By Shannon Reporting

Watching the women back in the competitive mix on the Seven Mile Miracle brings up childhood nostalgia for Sunset Local, 21-year-old Zoe McDougall, who recalls the days when the pioneers of women’s surfing inspired and wow-ed the crowd at Sunset Beach. Zoe and her mother have been vocal figures in the fight for more women’s events in the Hawaiian Islands.

When Vans announced that women would be competing in the digital Triple Crown, it marked a turning point for girls like Zoe, who’s family worked together with advocates for women’s surfing to demand change.The moment she heard the good news, it was game on. After the first round of scoring, local knowledge had put her ahead of the pack in her efforts to fulfill her dream to win a Vans Triple Crown of Surfing championship.

What was your initial reaction when you heard that women would be included?
Zoe McDougall: When I first heard there was a digital Vans Triple Crown, I was like, ‘Wow that’s really cool. I wonder if I should just enter for fun!’ thinking it was only for men as it normally has been the past few years, and then I was over at the Ho family house one evening. Coco and I were just scrolling through Instagram or whatever and I saw the entry video for the VTCS. So, I asked Mason [Ho] if he entered yet and Mason was like, ‘I’m pretty sure there is a women’s division; you girls need to enter!” I immediately got so excited and signed up right there in their kitchen! It gave me such a rush to find out that I was going to have the opportunity to compete right here at home, something I have been dreaming of my entire life!

What were your goals going into the VTCS, and how does your competitive strategy differ given clips are filmed during freesurfing?
ZM: My goal, of course, is to win the overall prize and to show everyone my best surfing in the allotted competition period. The Triple Crown title is so respected in surfing; it’s the next best thing to a world title. It would be insane to be a Triple Crown champ. I think that the strategy is very different because we have almost a month to compete instead of 30-minute heats, in which we are safety surfing and watching the clock. This way we get to surf how we surf when we are relaxed (for the most part). It’s also cool to have the website and get to watch everyone’s submissions. That really makes it feel like a contest!

My personal strategy could have been thought through a little better. I sprinted for the entire marathon. I have been going so hard and surfing more than ever doing 6 and 8 hour days almost every day. My body is so beat! [Laughs] I’m covered in cuts and bruises, but it’s the best feeling… I just want to finish this event knowing I gave it everything I had.

Zoe McDougall Photo Brian Bielmann

Which of the three venues do you enjoy surfing the most: Haleʻiwa, Sunset, or Pipe? Which wave plays to your strengths?
ZM: I love them all! I definitely feel the most confident at Haleʻiwa and Sunset. I have been surfing both those waves my entire life and have put in a lot of hours at each over the winters. Haleʻiwa is one of my favorite waves, but Sunset is really special to me. Most times I am out there it’s with my dad since it’s his favorite spot, so that’s really cool. It’s kind of where we go and hangout! I’ll surf Haleʻiwa and Sunset at any size and still feel comfortable, but I don’t have that same relationship with Pipe yet. I love surfing Backdoor… so I can’t wait to step outside of my comfort zone.

How could this digital platform open opportunities for more female surfers, given local contestants can surf from home without all the overseas travel and financial strain?
ZM: The digital platform is so awesome, and the first of many that we will see in the future. I think that this is a great new form of competing that still gives us so much opportunity. I am really excited because this is the first time that I have gotten to compete at home on the North Shore in a few years. Usually I have to fly halfway across the world to learn a whole new break, but now I’m at my home court, not to mention how expensive all the travel is… It’s so nice to know that there is only money to gain right now. I’m not thinking about how much I have spent on the event, which is always an added pressure.

How can the surf community support gender equality?
ZM: Surfing has come so far in the last couple of years. It’s amazing to see! I think that what I would love to see here in Hawaiʻi is more events for women. We are happy and willing to surf anywhere, we just want to have more opportunity, and regional events. There are so many good girls coming out of Hawaiʻi; it would be rad to have more events here.

Did you consider the inclusion of women in the prestigious Billabong Pipe Masters event to be a victory for women’s surfing?
ZM: I think that the girls did a great job on such short notice. Everyone had been practicing at long right-handers for months to prepare for Honolua Bay, but then they ended up at Pipe which is such a different ballgame. I was really inspired by Carissa Moore’s waves. I think her knowledge of the break, paired with her talent, really shined. I think bringing the girls back to the North Shore is a major victory that I have been waiting on my entire life. I grew up watching the women compete in the Triple Crown at Sunset and Haleʻiwa and always dreamed that it would come back one day, so hopefully this is one step closer to that!

What do you hope to see in 2021?
ZM: I hope to see more peace, prosperity, health, and hugs in 2021. I think 2020 was a demanding year for everyone with lots of change and uncertainty, but I think great things are in store for everyone. It’s been a great winter so far and I’m sure it will be a great year!

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