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Keala Kennelly: Breaking barriers for women

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Keala Kennelly

Keala Kennelly: Breaking barriers for women

Before Keala Kennelly was a world-class DJ, she was– and is still– a world-class surfer who broke barriers in the sport for women.

More importantly, Kennelly is a fierce advocate for women athletes for the sport of surfing– as well as fighting for LGBT rights on the waves as an out lesbian.

Keala Kennelly: The surfing life

Born on August 13, 1978 in Kauai, Hawaii, Keala was raised on the sport of surfing.

“I was just a baby when my father taught me how to surf. I began surfing with all the neighborhood boys and some of those boys were very good and that inspired me to want to be better,” she said in an interview.

After she turned professional at 17, she began surfing in the World Qualifying Series (WQS). Bagging 2nd place at the WQS in 1997, she got in the World Championship Tour.

She soon accumulated a number of wins and awards: winning twice at the Billabong Pro in Teahupoo; a runner up at the 2003 ASP Women; the 2003 Triple Crown Winner; and twice winner of the illabong XXL Girls Performance Award.

In particular, 2003 was a good year for her as she gained the top spot at the WCT rankings and managing to corner the 2nd best female surfer in the world position before the year’s end.

Though she took a break in surfing in 2007 take up acting, she returned shortly thereafter, winning the first women’s big wave contest at the Nelscott Big Wave Classic in 2010.

In 2013, she became an Inductee of the Surfing Walk of Fame & Actions Sports Hall of Fame. As surfing icon Kelly Slater once said about Keala, “The craziest guy of them all is a girl.”

Keala Kennelly: Advocating for women surfers

Throughout her surfing career, Keala never forgot that she was also making waves for women surfers.

Though she’s not in agreement on having women compete with men in surfing, she said she would still do because of the lack of venues for women in the sport.

“I would do so only because no other venues currently exist to express my talents and to compete. That is a complete and utter buzzkill. Basically, women are not being treated fairly,” she told The Inertia.

She also said there’s a disparity to how men and women are viewed in the sport: “On the men’s side, it’s about who can surf the best, but on the women’s side, it’s about who can look the best in a bikini, you know?”

“So, yeah, that is frustrating to me, and that’s something I’ve been going up against my whole life, because I’m kinda the antithesis of that,” she said.

Keala Kennelly: A standard for lesbians

When asked about coming out as a lesbian and losing sponsors for it, she said in an interview: “I knew I liked girls from a very young age, but also I knew that me liking girls wasn’t cool or accepted, so I tried really hard to be straight, and I could tell that it was not my thing!”

“Things have changed now for gays and lesbians around the world, but I think the surfing industry is just really stuck behind the times,” she said.

She did say that one thing surfing has taught her, it’s to be brave to ask a girl out.

“(T)here are times in my life where if I’m nervous to ask a girl out, you know, something stupid, I’m like, “You ride these huge waves– like, this is not gonna kill you! If this girl shoots you down, you’re not gonna die!” Keala said with a laugh.

For more about Keala Kennelly as the main DJ for the upcoming The Dinah Shore, check out the latest issue of Lesbian News for this month.

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