Stab Magazine | Keala Kennelly Won The Women's Jaws Challenge With Two Horrific Wipeouts

Keala Kennelly Won The Women’s Jaws Challenge With Two Horrific Wipeouts

It was a hectic day for the WSL’s women big-wavers, who suffered brutal crashes on the vast majority of rides. 

Words by stab

What does it take to win a women’s big wave event at massive, pumping Pe’ahi?

Strong arms, the heart of a lion, and in the case of Keala Kennelly, two horrific wipeouts in the final. 

“I took a couple waves, I took a couple beating and was hoping I could just send it hard enough!” said Keala after the event. 

The women’s side of the 2018 Jaws Challenge just finished over in Maui. It was as thrilling as it was hard to watch. The women fought valiantly. They took off deep, committed to steep lines, and fell a hell of a lot. Then they paddled back out and asked Jaws for more. 

“I’ve never seen women take this kind of relentless beating, that some of these women are taking right now,” said the visiting WSL commentator Dave Kalama. “It speaks so highly to their ability, their qualifications, and the time and effort they’ve put in to getting to point where… I mean they’re not intimidated by this. They’re just paddling back out and doing it again.”

The highlights from this event are primarily wipeouts. Even the day’s best wave, by French longboard champ/aerialist/big-wave weapon Justine Dupont, which scored a 5.5, culminated in her being grabbed by the whitewater, her board breaking, and Justine being too injured to surf the final. Rumor has it she dislocated her shoulder.

The final was a series of car crashes. 

Keala Kennelly air dropped to the bottom of a 40-foot bomb, losing her feet halfway down and disappearing into the abyss. Paige Alms got obliterated by a warping mass of water. Andrea Moller made it two-thirds of the way down her wave before hitting a bump and cartwheeling.

While the commentators watched with baited breath, Andrea popped up just one second before the next wave exploded on her head.

“Thank goodness,” said Peter Mel. “That’s all because of flotation. Without flotation, there’s no way she would have gotten a breath before the next wave.”

Paige and Keala backed up their first falls with two more, these ones including remarkable tailslides to near-completions. They score two-point rides but a few incredible photos. 

Screen Shot 2018 11 26 at 3.04.06 PM

Emily Erickson had the only completed ride in the final, on her 10’0 single-fin no less. It was the highest single score of the heat, but it left her needing less than a one-point ride to take the lead from Keala.

According to the commentators, there was no way for Emily to know this. You can’t hear anything out in the lineup, and water rescue was so concerned with water-rescuing that they couldn’t possible relay the pertinent scoring info. They had already lost a ski and wouldn’t be taking any unnecessary risks.

As the clock ticked down, Emily sat out the back waiting for a wave that would ultimately never come, and Keala Kennelly won the 2018 Jaws Challenge with two heroic wipeouts. 

And then the men took the water…

(More coming soon!)


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