The 25 Most Adventurous Women of the Past 25 Years

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Keala Kennelly
Zuma / Alamy24/25

Keala Kennelly

On July 2015 Hawaiian surfer Keala Kennelly towed into and rode one of the biggest waves ever ridden by a woman at the legendary surf break, Teahupo'o.

“I rode deep inside a huge cavern of water until the foam ball vaporized me, and then I took a horrendous beating,” says Kennelly. “When I look at the pictures of that wave and how thick and scary it was, I can't believe I walked away from that experience.”

It was the stuff of legend and won her the 2016 Barrel of the Year Award at the XXL Big Wave Awards — an award that had only been won by men previously. This proud ride came a decade after Kennelly became the first woman ever to tow into Teahupo'o.

Kennelly became a pro surfer at age 17 and spent 11 years competing at the highest level on the ASP World Championship Tour.

“Competitive surfing is fun when you are winning, but it sucks when you loose. It can be draining to be constantly judged and compared to others,” says Kennelly of why she shifter her focus to riding big waves. “The thing I love about big-wave surfing is that it's more about you versus nature. There is a lot more adrenaline involved because you are putting your life on the line. It’s quite a rush.”

Kennelly’s surf career has been nothing short of prolific. Her mastery of competition surfing as well as the monster waves she’s ridden puts her in a class all her own. She’s such a badass that she actually played herself in the 2002 surf film Blue Crush.

When asked what the greatest challenge women surfers face, she said: “Being respected for their surfing ability not their sex appeal and not being compared to the men who are biologically built differently.”

Noteworthy Feats

  • 2015: Surfs the biggest wave ever at Teahupo’o.
  • 2011: Crashes into reef at Teahupo'o and practically rips face off.
  • 2005: First woman to tow into Teahupo’o.
  • 2003: Runner up to World Title in ASP World Championship Tour.
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