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Keala Kennelly Is the First Openly Gay World Surfing Champion

Keala Kennelly

The surfer discusses the importance of LGBTQ visibility in her winner's speech for the Women's Big Wave World Championship.

Keala Kennelly has made LGBTQ history.

The 40-year-old Hawaii native is the first openly gay person to win a global championship in surfing.

Kennelly celebrated claiming her first title from the 2018 Big Wave Tour -- an annual international competition of champion surfers organized by the World Surf League -- in a speech published Tuesday from the WSL Awards.

In her remarks, Kennelly noted the historic nature of her win -- she triumphed in the Jaws Challenge last year in Peahi, Hawaii -- and discussed the difficulties of being a closeted athlete.

"When I was 25, I was hiding in the closet, soaked in shame, living in fear and I hated myself. I didn't think you could be world champion and gay at the same time," Kennelly said.

"Now I get to be the first openly gay world champion," she said. "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. It's my hope that I'm going to inspire other LGBT athletes that are suffering in silence to live your truth."

Kennelly is one of the world's best surfers. In 2003, she won the Triple Crown of Surfing for garnering top rankings in the Hawaiian Pro, World Cup of Surfing, and Pipeline Masters. She is also a DJ and an actress whose credits include the 2002 film Blue Crush.

Watch her acceptance speech below.

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