Sabrina Brennan

Co-Founder

I live on a bluff that overlooks the Mavericks surf break and I serve as President of the San Mateo County Harbor Commission. I was first elected in 2012 and I’m currently serving a second term.

Sabrina Brennan CEWS Mavs 2018 Opening

In 2015, I advocated for the inclusion of women in the Mavericks big wave surf competition and persuaded the California Coastal Commission to require that women athletes be included.

Building on my success at Mavericks, I co-founded the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing and led the charge for global equal pay in professional surfing. I’ve made numerous remarks, written letters, and given presentations at Coastal Commission hearings and State Lands Commission meetings.

In 2018, the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing won the fight for global pay parity in professional surfing. Our work is the subject of two documentary films, and hundreds of news stories including the New York Times Magazine feature published in Feburary 2019, “The Fight for Gender Equality, In One of the Most Dangerous Sports on Earth.”

Gender-based discrimination in pro surfing first caught my attention in 1999 when Jeff Clark founded the Mavericks big wave surf competition in Half Moon Bay. The event was named, “Men Who Ride Mountains.” Now it’s two decades later, and women athletes have still not had an opportunity to compete in the Mavericks surf contest, however that will change when the next event is held.

Let me provide a little background:  Women big wave surfers ride 25-to 68-foot waves at the most dangerous spots on earth.The largest wave ever surfed by a woman is the height of a 7-story building. 

In 2015, I asked the California Coastal Commission to require that women be allowed to compete in the Mavericks surf contest. My request was supported in a 7-4 vote.

That success got the attention of professional big wave surfers Bianca Valenti, Paige Alms, Keala Kennelly, and Andrea Moller. Together we formed the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing with founding counsel Karen Tynan. 

In 2016, Paige Alms made history as the first Women’s Big Wave Champion at Pe’ahi, Hawaii. The WSL paid Alms $15,000 in prize money and they paid the men’s division winner $25,000. 

In Oct 2017, Alms successfully defended her title and again was paid 40% less money than a man.

In June 2018, San Francisco big wave surfer Bianca Valenti made history as the first Women’s Big Wave Champion in Latin America at the Puerto Escondido Cup. The WSL paid Valenti 75% less than her male counterpart surfing the same wave on the same day. 

In July 2018, the Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing met with the World Surf League in Redwood City and presented a proposal for equal prize money. We told the WSL to end gender-based discrimination. CEO Sophie Goldschmidt said NO, and threatened to cancel the Mavericks surf competition rather than pay women equally.

What did we do?  Back down? Accept less?  Hell No!  We stood our ground and went back to the Coastal Commission and demanded equal pay and equal access at Mavericks. We also got help from Betty Yee and Gavin Newsom and the California State Lands Commission staff. 

Here’s what happened next:  On September 5, 2018, the WSL announced global equal prize money for every WSL event, including the Mavericks Challenge, which may be held this month or next season depending on surf conditions.  

Four women surfers, an activist, a lawyer and our supporters stood together, united in our demand for equality and pay equity. 

And here we are today:  Assemblymember Tasha Boerner Horvath and Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez have taken an interest in the precedent our work has set and they are pursuing an equal pay in sports bill. Sadly, thier effort misses the mark. The Committee for Equity in Women’s Surfing is opposed to Assembly Bill 467 unless it’s amended. Increasing the number of events and the number of awards for women, as well as offering equal prize money, is the only way to achieve meaningful equity in competitive surfing.

CEWS has asked legislators to close the loopholes in AB 467 and stop businesses, event promoters, and athletic organizations from marginalizing women athletes by excluding them from athletic competitions.

Assembly Bill 467 does not protect athletes from gender-based discrimination.

We Support the Following Amendment to AB 467:

(A) “Competition” means competition or tournament on lands owned by the state and managed by the department.

(B) “Prize compensation” includes purse money, other awards, honors, gifts, rewards, goods, or other payment.

(C) “Event” means a segment of a competition such as a heat, race, or match, or game.

(2) The department/commission, shall require compliance with California non-discriminatory practices for individuals or groups protected by the California Unruh Civil Rights Act as a condition of a permit/lease, for a competition that awards prize compensation to competitors. Prize compensation shall be identical for all categories at each participant level. Event playing time shall be identicalfor each category, for a competition that awards prize compensation to competitors.The department/commission shall not approve a permit/lease for an event that does not comply with this condition.

Assembly Bill 467


NYT Magazine » Feb 24, 2019 » Artwork by  @gambineri  » Text by  @nancyreyering

NYT Magazine » Feb 24, 2019 » Artwork by @gambineri » Text by @nancyreyering