The West Coast is showcasing the strength of its female surfing community this weekend at the fifth annual Queen of the Peak Womenâ€™s Surf Championships.
The championships kicked off on Friday and will run through to Sunday with over 100 women taking on the weekendâ€™s waves and about $10,000 worth of prizes up for grabs.
â€œThe long-term forecasts are looking like theyâ€™re going to cooperate for sure, weather wise and wave wise,â€ event organizer Krissy Montgomery told the Westerly last week.
â€œWeâ€™re going to see some excellent surfing.â€
Montgomery, who owns Surf Sister Surf School, helped launch the competition in 2010 with Mike Jacobsen of Shelter Restaurant.
At the time, some surfing competitions in Tofino did not have womenâ€™s categories and those that did were seeing modest female representation, according to Montgomery.
She said women werenâ€™t getting stoked on competitions because prize money greatly favoured male competitors and female heats were scheduled outside prime wave conditions.
â€œItâ€™s always been sidetracked so the women donâ€™t feel that into it,â€ she said.
â€œWhat we decided to do was reverse engineer a contest addressing those problems and making it so women feel really included and really special…and also to showcase and celebrate how many talented female surfers there are here on the West Coast.â€
She said Tofino benefits from a variety of female friendly surf shops and surf schools that encourage women to participate.
â€œItâ€™s something that Iâ€™ve noticed the more and more I surf-travel, Iâ€™ve never seen a place where thereâ€™s this high a population of female surfers in the water surfing at a high level,â€ she said.
â€œAlso youâ€™ve got to give credit to the men in this town. They are so accepting of having women in the water and encouraging; itâ€™s fantastic. Iâ€™ve been in other places where the guys arenâ€™t as receptive to women in the lineup and out here the guys are awesome.â€
Now heading into its fifth annual showing, the Queen of the Peak has earned international attention from both competitors and spectators.
â€œIt puts Tofino back on the map at a time when Tofino isnâ€™t always that busy in the fall,â€ Montgomery said.
â€œWe still have great weather and fantastic surf so thatâ€™s been really neat to showcase over the years as the contest has grown and involved more international competitors.â€
She attributeâ€™s the eventâ€™s consistently strong success to its fun vibe and welcoming atmosphere.
â€œEven though it is a contest and the girls do take their surfing seriously, thereâ€™s such comradery in the water,â€ she said.
A new addition this year will be an exhibition heat in a new masters division for surfers over 40 years old.
â€œInstead of them competing against each other, theyâ€™ll paddle out collectively and as a unit try to catch as many waves as possible and for every wave they catch weâ€™re going to make a donation to the Keep A Breast Foundation,â€ Montgomery said.
The Queen of the Peak donates all funds raised to the Keep Abreast Foundation, which works to eradicate breast cancer through education and early detection.
â€œWe all consider ourselves very healthy people as surfers but the demographic unfortunately is one in five of us is going to develop breast cancer,â€ Montgomery said.
â€œEarly detection is everything, so just getting people talking about it and thinking about it is always good and it gives us all a nice goal to works towards as a community.â€
The Queen of the Peak welcomed the next generation into the fold last year holding a Princess of the Peak event for girls 16 and under.
About 24 surf princesses shredded an exhibition heat during last yearâ€™s contest and 12 of them took it to the next level by surfing in a competitive heat, which was won by Tofinoâ€™s Matea Olin.
The exhibition portion has been nixed from this yearâ€™s schedule and the 24 princesses signed up for this yearâ€™s event will rock a full-blown competition.
â€œTheyâ€™re looking not just to get out there and say â€˜hey Iâ€™m surfingâ€™ theyâ€™re looking to say â€˜hey Iâ€™m surfing and Iâ€™m starting to pick up my game here,â€™â€ Montgomery said.
â€œItâ€™s pretty phenomenal.â€
Montgomery said the Princess of the peak category was brought on to welcome the upcoming generation to the sport.
â€œOne thing about Tofino that youâ€™ve got to love is that it is a small community at the end of the day and you are responsible for the generation behind you, so if thereâ€™s anything we can do to stoke those kids and get them excited and living healthy lifestyles by all means we should do it,â€ she said.
Montgomery is stoked to welcome a diverse range of surfers to this weekendâ€™s event.
â€œItâ€™s healthy and itâ€™s inspirational for everybody to see surfers older and younger than you just getting out there and enjoying the water,â€ she said. â€œWe all are out there to inspire each other and have fun.â€
Anyone unable to make it down to the beach this weekend can still watch the action, as the competition will be streaming online at the eventâ€™s website www.queenofthepeak.com.
â€œPeople can just log in from anywhere in the world and watch the contest live on the beach as it unfolds,â€ she said.
The eventâ€™s key sponsors are The Wickaninnish Inn, Billabong, Surf Sister and Shelter Restaurant.