It’s Round 2 of the Billabong Pipe Masters. Jordy Smith is running away with the final heat of the day against the man with the best name in professional surfing, Wigolly Dantas. The waves are good, but nothing like the heaving barrels of the day before. Sets are coming in at around head and a half – what a Hawaiian might call 3 to 4 foot. The general feeling in the commentary booth is that the surf is getting worse, and this is confirmed when WSL Commissioner Kieran Perrow comes on to explain that there won’t be any more competition today due to the fading swell and a rip developing in the line-up.
As a replacement for Round 3, The Women’s Pipe Invitational, a single-heat event featuring four of the best from the world of female surfing, will take place at the close of the action. The timing of this showcase is understandable – while doing nothing to resolve the feeling that the womens' events sometimes have to make do with second best waves, in this case due to local Hawaiian laws, the WSL have a very limited time to run the comp and 'added-extra' events such as showcase heats can’t expect to be held in the best waves.
But with 10 minutes left in Jordy’s heat, the women suit up and start to paddle out, and the commentator says this:
‘It’s a perfect day for them Ross, Backdoor, a good size, still a couple of scary ones coming through but there’s the opportunity for one of these women to get the best wave they’ve ever surfed out here at Pipe’
Really? The best wave they’ve ever surfed at Pipe? Bear in mind one of these women is Teahupoo-charging, reef-nutting all round superwoman Keala Kennelly. The rest of the line up is made up of three-time world champ Carissa Moore, Calafornian shredder Courtney Conologue and Hawaiian local Tatiana Weston Webb.
These girls absolutely charge, and have proved themselves more than capable on much ‘scarier’ days than this.
Let’s be fair. This was a throwaway sentence made by a commentator who had been talking all day, finding ways to fill the space between lulls and to come up with ever-inventive descriptions of the thrilling but undeniably repetitive spectacle of the top 44 getting pitted at Pipe. You could also argue that the guys in the booth had been tasked with generating a bit of excitement for the girls’ heat, to keep viewing figures up for another 45 minutes. To their credit, the commentators were full of praise for the women competitors and womens' surfing as a whole throughout the showcase heat itself, giving Keala Kennelly's Instagram page and the gut-wrenching shots of Escondido and the like that she posts up there a special mention.
It must also be said that the WSL have in recent years made huge steps towards giving women's surfing the respect it deserves.
But semantic lapses like this suggest that old habits die hard, and that even in 2015 women surfers have to face ever-so-slightly patronising comments that undermine just how good they really are.
You only had to watch the showcase itself to see that the best women surfers in the world today are more than capable of handling Backdoor’s barrels, and could do so on much scarier occasions.
Things are definitely moving in the right direction for women's surfing - that they decided to hold this showcase instead of another 'legends of yesteryear heat' was another example of this. But there's always room for improvement.