it open to perform over and over again. You can have a bad day and it’s not going to count against you.”

How will the Red Bull Magnitude contest be structured?

Red Bull is providing the women of the Magnitude contest with film crews at every projected swell over 15 feet in several places in Hawaii. Legendary surf breaks such as Waimea Bay, Jaws, and the North Shore of Oahu are all in play. Alongside the film crew, will be water safety on hand to provide everything the athletes need in terms of safety.

“These are the kind of resources that the women just never have and the men do,” Kennelly explained. “I think you are going to see the level of women’s big wave surfing, I think the bar is going to get really raised this year just from having that support that we never had before. I really commend Red Bull for giving the women the opportunity. When women are given the chance, they rise to the occasion. I just think of when I started surfing big waves and I was like one of the only females doing that and at some spots, I’d be the first female in history trying to ride these big waves amongst the guys. I just got told ‘women can’t’ and you know, I shouldn’t be out there and stuff like that. It’s come a long way and so see so many more women surfing big waves now. I feel like my contributions to the sport have helped that along.”

Kennelly has been at the forefront of the fight for women’s equality in surfing. Having these kinds of contests open for women is something that was never available just a few short years ago.

“I am part of the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing and we were actually able to achieve pay parity with the biggest surf league, the WSL in women’s surfing, not just on big waves but for all women on all platforms,” Kennelly explained. “That was a massive achievement.”

Kennelly was a part of the epic surf movie Blue Crush which is considered a huge part of the women’s revolution in surfing. Kennelly explains the changes she noticed following the release of that movie.

“I definitely feel that when that movie came out there was a big boom in women’s surfing,” Kennelly said. “I noticed a significant change in the number of women out in lineups. I think that movie really helped women feel like they could and gave them the confidence to try surfing and get out there.”

Kennelly and the other ladies of the Red Bull Magnitude contest have already kicked off this massive contest. In March all videos will be sent to the all-star judges which include Rochelle Ballard, Betty DePolito, Kai Lenny, and Mark Healey. The winner will receive  $25,000 for “Overall Performance,” but there are also “Runner Up”, “Best Ride”, and “Biggest Wave” winners that will receive $5000 each.

Fans can go to to keep up with all the action.

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