Paige Alms has no qualms about playing with the boys. In fact, she’s one of the few women in the world who regularly braves big wave surfing. Considered a female pioneer of the sport, Alms is breaking down barriers in the traditionally male-dominated sport.
The Clymb: Big wave riding is still pretty much a male-dominated sport. How does that affect the things you can do or your involvement in it?
Paige Alms: Being a woman has and never will affect the things that I or other women can do, in surfing or in any other sport. People have preconceived ideas of what is possible, man or woman, but all of those opinions are constantly changing. For example, did I think I’d ever paddle into a wave at Jaws and get barreled? Not in the beginning of the paddle movement out there. But a few weeks before I did it, I told my photographer friend Tracy Leboe that I was going to do it. She laughed and thought I was joking, but a few weeks later, we were talking “I told you I was going to do it!!” The possibilities are endless, for men or women.
The Clymb: Is being a woman an advantage or disadvantage in the sport?
PA: I think it can only be an advantage because we are proving to the world that women can do what the men are doing on big waves!
The Clymb: How did you get started in water sports? What’s your sports background?
PA: I always loved the ocean and felt as if I was drawn to it at a young age. My entire childhood I played soccer, baseball, track, cross country, skateboarding, pretty much everything. I started surfing when I was about 10 and everything kind of took second choice after that!
The Clymb: Why the jump to wave riding rather than just sticking to “plain” surfing? What attracted you to it?
PA: I guess you mean “big wave riding.” Well, big wave surfing was just a natural progression for me, I always loved challenging myself and pushing myself to get better. Nothing is more challenging and humbling than big wave surfing. It is the most exhilarating feeling I have ever experienced.
The Clymb: What would you consider your most impressive accomplishment in the field so far?
PA: My barrel at Peahi in January; by far my biggest accomplishment of my life.
The Clymb: You were the first ever female surfer to get barreled at Jaws. For readers who are not familiar with this, can you explain exactly what that means?
PA: Just to clarify, I wasn’t the first. My dear friend Keala Kennelly got barreled there a few years prior, but it was a very short pocket ride, she would even say that. So to explain what that means, basically I paddled into a 30 foot wave, got to the bottom of the wave, “bottom turned” up into the pocket of the wave, and the lip “threw out” over me. We call it getting tubed, as you are riding a tube of moving water. It is the best feeling you can have on a wave and that feeling is even more accentuated on a huge wave like that. Only a few men in the world have been barreled at Jaws, so to be a woman on that list is a great feeling!
The Clymb: What made this challenge so significant?
PA: That it was a first of many more to come!
The Clymb: How do you deal with fear when facing a gigantic wave and the unpredictability of the ocean?
PA: It is all about accepting your fears and learning how to push through that fear calmly. Being physically and mentally prepared to take on anything that mother nature throws at you is the most empowering feeling you can ever have. With that being said, I do a lot of training in the gym, breath holding and surfing as much as possible, as the ocean teaches you the most valuable lessons of all. Conquering your fears, wow, how invigorating!
The Clymb: You have a documentary coming out later this year. Can you tell us a bit more about it? What was it like to film it?
PA: Yes, it is called “The Wave I Ride” and it was made by Devyn Bisson. We premiered it here on Maui in June at the Maui Film Festival, under the stars in Wailea, with a turnout of more than 2,500 people. Being a part of this project was a huge learning experience for me and I am so grateful to have been a part of it all. The movie should be on iTunes by the end of the year and a schedule of the film tour should be up on the site soon.
The Clymb: What else is coming up next? Any competitions planned?
PA: No competitions at the moment, although I am hoping there will be a women’s heat at the Peahi Challenge this winter! As far as what’s coming next, I am getting shoulder surgery next week for a spot of avascular necrosis I have on my humeral head, which I got when I dislocated and fractured my shoulder two years ago. So lots of rehab and training ahead to be ready for winter!