Stab Magazine | Girl Power: 12 Reasons Women Look Better On Waves Than Men

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Girl Power: 12 Reasons Women Look Better On Waves Than Men

A gallery from Stab’s annual hardcover edition. 

girls // Apr 14, 2017
Words by Steve Allain
Reading Time: 10 minutes

Teri Melanson, the topless surfer at Rocky Point.
“This was simply another mid-seventies afternoon at Rocky Point,” recalls legendary photographer Bernie Baker. “There were maybe four people out. I lived at Sunset (still do) as one of Surfer Magazine’s senior staff photographers along with master Steve Wilkings, but he lived with his family in Honolulu and the four foot days were not on his winter shooting schedule, so I held down the fort out here, chasing the small stuff by myself. Back then, winter was over for most cameras by late January, leaving me the nine-mile coast to shoot by myself. The lady is Teri Melanson, probably the best local haole girl surfer living out here at the time (today she’s teaching golf pros in LA). She knew everyone, so she got any wave she wanted out there. Being the free spirit that she was, she was surfing Rocky’s late in the day, topless and stylishly. I went down to shoot some late-in-the-day speed blurs and at that moment it was simply being in the right place at the right time. It was shot on Kodachrome 25mm slide film, so all I knew was that out of four waves she rode, I had at least one good frame. When she came in, we talked about doing something more than just getting the best shot to the mag for editorial (for Surfer back then, the winter season was already over and they were looking at the spring stuff coming up, not just another late winter day with a hot chick). Plus, every public library in the US would have cancelled their subscription if that had shown up (what a hell of a cover that would have made!) as a spread. The shot became part of a poster series called Hawaii Naturally. My film partners at Island Style put up the bucks for a few thousand-copy print run. Within a few months, we were out of copies, it had gone around the world to every surf shop and more. Today, I have only one poster to my name and that was a gift from one of my best mates!”


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Morgan Maassen

Josie Pendergast, and proof that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.
Josie was born in the Philippines to a Latin-Filipino ma and a Scottish-Australian pa. How about that mix! She lived on a tiny island until she was five, when her family relocated to Byron Bay. A few years later, she fell in love with surfing and ditched the rearview mirror. Josie is gracious and stylish on a board and her divine Filipino-Oz traits make her the perfect fit for the surfer/model lifestyle. At 17, she’s close to finishing school and her future is crystal: Travelling, modelling and surfing. But further down the line, she wants to spread the love – Josie says she’d adore having an orphanage home to help disadvantaged children from third-world countries. Can’t knock that.

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Tom Servais

Bethany Hamilton, the world’s toughest surfer.
“Bethany is the most inspiring surfer to ever live,” says Californian photographer Tom Servais. “And you don’t need to know her to feel that way.” By now, the entire world knows Beth’s wild story: As a teenager, surfing on her native Kauai, a shark took her arm. Beth not only recovered from the injury that nearly killed her, but returned to the water and rose to cement her place as one of the best, most fierce surfers in the world – regardless of missing an arm. One needs only to look at this photo, from a Peahi session last winter, to see that. “It was truly amazing to watch Bethany paddling at Jaws,” recalls photographer Tracy Leboe. “I was standing next to her husband and baWby on the cliff, and being a mom, that just takes it to another level, seeing her out there paddling only months after having a baby. I don’t know her personally, but I think Bethany shines because her heart, her soul, lead the way. She’s a pure example of what you can do if you set your mind to it.”

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Morgan Maassen

Steph Gilmore, the best to ever do it.
Steph, the six-time World Champ and cultural icon, has redefined the modern female surfer. In the water she is stylish, powerful, fluid. In competition, she is successful. On land, she is breezy, chic, intelligent, divine. She’s a favourite of high fash mags when they wish to foray into surf. She’s a talented musician and a conscious role model. Above all, she’s a hyper-delightful woman who knows how to play her strengths with unflinching humility. In Stab’s opinion, undoubtedly the best female surfer to ever live. This soulful bottom turn, performed in Mexico and captured by the lens of Morgan Maassen, should enjoy the same fame as MP’s Kirra cutback in years to come. But, let’s see how well the digital age preserves moments like this.

