Maternal Mayhem From Mavericks To Maui
The story of Jamilah Star’s parental Pe’ahi nightmare.
On Monday, with the season’s first proper swell nearing its peak and waves easily 30-40 feet marching toward Pe’ahi Gulch in relentless, rapid succession, the females competing in the three women’s heats of the 2018 Pe’ahi Challenge were sent out to test the waters.
Kauai’s Keala Kennely, the contest champion and new rankings leader on the 2018/2019 Women’s Big Wave Tour, took enough beatings in the event to last most a lifetime.
Carnage also took hold of Andrea Moeller, Paige Alms, Bianca Valenti, and Justine Dupont, who was unfortunately but miraculously the lone women’s competitor to sustain an injury this event (last year’s landed more than a few ladies in the hospital).
But amid those jaw-dropping wipeouts and a jet ski that took a swift and violent ride to the rocks on one cleanup set, there was a toned and tanned Big Wave Barbie in the channel, sitting up on her pink gun in a hotter pink one-piece with a thin, cropped, Hawaiian sunset-emblazoned rashie over it.
No wetsuit lined with bulky floatation or padding, no CO2-packed pull vest.
And, most noticeably, no jersey.
Jamilah Star has been known to surf freezing Mavericks in just a bikini, but that’s not why she was out at maxed-out Jaws looking notably underdressed for a big wave contest. Throughout the heat, commentators repeatedly speculated that one of the gnarliest wipeouts of the day may have been Star, but as each surfer was ID’d it was never her.
Jamilah’s wave total remained at “No waves yet” throughout the heat, and will remain so in perpetuity: due to travel SNAFUs out the wazoo, Star didn’t reach the Pe’ahi channel until five minutes before the end of her 40-minute heat, Semifinal 1, which began at 7:30 am HST.
Star splits her time between two of her most-loved XXL breaks — NorCal’s Mavericks and Oahu’s Waimea Bay — honing her big wave skills while also raising three small children. Jamilah says that her journey to Jaws—with her children, additional family members, and a total number of seven guests in tow—began for her on November 25, after already dealing with her family missing their flight the previous day, from the Mavericks-adjacent city of San Jose.
There, she was informed that the big wave board she had with her in California would not fit on the plane to Oakland. So instead of flying straight to Maui from Oakland, she had to go to San Francisco and fly to Oahu, where after landing at 1 am the morning of the event, she had to drive an hour up to the North Shore, collect her 10’6 gun at Waimea Bay, then drive back to town to catch her hop to Maui.
Sleep-deprived and frustrated, she finally arrived at Pe’ahi — alone, after being separated from her clan in a challenge cherry atop to travel shenanigans sundae that cost about $7,000 when it was all said and done — to find her heat was already on.
Star was informed that she would not be given a jersey to compete. She was too late, a rule that stands for every surfer on both the Men’s and Women’s Big Wave Tour. (Grant “Twiggy” Baker was forced to sit out of his heat at the 2017 Pe’ahi Challenge due to plane delays and was equally devastated by the lost opportunity; but having to sit in the channel on your board and watch the last five minutes of your heat play out in front of you in perfect oversized Jaws after fighting through every mom’s travel nightmare mixed with every big wave surfer’s worst nightmare had to sting a bit.
“I go to the boat and I was standing there looking at the perfect huge waves and I was like, ‘Are you kidding me, God?’ I’m definitely heartbroken in one way, but on the other hand this had to be destiny for some reason. There has to be some lesson for me to learn,” Star said before drifting excited onto a tangent, brainstorming aloud about ways to reprioritize the balance between motherhood and big wave training and travel. “I could cry about it all day, but what would that do? All I can do is be positive and be on time.”
Star says she received mixed messages from officials—whether they were waiting for her or putting in an alternate or putting her in the second semifinal. After missing her boat ride to the channel, she had to catch a ride on a jet ski which further delayed her.
While her circumstances were drastic and there is room for compassion within people in the industry, but the truth is that, within this elite circuit of events these athletes fight to be a part of, once a contest is on it’s meant to run like a well-oiled machine, and compassion can get squeezed out with that many moving (and expensive) parts at play.
Big Wave Tour General Manager Bill Sharp didn’t sugarcoat the fact that Star was the only competitor at this year’s Challenge to miss their heat, and that athletes arriving too late after the 48-hour call is actually an unusual occurrence.
“We had nine women and 24 men arrive on time,” Sharp said. “Generally people will arrive the day before and get their boards situated and attend the competitors meeting, but…she unfortunately had a series of travel missteps. The time to be ready to go was well-known within the rules and she just missed her ride. She just arrived too late, unfortunately.”
The good news is that, even though Star never donned a jersey, she will walk away with something to show for her troubles just by making it out to the lineup.
Sharp said she’ll be awarded at least the minimum prize money, and she banked a 7th place finish and 3,715 points toward her 2018/2019 Big Wave Tour efforts.
“She arrived with a few minutes left, so she did participate in the heat and she will get prize money,” Sharp explained. “She made it before the heat was over and she was in the lineup. She didn’t win the heat, but she participated.”
“The WSL [officials] tried to make me feel better in the end,” Jamilah recounted. “They said, ‘We know you’re a great big wave surfer, but you need to learn to be a professional big wave surfer.’ I know now I need to be here a week in advance training, watching the swells with my kids. The only sacrifice I can make for Pe’ahi is try to let go of my weaknesses and be stronger.”
There is, of course, the other sacrifice humans can make to Jaws which she happily accepts: spine-tingling fear in the heart of chaos, and the Waimea charger offered that up on Monday as well. Star remained in the channel and out of the lineup for the rest of her heat out of respect for the ruling, but after the hooter blew it was full speed ahead for Jamilah to make the journey to Jaws count with at least one ride. She had a look at an insider only to be caught on the wrong side of a 25-foot face. A jet ski attempted a rescue, but ultimately had to evacuate the impact zone sans Jamilah when she didn’t got on the sled in time and was left diving off her board into whitewater oblivion.
“I went out there and I was ready to go, and that outside set comes. That’s the humbling reality of Jaws,” Star said of the wipeout and heavy hold-down actually gave her a confidence boost to do better in the next big wave comp. “The waves today are gnarly, so I did free surf and I almost got one, but I got a 20-foot set on my head. That held me down for a long time, and I felt really confident. I felt that power and it felt really good. I was down past the amount of time I’m normally down, and I was dragged all the way to the inside and I lost my board. But when I popped up I felt really good, so at least I got that great experience of the training.”
A young grom named Liam who had retrieved a hot pink snapped-off nose from a fallen gun ran to Jamilah with a Sharpie, asking her to sign his prize. “Liam! Go big! Love life! You Rule!” Star wrote in swirling cursive, beaming. Next up: a request for a photo of Star standing next to the scoreboard of her heat-that-never-was, which she did with flourish and a laugh.
“This is good! So people can see I’m not pregnant, because that was the reason last time I got an equal ninth. I’m not pregnant, I was just late!” Star said, laughing heartily before turning the conversation to her favorite subject: her kids. “My son that I was pregnant with that year is one and a half now. I told him that he’s the only male competitor to ever surf in a women’s Jaws contest, because he surfed it with me.”
Star will have a chance to put her lessons in punctuality to the test at the next and final stop of the Women’s Big Wave Tour is at her part-time home break of Mavericks in Half Moon Bay, California sometime between now and March 31, 2019.
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