Keala Kennelly was officially awarded the 2018 title of Big Wave world champion at a World Surfing League function this weekend and she was very aware of the historic nature of her win.
“I needed to dream bigger because when I was 25, I was hiding in the closet, soaked in shame, living in fear, and I hated myself because I did not think you could be World Champion and gay at the same time,” she said.
“I needed to dream bigger because now I get to be the first openly gay World Champion. I get to be proud of who I am and I get to love myself exactly as I am, not as people would want me to be. And it is my hope that I am going to inspire other LGBT athletes that are suffering in silence to live your truth.”
Kennelly, who has also championed equal prize money for female surfers, talked last year about the prison that the closet was for her.
“I was living a double life and dying inside every day that I wasn’t living authentically. I struggled with extreme depression. The only thing that made me feel good was winning but if I was losing that compounded my depression to the point where I would be having constant thoughts of suicide.”
Now liberated, Kennelly is a proudly out mom and a world champion.
Update: Kennelly was mistaken in saying she was the first openly gay surf champion. Cory Schumacher won three titles while she was competing.