XXL Awards – Judging the Judges

The process of determining the XXL winning ride is borderline comedic. I'm privy to the process, and the process isn't really a process at all. It's closer in proximity to the yammering of old yentas in the powder room at a large Bar Mitzvah. But the bickering and blood boiling is not the fault of the XXL judges. The judges do a fine job given the array of material from which to sift. Herein lies the problem. Too much stuff. Sensory overload. Maybe they should just blindfold everyone, tape the photographs up on the wall and start tossing darts? The nominated rides are that close. The varying camera angles that confusing. Here is what occurs:

Ten or so judges (surf-media types) sequester themselves into a room. They consume Coronas and fish tacos. They burp, and flatulence rises. Other male-bonding rituals occur such as weaving light-hearted ego jabs back and forth. All of these customs take place while the judges attempt to decide which XXL wave is "tallest." Not that the judges don't take it serious, because they do. They understand that upwards of $60,000 is on the line. Rather, the tomfoolery is in the heated and free-flowing banter to and fro. It is in the subconscious geographic politicking (Jaws vs. Mavs). It is in the nausea induced by repeated photographic viewing. And, unfortunately, it is in the body odor.

Then, just when some semblance of consensus seems to have occurred, the same old questions begin to bog down the process. "Is it how big the wave is or how tall the wave is?" The same flat-line vexations stammer forth—"…sure it is big, but that wave is mushy." Conveniently someone breaks out a set of calipers from their back pocket and terms like "medial axis transform" and "Voronoi vertices" find their way into the dialogue. Eventually a consigliere walks to the window and white smoke appears. They have chosen.

My gut feeling regarding image analysis is that it should be just that–a gut feeling–done quickly and with confidence.

With the XXL images all being of such enormous waves, and camera angles being so…so…so misleading, I decided to pose an experiment. I entrusted this year's Surfermag.com XXL pick with my 6-year-old son. I showed him the images and asked him to pick which wave was the "tallest." My 6-year old looked at each image. He moved them around on the table like checkers on a checkerboard. Then he held them close to his eyes. Real close. He vexed for a solid two minutes (SpongeBob was on). "This one's the biggest," he said confidently, and quite matter-of-factly handed me the photo.

Ladies and gentlemen (insert drum roll), the moment you've all been waiting for…this year's winner of the Billabong XXL Big (tallest?) Wave Award, as chosen by a 6-year-old boy…goes to…Dan Moore at Peahi, and the Rick Leeks photo of that ride.

There you have it, a much simpler method. We'll have to wait until Friday night to see if my six-year old's pick holds water. But we know one thing for sure; his winner was picked quickly, it was picked with complete equanimity. And perhaps most importantly, there was no body odor involved.

For all the Billabong XXL nominees click here.