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Tracy Leboe

Paige Alms, owner of the biggest barrel ever paddled by a woman.
Canadian-born Paige Alms stole headline pixels in 2015 when she stormed out of a 20-foot barrel at a Jaws paddle session on Maui, where she’s lived since the age of nine. At the time, we called the wave “as good as any of the world’s (male) XXL elite, maybe better.” Her performance that winter – paddling at Jaws, as well as California’s marquee big wave spot, Mavericks – earned her the Women’s Best Overall Performance Award at the 2015 WSL Big Wave Awards. “She’s rare in that she thrives on getting really big waves,” explains Maui-based photographer Tracy Leboe. “I’ve seen her take massive waves on the head. Paige is a very humble, mature, kind, smart, and she works her ass off both training and to make money. Paige has “that” connection with the ocean, and she’s great in that she has a lot of respect, for both other surfers that she looks up to, and for mother nature. She strives to make surfing better, not just for herself, but for all of the women, and for the industry.”

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Tom Servais

Kelia Moniz, Hawaiian Royalty.
Surf runs deep in the Moniz clan. But two-time World Longboarding Champ, Kelia (often known as ‘Sis’), has flown her own path. Pops Tony enjoys a history of Eddie Aikau Invites, while younger bros Josh and Seth are some of Hawaii’s top juniors. Kelia is, undoubtedly, Hawaiian surf royalty. “Besides Kelia being a very special longboarder, she’s also very photogenic on land and in the water, and a very beautiful girl,” says photographer Ted Grambeau. “Not all great surfers are photogenic in their surfing, but Kelia is especially so. I haven’t been able to photograph her as much as I’d like, but the one thing I have noticed is how much fun she has in the water. She is always smiling when she’s surfing, which makes the photos that much better. And, she makes it look so easy. I suspect she will win more world titles.”

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Jason Kenworthy/A-Frame

Carissa Moore, inventor of feminine power surfing.
Carissa was always gonna be a star. She won everything imaginable as a teen, and became the highest-paid female surfer in history at the age of 16, after signing with non-endemic giants Nike and Target. Rookie of the Year in 2010, world champ in 2011, and then again in 2013 and 2015. As a surfer, Riss is… complete. Above the lip and in the tube, most certainly. But it’s on rail that she really signs, undoubtedly the most powerful female surfer in history. The perpetual smile, charisma and sweet nature are just bonuses. “I feel like Carissa never settles for good enough,” says long-time friend and photographer, Ryan Miller. “She’s always looking to improve and she’ll give it everything she has to get to that goal she has in mind. I think her future is headed where her heart takes her. I don’t think she’ll go in any direction that she doesn’t absolutely love. If that is being on Tour for another 10 years or starting a family next year, I think she will be totally happy with the decisions she makes.”

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Tim McKenna

Keala Kennelly, the bravest and boldest.
The first thing that comes to mind when you hear Keala’s name is huge Teahupoo barrels, like the hanger she’s navigating here. “She’s very aggressive and confident, almost to a fault,” says Tom Servais. “She could be more calculating in her approach. Even the guys sometimes thinks she’s crazy, as she takes off really deep, deeper than a lot of the guys. I’d say that part of the reason that the girls don’t compete in Tahiti anymore is because of how crazy she is out there. She’s hit the reef so many times… So contest officials were worried about hers and the rest of the girls’ safety. She is also a great XXL big wave surfer. She was awarded Best Barrel at the Big Wave Awards this past year, and she’s a standout at Jaws, every time she paddles out. She’s not an especially strong girl physically, but anything she lacks in physical strength, she makes up for it mentally.”

