Across every surfing discipline, from aerial specialists to light-footed loggers a new contingent of young women is emerging to challenge the old guard.
Of course, this is always true to some extent, such is the evolutionary arc of professional sport, however, the last few years have seen the rate of progression lurch suddenly upwards among the emerging generation, with numerous future title contenders popping in all four corners of the globe.
Here we’ll take a look at seven young-women who have recently set the surfing world alight with their hard-changing prowess.
First up, 20-year-old Hawaiian Moana Wong (formerly Jones), who Jamie O’Brien dubbed the best female Pipe surfer ever. She grew up on the sands of the seven-mile miracle, following the well-worn path from Ke Iki shorebreak to the Banzai, where she paddled out for the first time aged just 13.
“The main reason I wanted to get barreled was because my friends were doing it,” she told Stab when asked what drove her to give Pipe a go. “Growing up with Barron, Makana, and the boys, we would just surf sketchy closeout barrels all the time, so I learned how to do it and got addicted to it. Getting barreled is my favourite thing in the world.”
Until 2019, Moana had remained pretty underground in the surfing world, spending her days studying biology at the University of Hawaii and surfing for the fun of it, without any sponsors. However, over the course of the last two years, she has begun to garner the attention she deserves, picking up a Volcom sticker, a few Wave of the Winter entries and a good amount of adulation for clips of superbly wrangled tubes.
Then, in December last year, she paddled out for a free surf at Pipe, just hours after the inaugural women’s CT event wrapped, and proceeded to catch a wave arguably better than anything ridden in the comp. If she’d gone unnoticed by anyone up to that point, it was hard to miss her after that.
19-year-old San Clemente based Kirra Pinkerton burst into the public consciousness back in November when she lit up the internet with a string of crazy clips from a three month stint in Indo with her dad.
Incredibly, considering her appearance as a seasoned tube-hound, it turned out that bar two weeks in Bali and some time spent in Kauai, she had minimal experience in heavy waves, admitting in an interview that she “hadn’t really got that many barrels before that trip.”
Perhaps the most heartening thing about the footage, beyond Kirra’s technical nouse, is her ability not to let a critical drop or bump from the foam ball get in the way of her cruisey style, which is epitomised by the clip below, where we find her on a single fin left behind by Dave Rastovich, drawing a beautifully timeless line with maximum poise.
Her genuine stoke is similarly unmistakable, with a hands on head claim of disbelief often following her emergence from the innards of another Indian Ocean screamer.
Kirra has already enjoyed success in the competitive realm, winning a WSL Junior Title back in 2018, but we hope she has time to drop a few more clips from free surf missions and perhaps experiment with some different craft, before taking her place on the CT in the not too distance future.
BettyLou Sakara Johnson
Born and raised in Haleiwa, 15-year-old BettyLou Sakara Johnson is another young surfer already tipped for future CT stardom. Having cut her teeth on the powerful Pacific walls that break just beyond her garden fence, you can see her fundamentals are already solid beyond her years. And although she says she hasn’t packed too many big ones at Pipe just yet, there’s no doubt that’s where she’s headed.
Bettylou spent much of last year surfing in Indo, popping up in high-performance reels from the Bukit and threading big tubes in the Ments, where she says she enjoyed pushing her limits spurred on by a crew of other young chargers, including three who feature on this list. In December she dashed back to Hawaii after being awarded the wildcard to the Maui Pro and although she’d only competed in one QS event prior to her CT debut (which she won), she looks more than ready to take on the world’s best. In the end, she finished a respectable ninth after falling to 4X WT Champ Carissa Moore.
20-year-old Vahine Fierro hails from a small outer island in French Polynesia and grew up surfing its buffet of right-hand reef breaks. When she was 14, she made the short 100km hop over to mainland Tahiti for high school (because there wasn’t one on her island) where, after surfing a beach break and going left for the first time ever, she realised it might be worth entering a few local surf comps. The following year she paddled out at Teahupoo, becoming the first French Polynesian woman to surf the wave at size. However, she says, with typical modesty, that it wasn’t until 2019 (the same year she won the Surfer Mag award for best women’s barrel) she began to feel anything close to comfortable on solid days there.
After a few months stuck at home with surfing off-limits in early 2020, the ban lifted in time for peak season and Vahine took advantage of a diminished international crowd to huck into some bombs at Chopes. When the QS kicks off again, she’ll restart her campaign to qualify and with a Junior Title already under her belt and a bonus year of experience at one of the heaviest waves on earth, we’d say he stands a pretty good chance.
