Big waves are 20 feet tall or more. If you wipe out while attempting to surf one, it can push you 20 or more feet underwater, leaving you only seconds to get to the surface before the next wave crashes down. That's presuming you aren't slammed into rocks, reef or the sea floor. "Waves are not measured in feet and inches," as big wave surfing pioneer Buzzy Trent famously put it. "They are measured in increments of fear."
With injury and even death a possibility, there's a widely held presumption that big wave surfing is man's work. Why this is the case is anyone's guess, as the courage -- or insanity -- required to surf big waves has nothing to do with gender.
The Wave I Ride: The Paige Alms Story, a new documentary with upcoming screenings around the Bay Area, demonstrates this truth and then some. Watch in awe as Alms, a Maui-raised athlete, lugs a heavy rock underwater for training; and cringe in sympathy as she nurses a dislocated shoulder ripped from its socket by a wave. If Alms has the guts to go in when the surf is high, it seems like it should be a given that she should be treated with the same reverence as her male counterparts. But that's not the case. "I don't think the tide has turned yet," says Devyn Bisson, the director of The Wave I Ride.
Case in point: in January 2015, Alms became the first woman to "get barrelled" (ride inside the tube of the wave) at Jaws, a monster surf break in Maui where waves can reach 60 feet. "That was the most-talked about wave of 2015," Bisson says.