Bill Sharp announced the launch of the New Big Wave Challenge (NBWC), an event honoring the biggest waves and best rides of each season.
The founder of the K2 Big-Wave Challenge, later renamed XXL Big Wave Awards, is back in the spotlight with what appears to be a rebel, non-WSL-sanctioned big wave surfing project.
Sharp, who also directed the legendary "Billabong Odyssey" documentary in 2023, will present the New Big Wave Challenge in a gala presentation in Nazaré, Portugal.
"Big wave surfing has found itself without a 'town square' over the last few years where all the athletes, shooters, and fans can focus their attention and know what is happening in the sport," said Sharp.
"A lot of the top big wave surfers came to me this last year and asked me to try to bring back the excitement of the old XXL event days - so I developed what I've been calling the New Big Wave Challenge."
The newly designed event will see surfers and photographers submitting their most spectacular waves for consideration on the organization's Instagram and YouTube platforms.
Then, a panel of big-wave competitors and content creators will vote for:
- Ride of the Year;
- Surfer of the Year;
- Biggest Paddle Wave;
- Biggest Tow Wave;
- Best Wipeout;
The winning male and female surfers, as well as the lens people who captured the critical moments, will be presented with lavish Oscar-style figurine trophies during the invitation-only live show in the civic theater in Nazaré.
The New Big Wave Challenge is clearly and directly competing with the Red Bull WSL Big Wave Awards.
"If you go back a decade, the Billabong XXL Big Wave Awards were an integral part of the US surf industry and had a reputation as the party of the year each May in Southern California," recalled Sharp.
"But that surf industry that backed what we were doing has pretty much collapsed at this point, and just getting all the surfers in one place now is almost impossible."
"The one time of the year where you do get a lot of them coming together is for the early season in Nazaré where the Atlantic is stirring, and everyone is preparing for the winter."
"It was the only logical choice for a place to get the band back together, and the surfers have pretty much all geared up to have it on their calendar and bring back that feeling of community."
"Having the backing of the City of Nazaré and Mayor Walter Chicharro sealed the deal. They support our sport like no other place in the world."
The eligibility window for the New Big Wave Challenge ran from August 2022 through July 2023, and the contenders in each of the categories are the same names you'll see competing in WSL events.
Among the Biggest Wave contenders are Justine Dupont's life-changing tow-in waves at the Cortes Bank 100 miles off the California coast and Maui firefighter Shaun Walsh's monstrous wall at Jaws, both in January 2023.
The Ride of the Year stakes are high, with Nathan Florence gaining a lot of support for a paddle wave at Mullaghmore Head, Ireland, along with strong barrels by Billy Kemper and Kai Paula at Jaws.
The Biggest Paddle sweepstakes feature strong entries by Greg Long at Todos Santos, Mexico, and Chacha Ibarra at Punta de Lobos, Chile, along with exceptional waves by Laura Enever and Kaiwi Berry at an outer reef along Oahu's North Shore.
Sharp, 62, who has recently starred in the HBO TV series "100 Foot Wave," is ambitious about his new venture.
"This first season is really a proof of concept to remind the world how spectacular big wave surfing is and how fascinating the characters are who are driving the sport," concluded Sharp.
"Once we've crowned our champions of the last year, then we move right on to covering what's happening for the coming winter and reinforcing that town square and for the fans and bringing a new era of sponsorship and content management."
"This isn't about a one-night party. It's about setting the table for the next 20 years of big wave surfing."
New Big Wave Challenge's debut gala takes place on October 28, 2023, at Cineteatro da Nazaré in Portugal.
Bill Sharp: A Rebel With a Cause
Born in 1961 in Novato, California, to an Air Force fighter pilot father, Bill Sharp grew up in Newport and took up surfing in 1974.
He gained prominence in the surfing community as the National Scholastic Surfing Association's (NSSA) highest-ranked kneeboarder in 1982.
That same year, he competed in the World Amateur Championships and secured fourth place.
Sharp pursued higher education at San Diego State University and earned a degree in business administration.
Following his studies, he began an internship at Surfing magazine in 1983.
By 1987, he had climbed the ranks to become the managing editor, and by 1989, he took over as editor-in-chief.
Under his leadership, Surfing magazine expanded its content and adopted an energetic, visually appealing style, complete with colorful fonts and eye-catching headlines.
Notably, Sharp contributed some of the magazine's most thoughtful and well-written pieces.
In 1991, he transitioned to co-owning Kanvas by Katin, a beachwear brand that had been dormant since the early 1980s. By 1997, the company had revived itself, achieving $4 million in wholesale revenue.
Around the same time, Sharp took on a role at K2, a major ski equipment company.
There, he conceptualized the K2 Big-Wave Challenge, a unique surfing competition that promised $50,000 to the surfer captured on camera riding the season's biggest wave.
Despite criticism about the competition's riskiness, it garnered significant media coverage and was eventually won by Taylor Knox for riding a 50-foot wave off the coast of Mexico.
In 1998, Sharp departed from K2 and founded Surf News magazine the following year.
Unlike its competitors, Surf News offered more timely and often more pointed coverage of Southern California's surfing scene and industry.
In 2001, he collaborated with photographer Larry Moore to arrange a one-day tow-in surfing event at Cortes Bank, a distant reef about 100 miles west of San Diego.
There, surfer Mike Parsons managed to ride a wave estimated at over 60 feet.
Later that year, Sharp initiated the "Billabong Odyssey," a three-year global quest sponsored by the surfwear titan Billabong, aiming to find a surfable 100-foot wave.
As summarized by his colleague Sam George, Bill Sharp has played a crucial role in elevating the visibility of surfing as a sport.