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Bianca Surfing Big Wave


Athlete Spotlight: Bianca Valenti

Q: Introduce yourself! 

A: Hi, my name is Bianca. I’m a professional big wave surfer, mindset coach, and entrepreneur.  I’m also an activist and advocate for gender equity and the environment.  

Q: How and when did you start surfing? 

A: I started surfing 31 years ago when I was 7 years old standing on a boogie board in Dana Point. I had a lot of fire in my personality and my mom saw how the ocean was a very healthy and safe place to channel that energy. Mom doesn’t surf but she sure is awesome – she then asked me if I wanted to try a hard board and said my budget was $75. We finally found a used board at Killer Dana Surf Shop, it was covered in skull and cross bones. I was terrified by the art, but luckily the guys at the shop said don’t worry, we’ll paint it white. Just come back tomorrow. The next day, we got the board, and she took me down to Doheny Beach, put her chair in the sand, and said, “Don’t make me come rescue you.” I paddled out and remember catching my first and the feeling of riding it going right, then left, and then right again. It was the best feeling in the world.  From that moment on all I wanted to do was keep catching better waves.  


Photo Credit: Sara Lee 

Q: What role does the ocean play in your life?

A: My heart is the ocean it is everything to me.  

Q: Where do you see the future of surf culture? 

A: I see the future of surf culture as being more inclusive and more accessible to everybody. I just surfed Steamer Lane this past weekend, and during my first session, there were about 100 people out between the slot and middle peak, and there was only one other woman, which made two, including me. I was surprised but also saw that as a great growth opportunity for women's surfing. Get out there ladies – you belong!  


Photo Credit: Josh Bystorm

Q: What has been the highlight of your experiences as a big wave surfer?

A: Mentoring up-and-coming young athletes like Zoe Chait who have the work ethic, the drive, and the mindset to achieve the “impossible.”  This past winter, on December 28th, I caught the biggest wave of my life at Mavericks. I was towed into this gorgeous giant green behemoth, it must’ve been 60 feet tall by 60 feet wide. I was traveling at mach speed with G5 force and as I was coming across the face I saw a 3ft or so chop / ramp coming at me and when I hit it I extended and failed to stay compressed and absorb the shock in my ankles, knees, and hips (once you get the shock wave through your upper body it is almost impossible to keep your trajectory and make the wave). As I was falling, I completely surrendered and relaxed as I got sent very, very, very deep – my guess is 60 feet deep. I was covering my head to protect my neck and keep my shoulders from getting ripped out of the socket repeating my positive mantras which help me conserve oxygen in these situations, “I love this, I live for this” – I thought about clearing my ears because the pressure was super intense but I decided that would require using too much energy. Finally, the wave released me, and I popped up with my left hand, thinking my partner Jeff Kafka would be right there; I was facing the cliff and looked right and then left and did not see Jeff or any other person (there were 8 rescue teams looking for me). I turned around to face the horizon and realized why because the next equally as big wave was about to mow me over. This time, I was completely inflated with oxygen because I had pulled both cords on my float vest, so when the wave hit me, I basically got pushed on the surface for what felt like 5 football fields. I continued to cover my head and practice my mantras, but I added one more positive saying, "ChiChi, my dog, who I LOVE." That beating finally ended and Drake the lead rescue operator for the Mavericks team picked me up and as I got a hold of the sled the next 50-foot wave was about to hit us so he gunned it and I didn’t have enough energy to hold on…so I had to take the 3rd wave on the head as well. Once I surfaced, I was about at the rocks, and this time, Rafael Tapia from Chile was right there. I was able to get on his sled before the 4th wave smashed me into the rocks.  We made it to a safer zone, where he handed me the radio, and I told the 8 rescue teams and the spotters on the cliff that I was GOOD!  Zoe was out watching the whole thing, which I really respect and think is smart because in big wave surfing, there is no rush; it’s a marathon, not a sprint!  She then helped me look for my board for the next hour.  We never found it.  Finally, we returned back to the lineup and the wind had come up so I decided I was done for the day and at just that moment I heard another legend Hide had found my board, it had shot up on top of the jetty pilings then over into the harbor and didn’t have a single scratch!

This was a highlight experience in big wave surfing for many reasons…because I saw that my mentee is learning through observing and practicing being a risk technician rather than a risk taker by choosing to just observe that day. Because I felt the love and support of a community and culture that hasn’t always felt that way. And because the waves have never been that big at Mavericks before and who knows when they will be again and it was just freaking awesome to get to experience the rawness and power and continue to have new experiences in a sport that I’ve been practicing and dedicating my life to for the last 31 years!   


Photo Credit: Sachi Cunningham

Q: In your eyes, what are some of the most pressing issues affecting your local beaches and community?

A: Plastic on the beaches and in the water, it’s everywhere. Dirty water from runoff and sewage as well as large corporations illegally dumping pesticides and nasty sh*t in our waterways that lead to the ocean. And ocean warming, which causes all kinds of issues that impact our health, like algal blooms (red tide) and a crazy amount of velellas or the little blue sailors, which give off a toxic stank for a couple of months a year. Also, sea level rise which damages streets, infrastructure, and houses, especially during the winter months.   

Q: What is the most important thing you tell others about protecting the ocean, waves, and beaches?

A: Every little bit helps and every tiny or large effort you can take to protect the ocean matters.  Education and community are key, so I suggest joining local groups and getting active in your area. A couple of organizations in SF that are worth checking out are the Surfrider Foundation, Save the Waves Coalition, Sustainable Surf, and Baykeeper SF. 


Photo Credit: Lucano Hinkle

Q: Anything else? 

A: Proud to share this fun fact – I started volunteering for Surfrider Foundation doing beach cleanups when I was 7 and by the time I was graduating high school had accumulated over 500 hours of community service from beach cleanups, stuffing envelopes at Surfrider HQ for outreach (pre-digital era), as well as volunteering at their annual galas on the catering team. I believe that to be in service of others (as well as the ocean and environment) is the highest form of existence. I intend to walk this path until the day I die and I invite others to join me in catching and creating better waves for all!  

Header Image Photo Credit: Christa Funk