Two months remain in the yearlong period for the Ninth Annual Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards and a swag of Australia’s top riders are well in contention.
The $USD 130,000 Billabong XXL Awards are the Oscars of big wave riding, with eligibility open to big wave surfers at every break around the globe during the one-year contest window.
The event closes at the end of the Northern Hemisphere winter on March 20, followed by the award ceremony in California on April 17, where the gladiators of big wave riding meet.
West Australian Damien “Taco” Warr is among a host of Aussie daredevils leading the way for XXL contention after tackling a monster ride at a secret offshore location on the West Australian coast. Warr’s ride, currently entered in the $USD 15,000 Biggest Wave Category, is over 50ft (15m) tall on the face, similar to a five story building, and was tackled in April of 2008.
“The conditions were perfect that day, the wind was light offshore, the sun was out and it was the first swell of the year so there was no one else around,” said Warr. “I remember going across the ocean heading out to the reef, which is about 3km off shore and from side on we were watching these monstrous waves breaking top to bottom.”
“I jumped straight off the ski when we got out there and as we were making our way out to the take off zone, a series of sets came through. We let the first set pass and the second one was just absolutely huge,” he said. “It was the biggest wave I had ridden by far and at the time I didn’t realise just how big it was because I hadn’t surfed out there for a year and a half.”
“You are so focused on what is going on at the time that everything around you is a bit of a mind blank you are just so intent on making the wave and making sure it doesn’t land on your head.”
“I would hate to think what a lip like that landing on you would do to your body.”
“The South West of WA definitely has some of the biggest and most consistent swells in Australia and it is on par with the other big wave locations around the world for sure.”
Warr joins a list of surfers, including tow partner Alex Cater, to have had solid waves entered in the awards from the West Australian outer bombie.
“I’ve never thought of myself as being on the same level as the great big wave surfers from the USA, Europe and Hawaii,” he said. “To be recognised in these awards is fantastic, when I first put that wave in for contention I didn’t think it would come close because people always seem to be riding bigger and better waves in California and Hawaii, but to even be in the running is insane.”
The reigning champion in the XXL Big Wave Award division is Californian Mike Parsons for his world record Cortes Bank wave which measured in excess of 70 feet on the face.
Another popular favourite in the Biggest Wave category is another Southern Hemisphere resident, Grant "Twiggy" Baker (South Africa), who rode a massive wave at Tafelberg Reef off Capetown, South Africa, on the biggest day ever challenged in his home country.
Baker is also considered a likely nominee for the Monster Paddle category along with fellow South African James Taylor for a wave they shared in the semi-finals of the Red Bull Big Wave Africa contest at Dungeons in July. The South African also paddled into several enormous waves earlier this winter in the USA at Maverick's, near San Francisco, California, further advancing his reputation in that discipline.
Among the other Australian favourites for the $USD 50,000 Ride of The Year category are Ryan Hipwood (Gold Coast, Qld.) for his airborne jump into the tube at Shipstern Bluff, Tasmania, along with Sydney surfer Mark Mathews for a thick tube at a newly discovered wave in Western Australia dubbed "The Right." Also contending thanks to a long and brutally thick barrel at Shipsterns is Hobart's James Hollmer-Cross.
“It would definitely be a crazy thing to make one of the top five nominees in any of the categories,” said Hipwood. “I would love to get nominated and go over to California for the award ceremony.”
Both Hipwood and Mathews could also be contenders for the Monster Tube Award which honours the most remarkable still photo of a surfer riding inside the barrel of a big wave.
The Shipsterns break in Tasmania has consistently fielded entries in the XXL awards with Australian surfer Dylan Longbottom winning the Monster Tube Ride category for a ride there in 2005.
“Shippies is definitely one of the heaviest waves in the world,” said Hipwood. “When you are out there and you see just how much power some of the waves break with, it just blows you away.”
Other Australians with solid entries in this year's Billabong XXL Awards include Kerby Brown (Kalbarri, WA), Andrew Mooney (MacMasters Beach, NSW), Josh Kerr (Tweed Heads, NSW) and Michael Brennan and Marti Paradisis (both of Hobart, Tasmania).
Their rides are among the over 330 entries received to date from all around the world including Australia, Chile, Tahiti, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Spain, South Africa and Oregon and California along the USA West Coast. Interestingly, Hawaii -- normally a mainstay of XXL content -- has yet to register a solid entry this winter as a La Nina weather pattern begins to take hold.
It may be a bit early for any of the Down Under surfers to begin packing their bags just yet as the month of February tends to statistically produce some of the most intense storms and high surf of the year in the North Pacific and North Atlantic. Europe especially has seen a series of enormous swells the last few weeks, but they have been accompanied by poor weather with only brief windows of quality conditions.
The Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards is the original and most prestigious competition of its kind and the only event to honour the extraordinary achievements of all big wave riders at all breaks around the world over the course of the full year.
The event period ends with the Vernal Equinox on March 20 and the nominees will be announced that week in all the categories including the Billabong XXL Ride of the Year, the Billabong XXL Biggest Wave, the Monster Paddle-In, Monster Tube, Surfline Best Male Performance and the Billabong Girls Best Performance.
The Ninth Annual Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards are presented by Monster Energy. Surfline is the official surf forecaster, Verizon Wireless is the official communications provider and Honda Aquatrax the official watercraft. The event is sponsored by Surfing Magazine and Hawaiian Airlines.
For full details on the Billabong XXL Awards, including format, rules and all the latest photos, visit the event website at www.BillabongXXL.com.
SOURCE: Surfing Australia