By Taylor Paul
It's Saturday night at the San Clemente Surfing Heritage Foundation. A small crowd leans against the walls and sits on the floor, and Carlos Burle is crowned the first Big Wave World Champ. He stands on the podium, microphone in hand, and speaks with a slow confidence he learned as a motivational speaker in Brazil.
"This doesn't belong to me," he says. "It belongs to all of you. Please come up here and hold this trophy with me." And they do. The world's most accomplished big-wave surfers get up on stage, hug, and share a trophy.
It is the final moment of Gary Linden's inaugural Big Wave World Tour, a long-time dream come true for the San Diego big-wave legend. The tour took points from big-wave contests in Chile, Peru, Maverick's, and Todos, and declared Burle the winner.
Despite Carlos's claim, the trophy does belong to him. Nobody in the big-wave community would dispute it. At 42, the guy made the final of every Big Wave World Tour event this year. He's fit in every sense of the word. Plus, he starts emails with, "Hello my dear friend!!!"
Linden, who has known him for 25 years, says Carlos "combines training, conditioning, and diet to give him the physical endurance and mental fortitude to never quit. And as a person, he is not afraid to feel or express his emotions; he just glides through life as it comes."
And what does big-wave surfing mean to the fit, focused, and friendly Brazilian?
"In small surf it’s more like fighting for waves. But big-wave paddling is more about, Go brother! And you look after your friends. It’s an intense and truly emotional sport that brings us together."
The brotherhood Burle describes is what united the big-wave elite to make the BWWT a reality, because it wasn't the money.
"It is not some corporation telling us what to do so that we can get paid," says Linden. "We are saying, This is what we love doing and it's so special that we need to share it with the rest of the world."
Even with its grassroots beginnings, companies are jumping on the BWWT boat and are ready to fare rough seas. Organizations like Quiksilver and Billabong are sponsoring single events, while Jim Beam is the principal sponsor for the whole tour. (In addition to $5,000 for Carlos's win, he got a trip to Kentucky to tour the Jim Beam distillery and stay in the master-distiller's mansion).
With the surfers' passion coupled with new sponsors, the future of big-wave surfing looks giant and glassy.
"Before the BWWT," explains Carlos. "Our sport was only a few contests with few surfers who could compete in them. But now we have a solid tour with a qualifying division for the up-and-coming talents. We have a much more professional atmosphere, with strong sponsors supporting the whole chain — from the athletes to the tour itself."
Author's Note: Carlos, if you're reading this (my dear friend!!), I am ready for Kentucky when you are.