Keala Redefines Women's Surfing
Keala takes us inside her massive XXL barrel at Teahupoo, Tahiti.
Keala Kennelly just redefined women's surfing. On a day when the best big wave surfer's from all over the world had gathered in Tahiti for one of the biggest swells of the summer, Keala patiently waited her turn, got the go ahead and absolutely stole the show on an XXL behemoth-of-a-wave at Teahupoo. It was hands down the wave of the day, the wave of the swell and a truly historic moment in surfing. Here's a quick interview with Keala post Teahupoo bomb:
Keala, tell us a little bit about the lead up into this swell and what it took for you to get to Tahiti.
I had been watching that Tahiti swell and a Puerto swell and was trying to make a decision which one to chase. The Mexico ticket was way cheaper so I was leaning towards Mex but after speaking with Kevin Wallis at Surfline I decided Mex wasn't going to be big enough and the Tahiti swell looked too good to pass up. At that point I really only had about 48 hours to get my shit together and luckily I was able to stop by the Billabong factory in Irvine and grab a new "Gladiator Suit" since I realized I had left mine in Hawaii.
What was the whole day like up until you got whipped into that wave?
My flight got me into Tahiti at 5am the morning of the swell and then its a 2 hour drive to the end of the road. I have my tow board at my Tahitian families house on the point so I had to go grab that... there are a lot of steps that go into chasing a big swell like this. I paddled a kayak out to the lineup with all my gear and was able to get on a boat with Brent Bielmann. I spent the entire day all geared up waiting for a turn with the tow rope but skis were limited and the sets were inconsistent so it was taking a long time for guys to get waves. So I waited all day and finally at the end of the day Raimana took a break and was nice enough to let me borrow his ski and driver. I love Raimana he is the man and he got so many bombs, so inspiring.
Walk us through your wave and everything that happened.
Well, like I said I had been waiting all day and by the time I actually got a chance it was later in the afternoon and the wind had picked up and it wasn't as clean so that was making me a bit nervous but I wasn't going to be happy if I watched all day and didn't get a wave of my own so I just went for it and took my time selecting that wave. I passed on a much smaller one that had some chop on the face and when I saw that one standing up I knew it was going to be a bomb so I was like "Ok this is it... This one is for you Salope" (Salope is a nickname I call a dear friend of mine that is battling stage 4 cancer). I let go of the rope and I dropped down into it. I had to come into it real straight on because when it sucks below sea level it creates this trench that you don't want to come at sideways because you can catch a rail so I had to come down real straight and then once i got through that trench I bottom turned up into the barrel and stuck my line. I felt like I had a good line and was pretty determined to make it out of the barrel and right then the wave turned mutant, the West bowl bent at a 45 degree angle back at me right as the bottom of the wave dropped out and it swallowed me whole.I got a pretty serious beat down.
What was the beating like?
I got a pretty serious beat down. I got exploded on with so much force my helmet blew off. I got smashed down onto the reef pinned on my back and held there for awhile. Then I came up and got a breath just in time to get the wave behind it on the head. That one slammed me on the reef with a lot of force the whole left side of my body hit really hard. Felt like I broke my elbow and my hand. At first I couldn't move my hand but after awhile I started to be able to wiggle my fingers so that was a good sign and by then I had washed into the lagoon and the jetski came and got me. I had so much adrenalin running through me part of me wanted to go back out and get another one but I was bleeding and in a lot of pain and then the jet ski took the tow rope up in its prop and crapped out so my tow session was over.
Looking back on that wave and seeing the photos/ footage, what’s your reaction?
It's funny because after that wave I was kind of bummed because I waited all day, and only got 1 wave and I didn't even come out of my barrel. When I got back to the boat my friend Brent was freaking out and claiming like biggest heaviest wave by a chick ever and I thought he was just messing with me and then he showed me the photo and then I didn't feel so bad for not making it out of the barrel ;)
What’s your plan now?
I am here in Tahiti for a few more days. I would love to get back in the water and clock some barrel time. This is a long expensive flight to only catch one wave and I'm not just a tow surfer so I would like to get back out there and paddle into a few. My hand is really swollen today and it hurts to bend my elbow so I am taking the day off. Hopefully I wont be as sore tomorrow.