Last August a then 13-year-old Willow Hardy blew up after her crazy wave at Gnarloo went viral. For those acquainted, the slabbing left-hander breaks out deep in the West Australian bush, two hours off the main road down a sandy corrugated track. Described as “really psycho,” by Taj Burrow and “definitely one of the scariest waves in the world,” breaking over “the heaviest and most raw piece of reef on the planet,” by Jay Davies, there’s no doubt scoring a tube of this magnitude there represents a solid achievement at any age, but to do it at 13 is nuts.
“This day I paddled out in the dark, foam down the back of my wettie, knowing it was going to be big,” writes Willow on her IG. “For the first couple of hours I felt like I was watching a surf movie, every set had people absolutely charging, making huge barrels or getting totally destroyed.”
“After getting a few smaller ones and just making it over some mountains, I paddled for a few bigger ones that I couldn’t catch and even went over the falls on one trying to pull back, but finally I scratched onto a solid one.”
“It was the biggest wave I’ve ever caught in my life and it was a relief to make the drop. I was really scared, but stalled as the section ahead started throwing over! I made it through the first quick tube and pulled up into the second one. I was so stoked to find the exit that I couldn’t help but claim. Then up in front I saw the biggest closeout EVER coming straight at me, so I jumped off and got sucked up and over the falls, hitting the coral. Luckily I was fine and paddled back, so stoked.”
When not throwing hail-marys in the desert, Willow surfs around her home breaks in Margaret River and is the only one on this list to have honed her skills without the benefit of any exotic foreign excursions.
She does, however, come from one of the most well-known surfing families in the area. Her granddad Tony won state and national titles and is credited with pioneering many of Margaret River’s waves in the 1970s. All three of her uncles are surfers and watermen of great repute, while her dad Gene is reportedly the only person ever to have appeared on the cover of both a surfing and bodyboarding mag.
When she finishes school, she’s looking forward to spending a bit of time travelling, before heading to uni on the Gold Coast and hopefully joining the QS full time.
Sierra Kerr is the prodigious daughter of aerial pioneer and long-time CT surf Josh Kerr. Although just 13, she is already considered one of the most progressive female surfers on earth, roundly revered for her insane ability in the air, both on a surf and skateboard. And, as footage from her recent stint in Indo attests, her form in big barrels is also entirely unmatched in her age group.
Born in Australia, and raised in California, Sierra first started riding waves on the front of her dad’s board aged 3 and now, just a short decade later, can be found stepping off the back of his jetski when a solid swell rolls into town.
Her childhood represents the textbook blend of nature and nurture, with trips to Bali, Australia, Fiji, Mexico and Indonesia under her belt before she even hit her teens. Late last year she signed a new deal with Volcom (becoming one of the few surfers to actually gain a big sponsor in 2020) and according to Josh, they’re keen to support her even if she isn’t leaping onto the QS quite yet.
“Surfing to me is way more about fun and passion than it is about a competitive drive,” he told Stab. “First and foremost, it’s for the love. Sierra definitely shares that mindset, so I want her to actually enjoy the whole process, and for it to never to feel like work. [Volcom] have a really cool plan for Sierra, trips with the team and crew, lots of travelling. They’re really giving her opportunities to develop her skills. It’s such a great feeling knowing she’ll be under such good care, and that she can just be herself.”
21-year-old Izzi Gomez grew up in Florida, where her grandparents owned the oldest surf shop in the state. As a youngster, she competed in the NSSAs, before making the move into stand up paddleboarding in her early teens. At 14 she won her first world title in that discipline, quickly following it up with 4 more. However, at the start of 2020, she decided to take a bit of time out, ditch the paddle and refocus on her surfing. She upped sticks, moved to Maui and began working to establish herself in the big wave arena.
“I’m such a strong believer in following your passions,” she said in a RedBull clip about her journey, “and I could still do [SUP events] for the money, and get all these titles, but at the end of the day, if I’m not happy doing it, I’m not going to do it.”
Her determination has already secured her some memorable paddle waves at Jaws and Mavericks, with her humble attitude and keenness to learn suggesting that all she needs now is time in the lineup (and a little bit of luck) before she really makes her mark.
Cover photo: Kirra Pinkerton, by @kanduiresort