If you've seen the recent footage from Tasmania of insane Shipsterns Bluff with Andy Irons, Parko, Dylan Longbottom and others towing-in and getting pitted on large, disturbing slabs of water, then you've seen how these guys are blurring the line between what is rideable and what isn't.
Complete and utter filth. It's sick. It's unhealthy. Somebody call the CDC.
During the same session, however, Laurie Towner, a young Aussie upstart, shuns the ski and paddles into a beastly thick wave easily 15' on the face, makes an incredible drop and pulls into an absolutely disgusting barrel. Everything about the wave was critical – more critical than any wave towed into that day. The sheer determination and iron will Towner displayed in pushing himself over the ledge was amazing. This was perhaps one of the most amazing "paddle-in" rides this side of CJ Hobgood at Teahupo'o. You could tell Laurie Towner really, really wanted that one — and he got it.
And it is this wave that has helped me crystallize my opinion: The powers that be at the Billabong XXL Awards should give the same amount of money to the paddle-in surfers as they give the tow-in surfers–the exact same amount. So if it's $66K for the tow-in winner, than it's $66K for the paddle-in winner. Whatever the number, it should not be less than the tow in prize. Laurie Towner's ride was 20 times more impressive than anything else that happened that day.
Look, Britney Spears is more popular than Christina Aguilera, but Aguilera can actually sing. In fact, she's an incredible singer, but everyone likes Britney because she's the eye candy. Similarly, USA Today looks great with its bright, colorful graphics and large print, but it pales in comparison to the Wall Street Journal. U2. The darlings of pop culture. Everyone loves them. But U2 secretly wishes they were Black Sabbath.
Tow-in is Bono. Paddle-in is Ozzy.
Tow-in is Britney Spears. Tow-in is the USA Today. It appeals to the masses via aesthetics. It is shocking. It is eye catching. It is radical. But it’s not surfing. It’s tow-in surfing. Tow-in surfers are great, but they are not the greatest. Many have proven their worth in the paddle arena, yet many have not.
If the XXL people gave the same amount of money to the paddle-in surfers as they do to the tow-in surfers, perhaps you'd filter out the Bono factor. No offense to 48-year old Dan Moore or to Peter Cabrinha, both great surfers who have proven their salt, but do you really think they could paddle into a huge wave at Mavericks or at Shipsterns?
When they were 22 years old they could. But now?
Here is an indisputable fact: 100% of the paddle-in contestants can tow-in, but the opposite is definitely not true. I bet only 50 % of the tow-in guys could paddle-in on a heavy day at Mavs or Waimea or Shipsterns bluff. And of that 50%, I bet only 10% would WANT to paddle in.
Anybody can tow, and practically everybody does, but it's so much more impressive to see someone commit with their heart and soul the way we all KNOW Laurie Towner had to last weekend at Shipsterns Bluff.
And I think the Billabong XXL awards should step up for the heart and soul surfers.
I'm Scott Bass, shooting from the hip. Scott@surfermag.com