I think big-wave legend Greg Noll put it best: "I've been sitting here looking at these waves tonight pretty much in disbelief. Someone asked me how I compare it to my era. I said it's kind of like comparing it to a bunch of guys paddling around on rubber duckies in a kiddie pool with a bunch of rhinos in the lineup trying to stick their horn up Mother Nature's ass."
It may have been the most astute observation of the night, because the clips and photos of microscopic men gliding across gargantuan stirrings of nature at the Billabong XXL Big Wave Awards were nothing short of mind-blowing. Even after watching the 400th clip of a forty-foot barrel, your jaw is still glued to the floor.
When it came to jaw-dropping performances, Occy was certainly in form for the night. The Aussie legend summoned his best Bob Marley by breaking into an unsolicited, gutsy a cappella performance of "Roots Rock Reggae" during his awards presentation for the Best Male Performance to South Africa's Grant "Twiggy" Baker.
We all appreciated that.
In many ways, Grant "Twiggy" Baker was to the 2009 Billabong XXL Big Wave Awards what Greg Long was to last year's: parading to the podium on multiple occasions to receive his due for 2008 Best Male Performance Award as well as the 2008 Biggest Wave Award, clocking in at 61 feet on the face.
"2008 was a great year for me," said Twiggy. "From Cortes Bank to Mavericks, Dungeons, Ireland, Chile, all the rest…it was just a really good year, and you can't have a year like this without the help of your friends…As we know, tow surfing is a pretty different sport to surfing where luck and balls replace skill and finesse."
Brazilian bombshell Maya Gabeira claimed her third XXL Award in as many tries with the Best Girls' Performance Of The Year, and madman Mark Healey won the Monster Tube Award for a freakish emerald barrel in Oregon. La Jolla's Derek Dunfee claimed the Monster Paddle In Award.
"I didn't even know if I'd be nominated," said Dunfee. "This is the best night of my life."
The night culminated in celebration of Greg Long's $50,000 XXL Ride of the Year at Dungeons in South Africa, an especially impressive selection, as Long was the only paddle-in nominee. In true champion form, Long dedicated his victory to the late Dick Baker and humbly articulated the merits of paddle-in surfing.
"To me paddle-surfing is the true challenge. When you're sitting face to face with one of these waves as they come in and you have to make that decision to turn around and go, there's always a moment where you question how much you really want this."
There's no questioning that the big-wave surfers recognized at the 2009 Billabong XXL Awards commit wholly to their death-defying pursuit. It's honestly a miracle that they're not more famous, as their real-life activities mirror the fantasies of Hollywood producers.
Three-time world champion Andy Irons agrees. "Our tour is a bunch of wimps pretty much," said Irons. "I saw what your tour is like and it's way gnarlier. You guys have a death wish. I have a lot of respect for that, because I don't even want to get in the ocean when you guys are going out."
I don't think anyone does; that's why these fellas deserve the utmost of respect. Maybe a roomful of people will ever know what it’s like to do the things their job requires, and – chances are – they were all at the Grove of Anaheim on Friday night. Luckily, they're more inclusive about their celebrations.
Said Twiggy, "We're headed back to Rusty Long's house in a big bus tonight…And you're all invited!"