Derek Dunfee wins the Monster Paddle Award

The gladiators of big wave surfing took center stage in California last night for the ninth annual Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards.

Regarded as the Oscars of big wave surfing, the XXL awards recognize the biggest and ugliest waves ridden over the past twelve months as judged by a global panel of 250 surf industry, former pros, and big wave specialists.

Over 2000 people packed the Grove Theatre in Anaheim to witness mind-blowing rides from Chile, Europe, South Africa, Australia, Mexico, California, and French Polynesia.

Californian big wave surfer Greg Long, 26, took top honors at the gala ceremony and was handed $50,000 for winning the Ride Of The Year Category.

Long's entry came from a ride he conquered during the Red Bull Big Wave Africa event on July 26, 2008 at Dungeons, a renowned high surf location off Cape Town.

Of all the entries in the Ride Of The Year Category, Long's was the only wave ridden without the assistance of a PWC (Jet-Ski).

Paddling into a monster Dungeons peak and banking off the bottom into a huge tube ride, Long walked a fine line between glory and the punishing of a lifetime, before being spat out into the channel.

"I am glad to have won this as a paddle in wave and without a PWC, because most recognized big wave surfers will tell you this is the most difficult of the two," said Long.

"To catch a wave on your own power is an unbelievable feeling."

The San Clemente local finished ahead of Ryan Hipwood (Gold Coast), James Holmer-Cross (Tasmania), Garrett McNamara (Hawaii) and Brian Conley (San Diego, CA) to take his fifth XXL award.

He has now claimed the Ride Of The Year Category (08/09), the Biggest Wave Award (06/07), The Monster Paddle Award (07/08) and two Best Over All Performance Awards (07/08 & 03/04) further proving himself as one of the most dedicated big wave riders on the planet.

"I am feeling great, it's my fifth time, and now it's the big one," said Long.

"That is what is so amazing about this event, it brings everyone together at the end of the year. When we are out there riding waves, this is the last thing on our mind, we are out there because we love it."

In a daily double for the State of California, San Diego resident Derek Dunfee took out the coveted Monster Paddle Award. Ridden during the giant session at Mavericks on November 30, 2008, which produced three of the five rides in the same category, Dunfee used perfect positioning to complete a classic big wave ride.

He edged out Grant "Twiggy" Baker (ZAF), fellow Californian Nathan Fletcher, South African James Taylor and European charger Axi Muniain (Basque County - Northern Spain).

"That day was the best day of my life, and I wasn't sure if I was getting nominated," said Dunfee.

"I am 26, and I feel pretty honored to win and be up here with guys I have been looking up to all my life. I want to continue to work my way up, and this could be a true turning point to the next stage of my big wave surfing career."

South African big wave pioneer Baker, 35, was awarded two category honors in the 08/09 award ceremony, taking out both the XXL Biggest Wave Award and the Surfline Men's Best Overall Performance.

The victories came as a long overdue reward for the diminutive natural footer, who has been consistently nominated since the XXL awards' inception but never taken out a win.

"When you look at my eyes right now, you can see that I am pretty pumped," said Baker.

"Yeah, it is an amazing feeling, not just to myself but also to my family back home in South Africa."

Baker's tow-in assisted ride which took out the Biggest Wave Award and was ridden at Tafelberg Reef in South Africa was judged to be 61 feet, some nine feet under last year's record-breaking ride by Californian Mike Parsons.

The wave is claimed to be the biggest ever tackled in his home country of South Africa.

"The whole experience is not just satisfying for me personally but to see South Africa up there, to see Dungeons up there, seeing James Taylor up there, overall to put South Africa on the map is most satisfying for me," said Baker.

The Best Overall Performance Award came from his outstanding rides during big wave swell events in South Africa, California, and Mexico over the past 12 months. For winning both divisions, Baker claimed $USD 20,000 in cash and a new Honda Aquatrax PWC.

"It is an honor to win Best Overall Performance and to be the first South African to do it," he said.

Hawaiian Mark Healey, 28, cemented his big wave surfing reputation with a win in the $5,000 Monster Tube Category, his first ever Billabong XXL Award.

During a swell run to a remote break in the Pacific Northwest, Healey towed into a crazy left slab at a break called Yeti.

Unleashing on the dry reef and virtually below sea level, the monster tube ride beat equally insane entries from Kerby Brown - WA Slab (Western Australia), Dylan Longbottom - Teahupoo (Central Coast, NSW), Garrett McNamara - Teahupoo (Hawaii) and Ryan Hipwood - Shipstern Bluff (Gold Coast).

Maya Gabeira (Brazil) maintained her stranglehold on the $5,000 Billabong Girls Best Overall Performance Award by winning the category for a third consecutive year.

The 22-year-old has continually pushed the boundaries of female big wave surfing over the past 12 months, basing herself in the Hawaiian islands and chasing swell events around the world with tow partner Carlos Burle.

"Even though this is my third time winning, I still feel nervous, and I am super stoked to be here every year, said Gabeira.

"This is very rewarding as all the other big wave riders are voting on it, so being here tonight and winning again means a lot to me."

The Verizon Wipe Out Award went to Australian surfer Ross Clarke-Jones for a near-life-ending battering at Pedra Branca, located off the Tasmanian coast.


WINNER $50,000: Greg Long (San Clemente, California, USA) at Dungeons, South Africa on July 26, 2008 ($5,000 Video by Fixerfilm/RedBull BWA)
SECOND $5,000: Ryan Hipwood (Gold Coast, Australia) at Shipstern Bluff, Tasmania on October 11, 2008. (Video by Tim Bonython)
THIRD $1500: James Holmer-Cross (Hobart, Tasmania, Australia) at Shipstern Bluff, Tasmania on October 11, 2008. (Video by Dave Otto)
FOURTH $1500: Garrett McNamara (Sunset Beach, Hawaii, USA) at Teahupoo, Tahiti on April 8, 2008 (Video by Simon Saffigna)
FIFTH $1500: Brian Conley (San Diego, California) at Boca Grande, Mexico on October 22, 2008. (Video by Brian Conley)

     (Surfer prize $15,000 and a Honda Aquatrax watercraft with HSA sled  -  Photo/video prize $4,000)

Grant Baker (Durban, South Africa) at Tafelberg Reef, South Africa on August 9, 2008.
     (Photo by Brenton Geach)

     (Surfer prize $15,000  -  Photo/video prize $4,000)

Derek Dunfee (San Diego, California, USA) at Maverick's, California on November 30, 2008.
     (Photo by Fred Pompermayer)

     (Surfer prize $5,000  -  Photography prize $2,000)

Mark Healey (Sunset Beach, Hawaii, USA) at Yeti, Oregon, on September 24, 2008.
     (Photo by Jason Murray)

     (Surfer prize $5,000)

Grant Baker (Durban, South Africa)

     (Surfer prize $5,000)

Maya Gabeira (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)

Source: Billabong XXL

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