When Krissy Montgomery’s friend, Mike Jacobsen, asked her why more women weren’t participating in surf contests, the longtime surfer and Tofino, British Columbia, resident was blunt in her response.
“Because we kind of get treated like crap. The prize money is way less, we surf at the worst times, we’re so sidelined,” she recalls, comparing the typical female experience to that of the male competitors. As the owner of Surf Sister, Tofino’s famously inclusive surf school, there were few locals more qualified to address the topic than Montgomery. Continuing the conversation, Jacobsen—the general manager at Tofino’s Shelter Restaurant—posed the question of whether organizing a local, women-only surf contest could foster positive change.
“I got so used to the way it was. I never thought about actually changing it,” says Montgomery. “But that’s how the spark got lit.” In October of 2010, a women’s surf event dubbed “Queen of the Peak” came to life on the shores of Cox Bay, Tofino—with Montgomery and Jacobsen as co-founders.
Nowadays attracting Billabong as a major sponsor, along with a dedicated group of local supporters as well as international competitors and attention, the annual Queen of the Peak remains a nurturing and uplifting place for women to elevate their athleticism.
“Although there is prizing and people take it seriously, this competition is more about camaraderie and providing an introduction to the contesting world,” explains Montgomery. “You can see girls hugging each other as they get out of the water. It’s a real confidence-builder.”
Though she hopes to organically grow the contest for years to come, the community feel will remain forefront, with a focus on bringing surfers together in a supportive environment. At the latest event, held in October, this inclusive vibe was evident in the surfside wood-fired hot tub where fellow competitors laugh together, the free massage table where surfers rejuvenate between sessions and, above all, the smiles on the faces of competitors, spectators and judges alike.
“Sometimes while organizing this contest, I’m so ‘in it’ that it’s not until I look through the photos or watch the recap video that I’m like—wow, everyone is having such a good time!” says Montgomery.
Vital to the future of this event is the Princess of the Peak category for the under-16 crowd. The aim was to inspire young girls to advance in the sport. In this case, the spark of inspiration wasn’t just lit, Montgomery explains—it exploded.
“There are now more young girl surfers [in Tofino] than young guys,” she says. “I really think this contest has helped contribute to that.” And it’s not only the quantity. It’s the incredible athletic quality—propelled in part by high-calibre international competitors challenging locals at Queen of the Peak.
“Until a few years ago when we had this surge of girls come up from California, we honestly didn’t know we could surf that well. None of the girls had even thought of getting a surf coach before. Girls have since been taking on coaching and blossoming as athletes,” she says. “Now on any given day, our Canadian girls are just as good as these girls from other countries.”
For evidence, look to the Olin sisters, Mathea, 13, and Sanoa, 10—two Tofino youths making impacts on the world stage. In September of last year, Mathea placed ninth in the VISSLA ISA World Junior Surfing Championships in Azores, Portugal, before winning the Longboard category and placing second in Shortboard at Queen of the Peak. (Yes—this tween competes against adults on her home waves.) Sanoa grabbed top honours in Princess of the Peak against stiff competition.
“I knew [the contest] would have a good trickle down and this community would eventually put out some phenomenal younger athletes, but I didn’t think it would happen so soon,” says Montgomery. “It’s a few generations ahead of what I thought it would be.”
2017 Queen of the Peak
2017 Queen of the Peak will run from September 29 to October 1.