‘Never Say Die’ Keala Kennelly Wins Jaws Challenge at Pe’ahi, Hawaii

Pe’ahi delivered as promised with some of the biggest waves in competitive history coming into Jaws and Kennelly rose to the occasion alongside the first heat of men’s action.

PEA’HI, Maui/ Hawaii (Monday, November 26, 2018) -Today, Kauai’s Keala Kennelly (HAW) won the Jaws Challenge at Pe’ahi, one of two stops on the World Surf League (WSL) Women’s Big Wave Tour (BWT). The women kicked off competition in 35-to-50 foot surf at Pe’ahi on Maui’s North Shore, completing the event, while the men got through Round 1 Heat 1 before the competition was put on hold due to the long-period swell creating unsafe conditions.

“We’re going to put the event on hold for the rest of the day and come back tomorrow,” said Mike Parsons, WSL BWT Commissioner. “It just felt like that 20-second energy was overloading the reef. After that last heat of the men’s, we talked to the head judge and only one wave was made. Billy (Kemper) was close to the ride of his life, and so was Twiggy (Grant Baker), but we had our water patrol safety at max capacity. Every ski we had was on the inside and it was tough to keep track of every surfer and make sure they were coming up.”

Death-defying drops and horrific wipeouts were in abundance early and often as the women took center stage to crown their event winner, Kennelly.

Kennelly’s bravery led the charge as she and her fellow competitors pushed the envelope for big wave surfing. The 40-year-old threw caution to the wind on some of the morning’s heaviest drops, followed by gut-wrenching wipeouts, which proved to be the difference maker for her maiden BWT victory. The Hawaii-competitor didn’t back down in either her Semifinal or Final heats, keeping Andrea Moller (BRA)Emily Erickson (HAW), and reigning BWT World Champion Paige Alms (HAW) at bay.

“I’m too tired to celebrate, it hasn’t really sunk in yet,” Kennelly said. “That was the most challenging conditions I’ve ever surfed out here. There was so much wind coming down the face getting under your board and just wreaking havoc. My first wipeout I got so dragged by my leash I felt like my leg got pulled out of its socket and then I took a couple big ones on the head — I was literally seeing stars.”

A surprise performance from Brazil’s Moller garnered her a runner-up finish, but it was Oahu’s Erickson who only needed a 0.75 (out of a possible 10) to overtake the lead. She ended the event with a third-place result after she was unable to secure a strong backup score. Unfortunately for Justine Dupont (FRA), the event’s top performer in Semifinal Heat 1, a dislocated shoulder and dislocated knee rendered her unable to continue and she ended with a fifth-place finish.

Bianca Valenti (USA) couldn’t find her rhythm in the lineup and went through the Final without a wave ridden.

Competition shifted to the men and two-time Jaws Challenge winner Billy Kemper (HAW) wasted no time taking off on one of the day’s biggest sets. Kemper’s deep bottom turn set him up for a huge barrel as the wave then engulfed one of Maui’s own, but the damage was done and he posted an excellent 8.17 which, after doubled as his highest wave, totaled to 16.34 (out of a possible 30). The 28-year-old finished off with a 19.01 heat total after his second wave wipeout earned him a 2.67 as the following wave briefly knocked him unconscious.

“This is just a good ole day of Maui glass, realistically it’s light wind for Maui and everyone underestimates the conditions out here,” Kemper said. “It is what it is. You guys want to see a Big Wave Tour and see the best big wave in the world, this is it. I’m just really having fun and I’ve worked my whole life to get to this point. To be here and get to perform on this platform we do, it’s a dream come true and I’m psyching.”

Pe’ahi, known as “Jaws,” breaks off the northern coastline of Maui with the ability to produce waves in excess of 60 feet. The event premiered on the BWT in 2015 and has witnessed exceptional performances since its addition to the Big Wave Tour. Pe’ahi is also the venue that hosted the first WSL Women’s Big Wave Tour event and crowned the first Women’s Big Wave Tour Champion. Today the venue hosted the first WSL event to award equal prize money for both men and women following the WSL’s commitment earlier this year, becoming the first and only US-based global sports league, and among the first internationally, to achieve prize money equality.

Women’s Jaws Challenge at Pe’ahi, Hawaii Final Results:
1 – Keala Kennelly (HAW) 8.67
2 – Andre Muller (BRA) 7.97
3 – Emily Erickson (HAW) 7.86
4 – Paige Alms (HAW) 4.01
5 – Justine Dupont (FRA) 0.00
6 – Bianca Valenti (USA) 0.00

Women’s Jaws Challenge at Pe’ahi, Hawaii Semifinal Results:
SF1: Justine Dupont (FRA) 12.50, Paige Alms (HAW) 8.66, Andrea Muller (BRA) 2.00, Jamilah Star (HAW) 0.00, Raquel Hackert (BRA) 0.00
SF 2: Emily Erickson (HAW) 8.00, Bianca Valenti (USA) 5.80, Keala Kennelly (HAW) 4.23, Isabella Leonhardt (MEX) 0.00, Silvia Nabuco (BRA) 0.00

Men’s Jaws Challenge at Pe’ahi, Hawaii Round 1 Results:
Heat 1: Billy Kemper (HAW) 19.01, Grant Baker (ZAF) 15.26, Russel Bierke (AUS) 10.87, Mark Healy (HAW) 10.14, Alex Botelho (PRT) 6.24, Ryan Hipwood (AUS) 4.20

Upcoming Men’s Jaws Challenge at Pe’ahi, Hawaii Round 1 Matchups:
Heat 2: Lucas Chianca (BRA), Naxto Gonzalez (EUK), Nathan Florence (HAW), Jojo Roper (USA), Albee Layer (HAW), Shane Dorian (HAW)
Heat 3: Kai Lenny (HAW), Makuakai Rothman (HAW), Tom Lowe (GBR), Will Skudin (USA), Koa Rothman (HAW), Aaron Gold (HAW)
Heat 4: Ian Walsh (HAW), Jamie Mitchell (HAW), Greg Long (USA), João De Macedo (PRT), Francisco Porcella (ITA), Tyler Larronde (HAW)

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