Yes, Virginia, There Is A Women’s Triple Crown Too

Rochelle Ballard grew up riding waves with the boys, and now is a symbol of women’s surfing ready to capture a Triple Crown title

Katie Young
Friday - November 11, 2005
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Rochelle Ballard surrounded by just part of her surfboard collection
Rochelle Ballard surrounded by
just part of her surfboard

Even if you weren’t a surfer, hearing Rochelle Ballard describe the feeling of riding a barrel would make you want to hop on a board and head out into the water.

It’s the ultimate feeling for any surfer - being surrounded by a wall of liquid, covered by the lip of the wave, listening to the subtle, quiet roar of the water and peeking through the opening and seeing light, coconut trees, other surfers or even dry reef (if you’re surfing that crazy spot). It’s graceful, controlled, committed.

The tube is the most beautiful and powerful moving force in nature - a place where four seconds can last forever - and in the world of women’s surfing, it’s the place where Ballard reigns supreme.

Ballard, 34, a native of Kauai but an Oahu resident for the past decade, is a symbol of everything women’s surfing has become and where it’s going. She has been on the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) World Championship Tour (WCT) for 14 years, and though a world title has eluded her thus far, Ballard has captured virtually every other accolade imaginable, and is certainly the most popular women’s surfer in the new millennium.

In 2004, Ballard came so close to her ultimate goal. She finished runner-up to the world title and was set to charge again this year - a serious contender for the WCT title until a high ankle sprain she incurred six weeks ago took her out of the running.

Even three weeks ago, Ballard tried her luck in a Malibu, Fla., contest, but didn’t make it to the semi-finals, leaving her in fifth place in the WCT ratings as 17 of the top-ranked female surfers and a few wild-cards gear up for the Vans Women’s Triple Crown of Surfing starting this weekend.

Ballard, known to her friends as “Rochy,” still hopes she’ll be ready to tackle the big waves of Hawaii’s North Shore at her full potential and capture a Triple Crown title - a title just as coveted as the world title by professional surfers.

“This is the longest I’ve been out of the water since I was 15,” says Ballard. “I just have to give it time. I started paddling and getting back into the water because if I don’t before the Haleiwa contest starts, I’ll be huffing and puffing out there.”

The Triple Crown has long been one of the most coveted titles in surfing, according to event executive director Randy Rarick, because it stands as a testament to the skill and big-wave capabilities of surfers who can prove themselves the best at a variety of locations in Hawaii during large winter swells. The women’s Triple Crown is currently in its eighth year. For the first time in five years, there will be a true Triple Crown for the women, starting with the Roxy Pro at Haleiwa Nov. 12-23, followed by the return of the Sunset Beach contest, the O’Neill World Cup, Nov. 25-Dec. 7, then wrapping up with the Billabong Pro at Honolua Bay on Maui Dec. 8-20.

Rochelle Ballard — said to be the Kelly Slater of women’s surfing — catches a sick wave at the Pipe
Rochelle Ballard — said to be the Kelly Slater of
women’s surfing — catches a sick wave at the Pipe

(The men’s Triple Crown events coincide with the women’s events. They include the OP Pro Hawaii Nov. 12-23 at Haleiwa, the O’Neill World Cup at Sunset Beach Nov. 25-Dec. 7, and the Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters at Banzai Pipeline Dec. 8-20.)

It’s the culmination of a year that has been challenging for Ballard. “I started the year off encountering a couple of obstacles in the first two contests, but I’d rather not get into specifics,” she says.

Ballard also got injured the night before the first annual O’Neill Island Girl Junior Pro event supported by Reef on Kauai in September - the first-ever, all-female junior pro event that Ballard put together. To ensure the sport’s growth among young women, Ballard also co-founded International Women’s Surfing (IWS) and launched the Rochelle Ballard O’Neill Surf Camp, now in its fifth year. The three-day camp for 60 girls focuses on surfing techniques, but also cultural education and cross-training.

“Funny enough, I think I’ve learned even more this year,” says Ballard, who has had top 10 finishes every year on the tour since 1994. “Sometimes when challenges come your way you feel like, ‘Why did this have to happen right now?’ But to me it’s just positioning me to be able to do what I really want to do. Sometimes you have to lose in order to understand how to win.”

People remember Ballard partly for her gutsy passion but also for specific waves she has conquered. To this day, two waves she rode at the Australian Billabong Pro in Burleigh remain a topic of conversation. She scored a perfect 10 on both, first emerging from a long, spitting tube, and then performing a full air-drop, maneuvering around a crumbly section, and then straight into the tube for a solid five or six seconds.

“It was a surfer’s dream,” she says. Ballard is said to be the Kelly Slater of women’s surfing because she pushes the level of the sport to the next notch.

“There had always been a select few who had that respect throughout the history of women’s surfing like Rell Sunn, Margo Oberg and the Calhoun sisters,” says Ballard. “It wasn’t until Lisa Andersen started to attract media attention ... and then three years later along came a handful of us like myself and Serena Brooke, Megan Abubo, Layne Beachley ... That’s when things started to change.”

Ballard was trying to make surfing a career long before female surfers had much credibility. She grew up surfing with the boys. There weren’t any other girls her age doing it, but her love for the ocean at a young age prompted her to ask her dad to teach her how to surf at Hanalei Bay on Kauai.

“I learned to swim the same time I learned how to walk,” she remembers. “I grew up naked on the beach. I remember one day I was sitting on the beach watching people catch waves and I thought, ‘Why am I sitting here on the beach? I want to be out there doing that too.’”

Ballard says when she really got into surfing at age 12, she never cared about competing. She never thought there was an opportunity for a career because women weren’t getting the exposure.

It was her mother, who had saved up $20,000 for Ballard’s college education, who supported her daughter’s dreams so much that she let Ballard use the money to get started on her professional career as a surfer.

“She easily could’ve said, ‘Forget this surfing stuff,’” says Ballard, who finds great inspiration not only from her fellow surfers but from her mom, dad and grandmother.

So Ballard quit her job working at her stepdad’s restaurant on Kauai and went to massage school to get her license as a way

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