Women have never competed in the 15-year history of the event, although several women regularly surf where the competition is held off Pillar Point.
The announcement came less than a week after Cartel Management, which took over the Mavericks competition in mid-2014, submitted an amended permit application that included no plans for women's-only heat this year. Their proposal had the first women's heat starting next year, for the 2017-18 contest.
Last November, the Coastal Commission voted to require contest organizers to include women as a condition of approval for any future event permits.
Many female surfers wanted that inclusion to come in the form of a women's-only heat. Four of those surfers founded a group, The Committee for Equity in Women's Surfing earlier this year and submitted a proposal for what a women's heat would look like.
"We believe that it’s time for the women athletes to be given an opportunity to
compete in a women’s division at Mavericks," wrote surfers Paige Alms, Keala Kennelly, Andrea Moller, and Bianca Valenti, who lives in San Francsico.
But event organizers have argued they never excluded women in the first place and female surfers are equally eligible to compete as male surfers -- if they're good enough.
“If a woman is hitting the criteria, then they’re going to surf their way into the contest,” said Darryl “Flea” Virostko earlier this year. Virostko won the contest three times and now serves on Committee 5, the group that selects the 24 invited surfers.
Despite the Coastal Commission's vote last year, plans for this year's competition did not originally include women. So this week's announcement to have women compete a year earlier than expected came as a surprise, even to those involved in the debate.
"There was no hint that anything like this was brewing," said Sabrina Brennan, who serves on the San Mateo Harbor Commission and who first brought the issue to the attention of the Coastal Commission.
“I wasn’t expecting this,” Valenti told Surfer Mag. “But I think it’s awesome. I’m just excited to see the women’s side of the sport strengthen. It felt weird always asking for them to let us women in. So it feels great knowing they know want us to be apart of this rad big-wave community.”
Details about the new women's heat are still forthcoming, and organizers did not respond to requests for additional comment.
What we do know is six female surfers will be invited to compete by Committee 5 by Nov. 1. The women's event will include two semi-finals and a final -- currently planned to be held in between the men's heats. They will compete for $30,000.
Brennan said some of the event's organizers would like to hold a roundtable discussion with the women and are considering the possibility of a two-day format, weather permitting.
She also said there are still some issues to be worked out.
"I'd like to see something in writing," she said. So far the news has only been mentioned on social media.
The female surfers have also requested a woman sit on the selection committee.
Mavericks is hosting its opening ceremonies today and the holding period extends from Nov. 1 to March 31.