Sarah Gerhardt is not a professional surfer, but among big-wave riders she needs no introduction. In 1999, Gerhardt was the first woman to drop in at Mavericks, the monster break off the Northern California coast. Just a few weeks later, Quicksilver held the inaugural surf contest there, calling it "Men Who Ride Mountains.” In fact, no woman was invited until 2016, when the contest was forced to add a women's heat in order to receive a permit from the California Coastal Commission.
Being a pioneer in a male-dominated sport is never easy, but Gerhardt had a particularly challenging road. Growing up in San Luis Obispo, California, she and her sister cared for their mother, who suffered from severe muscular dystrophy, while their father was at sea for months at a time as a merchant marine. The family often struggled financially and she was bullied in school. But Gerhardt’s dad gave her a surfboard and wetsuit for her 13th birthday and she found refuge in the ocean. On a trip to Hawaii in college, she fell in with a crew of surfers that included big-wave icon Ken Bradshaw, and quickly found herself tackling bigger and bigger waves.
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