Catching up with pro surfer Bianca Valenti
By Haven Livingston
For professional surfer Bianca Valenti the progression into surfing big waves comes naturally after 23 years at the sport. From the first scared moment of catching a stand up barrel, Valenti has been hooked on seeking bigger waves to satiate the desire for that same rush of adrenaline. Now a regular at the lineup at Mavericks, Valenti is progressing at a calculated pace to become one of the world’s top big wave women surfers.
The 5’4” Italian-American charger moonlights as an Italian wine specialist, following in the footsteps of her master sommelier grandfather and chef father at the family’s restaurant in Marin County. Though she can charm diners in Italian, Spanish or English, when it comes to the ocean, she’s just as fluent in nature’s universal language of power. Her thrills come from stepping outside of her comfort zone. In the following interview, Valenti allows us to step inside the mind of a big wave surfer.
ASJ What is the range of feelings you go through when challenging yourself in big waves?
BV I keep myself pretty calm but optimistic before going out and I’m really just trying to assess the conditions and make the right board selection. Once I’m out there I’m really paying attention to the conditions and calculating what waves I want to catch. Nothing comes out of reaction, I’m doing everything with intention to try to get the best waves and push my limits in a smart way. When you get too excited you don’t think as clearly and your energy can get drained so I breathe calmly and I have a laser focus. The first wave makes my heart skyrocket the most, and then I start to calm down. I find that same adrenaline rush when I challenge myself on bigger waves later on in the session. When you get a good wave you just feel over the moon with joy. There’s no other joy in the world that can compare to the feeling of a ride where you were totally scared and confident at the same time and then you pull it off.
ASJ Having only spent a couple seasons at Mavericks, you’re a relatively new surfer there. What do you think your surfing there will be like in five years?
BV I’m excited for that! I feel like I’m really skilled on big boards so I think my surfing at Mavericks is just going to skyrocket because every session I gain more confidence in the lineup. And Mavericks is one of the most challenging lineups in the world to feel comfortable in. I already feel a night and day difference from this season to last season. I don’t see a limit on my potential to improve at Mavericks.
ASJ You’re an invitee at Super Sessions II, an exposition of women’s big wave surfing around the world in 2016 (see sidebar). What are the goals of Super Sessions II?
BV The goals are to unite the women of big wave surfing and to get them out at sessions at different big waves around the world. When you get the best athletes together they’re going to push the envelope and progress the sport. The goal is to see the bar raised.
ASJ What obstacles have you overcome along your quest to surf big waves?
BV Obstacles are mostly psychological. The conditions are the biggest challenge in big waves. As a woman you have to put yourself out there a little more. You have to be thick skinned, persistent and stay positive and stay true to your passion and why you’re there. The community of big wave surfers is one of the best in the world and once you start putting yourself out there, you get what you give.
ASJ What’s your perspective on wiping out?
BV The flip side (of successfully riding a big wave) is that you could get a really bad wipe out. Those are intense and often painful. You usually get bad compressions. The energy of the force at Mavericks could probably light up a small city and that’s what comes down on you when you wipe out. And if you’re injured that’s a bummer, but if you’re not injured, a wipe out is super humbling and grounding. You feel how little you are in this world. It’s really amazing to feel that power and that energy in the world.
ASJ With everyone in black wetsuits and hoods, how will we know it’s Bianca Valenti on a wave?
BV I have all pink boards this year. Pink is a happy color and it pops no matter what the color of the water is. I like the association with breast cancer awareness. And I kind of have a power stance – like your most stable athletic squat – like nothing can knock me over.
ASJ Who are some of your most inspiring surfing heroes?
BV Ryan Seelbach – he’s a really good friend from Ocean Beach and inspiration. He charges in every way, shape and form. Keala Kennelly – she’s always stayed true to her love of big waves and putting herself on the line and taking risks. Sarah Gerhardt – not only a pioneer of the sport, she’s such a great role model for life. Paige Alms – I’m inspired by Hawaiians because they just charge hard and they inspire me to go bigger. These big waves are so big you don’t always know if you’ll make it, but if you put yourself out there something really good could happen. I just focus on the good.
Super Sessions II
Bianca is an invitee at Super Sessions II which launched January 1, 2016 and showcases the world’s best big wave women surfers at various venues across all oceans throughout the year. Unlike surfing contests, where conditions might be lousy and surfers use defensive tactics by strategically not catching waves, SS II is about progressing the overall good of the sport and building camaraderie among the women. Follow their progress on Facebook at Facebook.com/Supersessions2.