Adventurers of the Year 2006

Jamilah Star: Soul Surfer

The top female surfers these days are nearly as visible as male pros, but not in the testosterone-charged world of big-wave riding. Apparently nobody told that to 29-year-old Jamilah Star. Last February, JamStar, as she calls herself, broke into the scene at Mavericks, a legendary (and legendarily dangerous) big-wave break in northern California. With swells so large that several male surfers relied on Jet Skis for tow-ins, Star, a purist, paddled out and caught herself a monster.

"When I first dropped in," she says, "I noticed I was in the air so I threw my weight forward and felt as if I was free-falling." It turns out the wave face was so steep and so large, 30 feet (9 meters) or more, that she was free-falling. But when her board connected with the water she did the right thing: She crouched low, absorbing the bumps, and raced down the line to a safe exit. A few months later, that monumental ride—along with a few more gigantic hauls—won Star the 2006 Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Award for female performance. A nice honor, but hardly a payoff—the women's award is only $5,000. No matter, though. Star eschews big money competitions and most pro-sports sponsorships. Instead she lives the surfer's life on the North Shore of Oahu, scraping by as best she can and quietly—spectacularly—redefining the sport for an entire generation of female surfers.