Benjamin Sanchis 

Unusual weather patterns in the North Pacific have produced the hottest January on record in much of California, and have left West Coast big wave surfers largely starved for waves for the last two months.  Likewise, the normally battered Hawaiian coastlines have suffered through a similar drought of extreme high surf warnings this winter season.  But at the same time, the Atlantic Ocean has produced a bounty of massive storms and swells, becoming a key focus of the 2009 Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards as the event heads into the final six weeks of its yearlong event period.

Among the most spectacular images to emerge from the barrage of high surf is a shot of Benjamin Sanchis (Hossegor, France) at Belharra, an outer reef located in the Basque Country near the French/Spanish border.  The photograph by Stephane Salerno is reminiscent of several other massive rides at the break which earned XXL Biggest Wave nominations in 2003 and 2008.

While some of the Atlantic storms lashing the European coastline have arrived with unfavorable weather, there have been many days where the conditions have come together for the surfers who have been on the prowl for the right window of opportunity. Isla Pancha, in the Cantabria region of Spain, has produced some excellent entries for Basque surfers Asier Muniain, Ibon Amatriain and Aritza Saratxaga along with Cantabrian Oscar Gomez.  To view these images along with hundreds of additional entries from around the world, visit the event website at BillabongXXL.com.

According to Surfline, the official surf forecast of the XXL, the trend continues.

"The North Atlantic has been in a very active pattern over the past few weeks producing a series of large swells," said the Surfline forecast team. "We continue to remain in a very active pattern with plenty of solid swell due for the region over the coming days. The North Atlantic storm track is expected to remain fairly active over the next couple of weeks which means potential for even more XXL swell."

A number of top International surfers have heeded the call and gone "Across the Pond" to fill their need for winter power.  Perennial XXL finalists Greg Long of San Clemente, California and Grant "Twiggy" Baker of Durban, South Africa gave up their lengthy vigil at Northern California's Maverick's and flew to Ireland some weeks ago.  The pair connected with locals Fergal Smith and Tom Lowe and the group has been treated to what Long described as, "Crazy barrels...kinda like cold water Teahupoo," in reference to the deadly Tahitian break.  Look for some Monster Barrel entries from those sessions to appear on the XXL event site in the coming days.

Additional new video clips and still photos continue to arrive from around the world week after week in all key categories of the event including the Billabong XXL Ride of the Year Award, Billabong XXL Biggest Wave Award powered by Honda, Monster Tube Award and Monster Paddle Award.  Also featured are the Surfline Best Overall Performance Award and the Billabong Girl's Performance Award.  In total, over $130,000 in prize money will be awarded in the ninth annual edition of big wave surfing's top event.  The competition is open to all qualified, invited surfers at any surf break around the world over the course of a full year and is based on the photographic evidence.

Although there is still plenty of time for more shocking swell events to occur before the event period concludes with the Vernal (Spring) Equinox on March 20, 2009, the world's big wave elite are already making plans to attend the gala Billabong XXL Awards ceremony this April 17 at the Grove Theater in Anaheim, California.  While the 2000 seats at the Grove are invitation only, the entire evening's activities from Red Carpet arrivals to the final award will be broadcast during a live webcast at www.BillabongXXL.com and televised as a one-hour special on ESPN2 on the evening of May 28.

The Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards are presented by Monster Energy Drinks.  Verizon Wireless is the official communications provider, Surfline.com is the official surf forecast and Honda the official watercraft of the XXL. Additional support for the event comes from Air Tahiti Nui and Surfing Magazine.


SOURCE: Billabong XXL