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Jeff Divine

Rell Sunn, the Queen of Makaha, in Haleiwa, 1979.
The “Queen of Makaha” was the best female stylist of the 70’s and 80’s. No one embodied the spirit of Aloha like Rell. She was a top-ranked pro, but she’s (more importantly) remembered for her fluid and composed style. Her approach was… minimalistic. There was no exaggeration, just harmony. “Women’s surfing was just entering the competition era of the 80’s,” recalls legendary photographer Jeff Divine. “They were, in a sense, second class to the men, sent out into bad, wind-blown conditions. There was less prize money and sometimes a coin flip would be a tie-breaker in a close heat. None were making enough money to break even. Maybe nothing much has changed. Rell surfed for the camaraderie and her giving nature made her help the other girls through the heats.” Indeed, Rell was all about her community, and in 1977, she founded the Rell Sunn Menehune surf contest at Makaha – which earlier this year celebrated its 40th edition. In classic Hawaiian fashion, Rell’s talents went well beyond surf; she was a black belt in Judo, Hawaii’s first female lifeguard, and a Cultural Anthropologist. In 1983, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and started a 15-year battle with the disease. In 1998, at the age of 47, she died in her home. More than 3000 people gathered at the beach in Makaha for her memorial, during which her ashes were scattered around the lineup.

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Ted Grambeau

Tyler Wright, burning into the golden age of women’s surfing.
Tyler Wright really did learn to surf before she could stumble. As a kid, she leant into the competitive scene, travelling the Aussie amateur contests with her family in an old beat-up van. By her teens, Tyler was already one of the biggest names in the junior ranks and it was unsurprising when she scooped Rookie Of The Year at the end of her debut World Tour year. But Tyler’s far more than a contest droid. She’s a lowkey thrill-seeker – remember that Cloudbreak foamball ride earlier this year? She gots principals, too: Tyler isn’t about utilising sex appeal for notoriety (you’ll never find her surfing in minimal lycra). The session pictured here occurred right on the cusp of a golden age in women’s surfing, which we’re currently in. “This image of Tyler was from a raid on a swell to one of the world’s most fickle but perfect waves, P-Pass, which I put together with Rip Curl,” tells photographer Ted Grambeau. “It was with Owen, her brother and , in many ways, mentor. Coming form a surfing family, she’s not only genetically gifted for surfing, but very competitive. On this day, Owen would not only call Tyler into set waves, but literally push her over the ledge on the biggest sets. Tyler is a gifted tuberider, so once in position she would thread some of the deepest challenging lines, screaming at the top of lungs!”

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Tom Servais

Lisa Andersen, the matriarch of modern women’s surfing.
“Lisa was a very gifted surfer,” says photographer Tom Servais. “She had a very good style, surfed radically like a guy (as is evident in the fierceness of this lip-blow), but had that feminine quality to her surfing. And all the male surfers on Tour at the time saw that in her and were always amazed at how good she was – inspiring, even to them. She should have won more World Titles, but like a lot of surfers, finding the key to be consistent was her problem. I’m not sure if emotions played a part in it, or something mental. She had a tough beginning, running away from home at the age of 16 to follow her dream of being a pro surfer, but that probably helped her mental toughness. When she finally figured out that part of her surfing, she went on to win four straight titles. More would have come, but Layne Beachley came along, and having a child and doing all the travelling must have been a strain for Lisa. She was very well-liked, and all the male surfers looked after her like they would a sister. It’s interesting that she came along at the same time as Kelly, and both from Florida and both riding for Quiksilver. The off-the-lip hack was taken on a trip to Kauai with her friend Rochelle Ballard. The plan was to get away and relax. I forget what spot this was, but it was on the south shore. Obviously, this shot shows how radical her surfing was. She still rips to this very day.”

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Scott Winer/A-Frame

Laura Enever, culture-shifter and blinding diamond.
Laura is in a category of her own. She’s buoyant, charismatic, and dedicates time to bettering herself in large reef barrels. A perfect combination of talent and blondes-have-more-fun. While competitive surf is her true jam, Laura could very easily have taken the model/surfer route (as opposed to the surfer/model trajectory she chose). She’s appeared in worldwide campaigns for Nike and Billabong, and dabbles in the fashion world at her leisure. And then, there’s this: The willingness to throw herself into situations like the Cloudbreak hanger pictured. “This session the waves were cranking and the ledge at Cloudbreak was as good as it gets,” says photographer Scott Winer. “It was a day before the start of the women’s event and the lineup was thick with talent, both men and women. Laura showed up mid-session and picked off this one straightaway. The difference I noticed is the other girls were out early, but none of them went on the bigger west ones like the one Laura grabbed. So she stood out quickly, draining this wave down the reef and making it. I was very impressed.”


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