Senior Editor

The Inertia

“Committed” is a term that’s thrown around a lot in surfing. It means, in a general sense, that your head is down and you’re going, no matter what. It’s not just on a singular wave, though — “committed,” to a big wave surfer, is how most of them live. And Keala Kennelly is the epitome of the word.

Over the course of her career, she’s faced more than her fair share of obstacles. Battled depression. Battled injury. Battled sexism. Battled homophobia. And of course, battled huge freaking waves. Now, she’s a figurehead for a movement. But with all those giant waves come giant wipeouts. Like the one that she endured at Jaws on February 11, for example.

“That’s never an award I set out to win at the beginning of the year. That’s never on my goal list, but I’ll take it,” she told Pete Mel when he broke the news that she was the winner. “When you’re about to throw yourself over the ledge and you get a huge gust of wind that comes up the face, it just gets under your board and there’s really not much you can do at that point because you’re fully committed.


She went on to describe in detail exactly what happened. “That one I felt the board lift and I literally was grabbing my rail and pushing the front of my board down,” she said. “I wanted to make it so bad. I felt like, ‘I can still stick this.’ I’m pushing it down and the wind’s pushing it up and my fin released. My board went sideways, flipped up, hit me in the shin, flipped again, hit me in the ribs, then flipped again and hit me in the face. Then I just cartwheeled like three times.”

As bad as that wipeout was, it came with both the territory and a silver lining: it won her the WSL’s Red Bull Big Wave Awards Wipeout of the Year. If there’s one thing we know about Keala, though, it’s that it won’t even phase her.

See more from the World Surf League here.


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