“The best wave is the one you don’t think you’ll make.”
That’s 22-year-old Laurie Towner’s surf philosophy in a nutshell – and last night it earned him $20,000.
Laurie, from Yamba in northern NSW, won Biggest Wave in the Oakley Surfing Life Big Wave Awards at a crazy presentation evening in Bondi, where the cream of Aussie and New Zealand megasurf chargers gathered to honour their finest rides of the past year.
Always relaxed, Towner was gobsmacked by his win. “I can’t believe it!” he told the audience. “I’m going to try not to let it affect me … I look at it as some extra money to chase more big waves around the world.”
The winning ride was snared at Cow Bombie, a deepwater reef off the south-west Western Australian coast, where Towner and a few mates had flown on word of the biggest swell of the season. They waited out a morning of gale-force winds and rain before heading out on jetskis to face the ocean.
“It’s the fastest I’ve ever gone on a surfboard,” was how Laurie described the ride. “Most big wave spots in Australia are quite close to the land. This one’s a few kilometers offshore and you’re surrounded by ocean. It’s not somewhere you want things to go wrong.”
“But we always go out there with a few other ski teams as well, so there’s always people looking out for you, which is good to know.”
The evening was a classic gathering of big wave wildmen, headed by Oakley’s special guest, legendary Hawaiian charger Darrick Doerner, who both thrilled and silenced the crowd with his accounts of giant surf in North Pacific waters.
But mostly it was about the winners – including perennial favourite Doug Young from New Zealand who took out his third Biggest Paddle-in Award, a prize reserved for rides performed without jetski assistance. “It’s like climbing Mount Everest,” frothed a stoked Young. “It’s always going to be a challenge, no matter how many you ride.”
Last year’s Biggest Wave winner Mark Mathews of Maroubra took $5000 for the Biggest Slab Award – a new category designed to recognize a type of big wave that breaks as wide and thick as it is high. Mathews’s ride was the only one to make it into two finalist categories. “It’s good to see a Slab award here because that’s the kind of big wave Australia has the most of, we lead the world in that arena,” he said.
But what’s it LIKE to get one of these heaving monsters? “I remember turning around just as that wave popped up and seeing a friend’s face just further in from me,” said Mark of his prizewinner. “And he saw what was coming, and his face just went pale. That’s what it’s like. It’s sooo scary! But you know when you’re riding that wave, you’re going to forget the fear and it’ll be one of the best feelings of your life. So you just go.”