Twiggy in action 

Winter may still be technically a month and a half away in the Northern Hemisphere, but the ninth-annual Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards presented by Monster Energy is off to an all-time start thanks to numerous major swells all around the surfing world over the last seven months.  The brand-new BillabongXXL.com event website is brimming with both video footage and still photos of some of the biggest waves and best rides in the history of the event.

Among the most dramatic images are those from South Africa's Cape Peninsula region.  Durban surfer Grant "Twiggy" Baker is clearly among the XXL front-runners for the 2008/09 year with a massive wave at Tafelberg Reef as photographed by Brenton Geach and Alan van Gysen in early August.  Baker is also an early favorite for the Monster Paddle Award along with James Taylor for a huge wave they shared during the Red Bull Big Wave Africa event two weeks earlier.  Another epic Ride of the Year contender from the Red Bull BWA is the successful tube by California's Greg Long.  Long's ride stands out as one of the biggest paddle-in tubes of all time and must be seen to be believed.

The current event window continues through the Spring Equinox on March 20, 2009, with the annual gala awards ceremony scheduled to take place in Southern California during the second week of April, 2009 and will be featured as a one-hour show on the ESPN networks.  The Billabong XXL event features over $130,000 in cash and prizes in an array of categories and is open to all qualified and invited surfers at every big wave break around the world, based on the photographic evidence.

Australia has been another hotbed of XXL production in recent months.  Western Australia's Outer Bommie reef produced some massive walls on several days, some clean and some quite ugly, with Damien "Taco" Warr and Mark Matthews among those scoring key rides.  And Tasmania's notorious Shipstern Bluff has outdone itself once again, with a pair of astonishing rides by emerging big wave star Ryan Hipwood (Gold Coast, Australia) among the potential nominees for Ride of the Year at this early juncture.

But there are also some superb entries from unlikely locations -- such as the first ever XXL submissions from Puerto Rico.  Shot on the very first day of spring (and the first day of the annual XXL cycle) the images of Carlos Cabrero at Tres Palmas by Steve Fitzpatrick are clearly the biggest waves ever ridden in that part of the Atlantic Ocean.

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Pancho Sullivan 

Congratulations Pancho Sullivan, winner of the 2008 Xcel Pro Presented by Honolua!

In an all-Hawaiian, high-scoring 30-minute final, ASP World Tour surfer Sullivan took home his fourth Xcel Pro title, having previously won the event in 1998, 2000, and 2003.

Sullivan dominated from the start, hitting a contest-high 9.77 that put him firmly in the driver's seat over fellow finalists Kamalei Alexander (2nd), Danny Fuller (3rd), and Makua Rothman (4th).

"Epic," "pristine," and "all-time" were just a few ways used to describe the glassy morning conditions, as a new northwest swell came in overnight and brought clean, corduroy lines to Sunset Beach. Sets were firing from the very first scored wave by Marco Giorgi (Uraguay), who lined up a barrel less than 3 minutes into his heat.

The long period swell stayed clean through the finals, challenging riders to stay in position off Sunset Point for optimal set wave selection.

"I held back and paddled a little deeper," Sullivan said after the winner's ceremony on the beach, on his strategy to move outside of Sunset's west peak. "The third [9.77] wave of the set really helped me build momentum," as he soon built upon his lead with another crowd-pleasing 8.67.

Runner-up Kamalei Alexander of Kauai, needing a 9.45 to overtake Sullivan in first, wasn't able to catch the four-time Xcel Pro champion, taking off on an 8.70 in the final seconds of the heat.

"It was a fun, amazing final," Sullivan noted. "The best final ever here, and such an honor to win the 25th anniversary Xcel Pro."

The win surely vindicated Sullivan's decision to bypass the World Tour's Hang Loose Santa Catarina Pro in Brazil, and instead focus on competing at his local break. Raised (in his words) "surfing the reform" at Sunset Beach, Sullivan prepared for his Xcel Pro win with smart training on his home turf.

Sullivan has announced his plans to retire from the prestigious World Tour at the end of this 2008 season.

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Russel Winter 

The 2008 British National Surf Championships will certainly be one to remember.

This weekend (25th & 26th October) surfers from across the country converged on Fistral Beach, Newquay, to make the most of solid 6ft waves in one of the most prestigious contests on British soil.

With a bitter wind and changeable weather conditions, all of the contestants were pushed to the max with challenging, arm-stretching 10 minute paddle-outs. The action was explosive with the likes of Russell Winter pulling out big air-reverses while defending senior champion Ben Baird turned on the power with huge, gouging power carves. 

Saturday saw all of the initial rounds being successfully completed and a later Sunday start ensured that the nail-biting finals were run on the high tide, giving the surfers the best possible conditions to put on an amazing show for the beach–side spectators.

