Bianca Valenti – building equality in the world of surfing

bianca valenti puerto escondido namotu

The campaign to create a more inclusive big wave surfing world finds victory in the Puerto Escondido Cup

Bianca Valenti has been in the surf scene for years but has recently drawn major attention for her work on equalising men’s and women’s prize money. Along with Keala Kennelly, Paige Alms, Andrea Moller and others they’ve sought to make the sport at large more inclusive.

This work builds on what many of the first female surfers – and indeed athletes – started in the previous generation and what today’s young women in sport still face. It was this somewhat toxic environment that pushed Bianca out of competitive surfing for years and turned her towards focussing on the family business instead. Yet her passion for surfing never disappeared and eventually she returned, this time more determined to chase big waves. But the challenge was not only the waves but the ingrained masculine mentality.  

The Puerto Escondido Cup 2019

Most recently Bianca was invited to compete in the Puerto Escondido Cup. Although she was unsurprised to see the disparity between the prize packets of the men’s and women’s events, instead of accepting her fate she coordinated a crowd funding effort to make up the $9000USD difference. A goal she and friends were able to achieve within the space of just a few days.

As with most of these endeavours, it’s not about the money, it’s about the respect and the message that comes across. In the end Bianca came away with two victories – one was the competition itself and the second more important win was the change affected – next year’s Puerto Escondido Challenge will see equal prize money.

Visiting Namotu Island for the first time…

In June 2019 Bianca Valenti joined us on Namotu Island for a Ben Wilson Kite Week, knowing there was a big swell forecast to hit during that time. Although the swell was solid it also came with wind that prevented her surfing Cloudbreak at its biggest (it was left for the kitesurfers those days) there were still opportunities to tow Namotu Lefts (the first time she’d ever tow surfed) and surf solid Restaurants.

We interviewed Bianca following her victory to find out a little more on what made her the woman she is today.

Who first taught you to surf?

Me, haha! I was standing riding on my boogie board all the time and my mom said, “hey do you want to try surfing on a real board?” Then we went and found a used board for $75 she planted her chair at the waters edge and said, “you better not make me come and rescue you!” 

When did you realise you wanted to make surfing your profession?

The same week I started surfing! I got a poster of Kelly Slater getting barrelled at Backdoor and it read “21 years old, Kelly Slater 1992 World Champion.” And I thought, yeah I want to be the best surfer in the world like that guy! 

Did your parents and friends support your decision to abandon your dreams of pro surfing?

They supported me focusing on a career path in addition to supporting my passion for surfing. Options are good. And I think all athletes should realise you can be a pro athlete and complete university and run businesses…you can explore and follow many awesome paths! 

You and Keala Kennelly organised a crowd funding effort to equalise the prize pool for the men’s and women’s competitors at the Puerto Escondido Cup. How was the general response to your campaign and do you think the decision to make next year’s comp equal from the start will be mirrored by other surfing comps? And maybe even across other sports?

We were thrilled to see how much and how a lightening-fast, radical energy came pouring in from champions of equity. Men and women, surfers and non-surfers – super awesome!

We believe that the greatest opportunity for growth will flourish in events that pay equally and are inclusive. We certainly hope this becomes the standard in all surf events and sport events. 

Any advice to girls coming into the competitive surfing world?

Enjoy the rides and enjoy the friendships and cheer each other on loudly! Especially with your surf sisters! Cheer each other on! Together we all rise.  

Any advice to your younger self?

To my younger surf self, each session I’d advise focusing on two areas of performance that are going well, and one that needs to improve. Where the mind goes the energy follows. Celebrate two, improve one. We can all do better and focusing on the positives helps us get better faster!

What are you doing when you’re not surfing?

Breathing, fitness-ing, entrepreneuring, studying, surf training for big waves of all kinds of things. Watching Megan Rapinoe speeches and plotting ways to create more opportunity growth for kids in sports. I also really enjoy drinking green tea and I am hooked on foiling!!! And being silly.

Favourite waves and destinations?

Namotu Fiji. Number one for the people and all their Bula stoke! And two, the waves!  Cloudbreak, Restaurants and I am dreaming everyday of the foil garden!

What was most memorable about your time on Namotu?

Connecting with and feeling true joy from everyone around! The Fijians, the guests, the amazing staff at BW kite week! Wow!  Also the pristine beauty at every moment of the day. The food is absolutely spectacular. The stars and the sunrise. The most fun adventures each day all day! Simply put, Namotu = heaven on earth.

Interviewed & written by Sasha Hutchinson.