Surf’s Up at the Wahine Classic Surfing Competition in Wrightsville Beach

No boys allowed. For Jo Pickett and her fellow organizers of the Wahine Classic Surfing Competition in Wrightsville Beach, this statement holds a whole new meaning than it ever did in schoolyard games.
By Katelynn Watkins

“Everyone has said how pleasant the vibe is,” she says. “Not that guys can’t be pleasant; it’s just different. It’s less competition, and more about the fun.”

It’s not uncommon to think of competitive sports in terms of male and female leagues or categories. Wrightsville Beach’s own Wahine Classic is no exception. Since taking on the overall organization of the event in 2013, Jo Pickett says she has integrated the models of other all-girls surfing competitions, like the Sisters of the Sea Surf Classic in Jacksonville, Florida, and the Folly Beach Wahine Classic in South Carolina, to continue the tradition.

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“I had a great foundation to follow,” Pickett says. “A history.”

But Pickett, who also owns and instructs at Crystal South Surf Camp, wasn’t always the one calling the shots on this particular contest. From 1997 until 2011, it was called the East Coast Wahine Championships, and was managed mainly by big names in the industry like Billabong. As with so many other fields, she says, surfing suffered in the 2008 financial crisis, which eventually led to a brief hiatus on the contest.

Having competed in the previous championships alongside her two daughters, Pickett was already well-versed in the community’s expectations for the competition. When it came time for someone to pick back up where previous events left off, she took it on, changing the name to what it is today to give it a fresh start and a tie to other surfing competitions across the country.

The Southern North Carolina District of the Eastern Surfing Association is now one of the main beneficiaries of the competition, and does its part to assist in pulling things together alongside Pickett. She also says she’s had a lot of help over the years, namely from local sponsors like Marine Warehouse Center, Oceanic, the Blockade Runner, and countless surf shops in the region.

“This is the impetus behind women’s watersports in the area,” she says of the help she receives from various members of the community. “People come to me and want to do things – it’s great!”

That isn’t to say that Pickett doesn’t have her hands full. Between surfing classes, she also has to find the time to work with each sponsor and contributor on a personal level to make sure everything comes together on the big day. And, there’s the important matter of competition age brackets and awards to consider. Since each year has seen between 90 and 100 girls from several states sign up to compete, that in and of itself can take up quite a bit of Pickett’s time. While the previous event saw a larger number of older surfers, she says that the younger crowd seems to be flocking to the Wahine Classic, as was her intention when Pickett first took up the mantle as organizer. She says she prefers to split them up in smaller age brackets in order to help the girls gain their confidence and still enjoy competing.

“Sometimes it lights a fire under these girls,” Pickett says. “There’s a really good feeling when you surf better than you think you can.”

Of course, more age brackets mean more prizes for Pickett to gather, but she doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, rather than get a generic trophy, she’s ordered hand-carved collectibles from the Amani Children’s Foundation since 2008, when the prizes were different sizes of giraffes. This year, Wahine Classic winners can expect to receive their very own handcrafted gazelles.

Also unique to this year’s competition is a special category just for soft surfboards, which Pickett says have become increasingly popular in the industry due to a lower risk of injury.

“I’m adding two larger age groups for soft surfboards,” she says. “The boards are getting better and better, and I think it’ll be a good way to bring out more girls who want to come surf and have a good time. As they should.”

For those who haven’t had the chance to register for the Wahine Classic, entries will be accepted until August 20, and the event will be held Friday, August 23, through Sunday, August 25. Attendees and their families are welcome to attend a cookout and welcome party on Friday at South End Surf Shop when they pick up their competition packet, and all are encouraged to support local vendors and take in the Wrightsville Beach and Wilmington areas over the course of the weekend.

“It’s been fun,” Pickett says. “I don’t see myself giving it up anytime soon.”