In the Veterans category, defending champion and local legend, Jed Stone opened the heat with a 4.0 ride leaving Gary Collins hitting back with a string of hacks claiming a top score of 5.83.  Jed replied with two huge turns out back and a ride through to the inside scoring a 7.17.  With Jed confidently in the driving seat, the three other surfers couldn’t match his experience and he claimed the Veteran title for the ninth time.

The Seniors hit the water next and it was Russell Winter that dominated the field with only a 4.83 from Paul Kirby to challenge him.  Russell hit an 8.50 before getting out with three and half minutes remaining, safe in the knowledge that the category victory was his. 

In the Masters, only feeler gauges could separate the four surfers  - from Tony Good’s excellent wave selection picking out all off the best waves, down to Cullum Murrells aggressive back hand attack.  The computer judging system was like a kaleidoscope of colour with the situation changing after each wave ridden, with the commentator out of breath reading scores and requirements for surfers to win.

Steve Winter and Chris Harris also worked hard throughout the heat but it was Newquay resident Murrell who emerged victorious. The British Women then hit the water for what was to be essentially a two woman final between Jo Dennison and Kathleen Spears.  Welsh girl Jo claimed a 8.00 for one of the most radical close out re-entries of the contest, smoothly earning her the British 2008 Woman’s Champion title.

On the beach and online the audience then gathered expectantly for the Open final on the perfectly placed high tide which was lashing up head high plus waves.  Oli Adams set the pace straight after the horn with a 6.67 and a showcase of fast off-the-tops and stylish fin release re-entries.  Mitch Corbett then stepped in to show his laidback smooth style earning a 6.0 from the judges. Up next was renowned aerialist Joss Ash who masterminded a range of smacks off-the-top earning his first real score of 5.67.

But with less than three minutes to go, Russell Winter then paddled-into a left-hander that started out back then opened up all the way through to the inside. He gave everything possible, tearing the wave to pieces earning a 7.60 and leaving the water. A last minute attempt by Joss Ash gave him the chance to try and steal Russell’s thunder but his valiant 6.27 just wasn’t enough. WQS surfer Winter celebrated his first British Open Champion title in over 15 years as well as the Senior’s top podium placing.

Russell said, “It was really great to be competing back where my roots are and I had a great laugh and joke with the old boys.  It’s certainly changed days with me also being in the Seniors and a lot of my old peers being in the Masters.  Definitely a different story to 15 years ago!  I really was putting everything on the line and although I felt that I surfed well in my heats, there was a lot of hard paddling and it really was pot luck with the waves with the conditions being the way they were.”

Contest Director Anton Roberts says, “It was without a doubt a sick weekend with extremely cold and challenging conditions but we couldn’t have asked for more solid swell.  Huge congratulations to all of the competitors and on behalf of the BSA, I would like to thank all of the sponsors for their contribution to the sport.  A huge amount of appreciation must also go to all of the staff and officials who worked so hard to make the event the success it was.”

Nick Briant of Fistral Beach Hire says, “All of the team at Fistral Beach Hire were delighted to get behind such a prestigious contest with our sponsorship. To witness the top British surfers performing in such awesome conditions right on our doorstep made us all very proud.”

For the first time ever the whole event action and live scoring was also streamed on the web by sponsors Tiger24.  In the past only the Rip Curl Boardmasters has had this resource and the invaluable new addition brought 5,700 unique hits from all across the world on Saturday alone.

Dave Sale from Tiger24 says, "We never imagined this amount of people would hit our site but we have learnt a lot this weekend and will now move forward ready for next year’s events. Bringing even more higher quality images will mean the contest is open for viewers across the world and it will bring a host of added benefits for sponsors.”

FINAL RESULTS:

Open
Pos    Score              Competitor Name
1st       13.60               Russell Winter
2nd      11.94               Joss Ash
3rd       11.67               Oli Adams
4th       10.17               Mitchell Corbett

Womans
Pos    Score              Competitor Name
1st       14.17               Jo Dennison
2nd      11.67               Kathleen Spears
3rd       5.20                 Nicole Morgan
4th       3.33                 Rachael Taylor

Veterans
Pos     Score             Competitor Name
1st       12.10               Jed Stone
2nd      10.16               Gary Collins
3rd       5.80                 Phil Williams
4th       5.77                 Laurence Couch

Masters
Pos     Score             Competitor Name
1st       8.70                 Cullum Murrell
2nd      8.00                 Chris Harris
3rd       6.40                 Tony Good
4th       6.33                 Steve Winter


Seniors
Pos    Score             Competitor Name
1st       15.00               Russell Winter
2nd      9.16                 Paul Kirby
3rd       7.53                 Pete Williams
4th       4.27                 Chris Harris