Women make waves at Hawaii's 'Jaws' challenge

Story highlights

  • Women take on giant waves off Maui
  • Peahi wave is known as "Jaws"
  • First women's big-wave event

(CNN)They hurtle down huge walls of water defying injury or worse, but these are not your typical big-wave warriors.

For the first time, women competed alongside the men in the Pe'ahi Challenge -- a surfing event at the infamous "Jaws" break off the Hawaiian island of Maui.
    Riding liquid mountains more than 30ft high, 12 pioneering women braved giant surf in the inaugural Women's Big Wave Tour event.
    "We're incredibly proud to be introducing a women's event this season," Big Wave Tour commissioner Peter Mel told the World Surf League website ahead of the competition.
    "These ladies are some of the most dedicated, passionate and talented big-wave surfers on the planet. It will be phenomenal to witness them tackle Pe'ahi."
    Jaws, which is officially known as Pe'ahi, was first ridden in the 1990s by surfers using a colleague driving a jet ski to tow them in to the wave.
    The huge swells -- sometimes up to 60ft high -- were initially thought to move too fast to paddle into like traditional surfers, but the paddle-in movement has grown in recent years.
    The jet skis are also used to rescue fallen surfers from the impact zone before another huge set of waves crashes over them.
    The surfers are highly tuned athletes who train specifically for the challenge of riding big waves, including the ability to hold their breath for long periods of time in the event of being held underwater by the violence of the waves.
    Maui local Paige Alms, 28, won the women's title at Pe'ahi, while another Hawaiian Billy Kemper topped the 24-strong men's competition.
    "I still feel like it's kind of a dream, but I can't believe it," Alms told the World Surf League after her win. "What a blessing to be out there with just a couple girls. That was special, for sure."
    Women have long lobbied for a big-wave event but organizers have typically argued there was insufficient strength in depth to warrent a competition.
    Some big-wave spots such as Mavericks at Half Moon Bay in California were considered too dangerous for women, although the Titans of Mavericks event will also feature a women's competition this year.
    Surfing in giant waves can be deadly even for the most experienced surfers. Famous big-wave rider Mark Foo drowned at Mavericks in 1994, while Hawaii local Todd Chesser died surfing a huge swell on an outer reef off the North Shore in 1997.