I'm not typically bitter. I like my glasses half-full, my clouds with silver linings and even call shitty things that happen to me, "valuable lessons." And while the Big Wave Awards nominees didn't exactly happen to me, I do feel cheated, and am struggling to find the valuable lesson. Most of my beef is burnt in the Ride Of The Year (ROTY) category, because it's comparing apples to oranges to skimboarders, but there are other stumbles. I let Big Wave Awards director Bill Sharp know my thoughts in an email. This is what he replied:
"I believe the nominees reflect a global sampling of what is the state of the art in big-wave surfing in all its facets and there is something for every surf fan to want to talk about. With the final voting coming from the ballots of over 500 surfers and photographers who have actually competed in the event plus surf magazine editors who know what is going on out there, I am certain we will emerge with indisputable winners in every category."
He must be running in 2016 or something. Politics aside, my annual predictions can't skip a season just because I'm sour on the nominees. There are still dozens of amazing rides worth noting, reliving and, in some cases, rewarding with thousands of dollars.
Billabong Ride Of The Year
Write-in Albee Layer! I texted him and asked why he wasn't nominated. He said, "Umm, I don't know. Skimboarding is in?" It can't be. It just can't. (It's not.) This is not a bash on Brad Domke. I'm sure he's a great dude and what he did was so difficult. But it's not surfing and this is, or at least should be, a big-wave surfing contest. The XXL Awards have done a great job supporting the progression of big-wave surfing by nominating paddle-in big waves and barrels. Which is why I was so disappointed to see a skimboarder and a tow-in pocket ride be included with paddle-in gems from the likes of Gabriel Villaran, Shane Dorian and Shane Dorian. No, that wasn't a stutter. Dorian's nominated twice. One for a textbook ride at Jaws, complete with a respectable tube and He-man claim. The other a sketchy drop in Puerto, with Dorian almost falling, followed by a good barrel with great spit.
This brings up another important point, which I'll illustrate with a baseball analogy because this is America. Which is more impressive, the outfielder that reads the pop fly perfectly off the bat, settles under the ball early to make the catch, or, the outfielder that initially jumps the wrong way and then has to sprint and dive to catch the ball? Most professional baseball players would probably choose the first guy, most casual fans would probably pick the second. Regardless of which "wows" you more, Dorian represents both sides of the coin with his nominations. And with Brad Domke and Dean Morrison having no real chance of winning (because most voters are big-wave surfing purists), Dorian then has a two-thirds chance of winning.
Holy shit that was a long way to go to get to me choosing a winner. Sorry. Still with me? I want Gabriel Villaran to win. I love Dorian. He's the best big-wave surfer on earth. But Gabriel read the pop fly perfectly off the bat and still shocked us with a diving catch, and that deserves an oversized check.
The tallest wave divisions take all sorts of protractors and such to figure out so I'll just go with my gut on this one. No chance it'll be Pico Alto or Punta De Lobos. Maybe they were just trying to make this more of a "global" event, but affirmative action has no place in big-wave surfing. That leaves Twiggy at Jaws, Nic Vaughan and Jamie Mitchell at Mav's. Nic and Jamie's waves are so big and so scary, but very kamikaze. Especially Jamie's. Thing was a closeout and he had no chance. This "going no matter what" approach (which we saw a lot this winter) is largely scoffed at in the established big-wave elite, because they're actually trying to MAKE the wave. Guys like Greg Long, Mark Healey, Shane Dorian and more were all out on that day at Mav's and caught nothing notable because they were surfing smart.
Anyway, I pick Twiggy at Jaws. Not only is it likely the tallest wave but he also rode it perfectly and kicked out. I know that's not part of the official criteria, but these aren't official picks, so I'll give it to Twig as a wedding present. Congrats!
My least favorite category featuring my least favorite wave. Maya Gabeira scolded me once for bagging on Nazare, so I'll be proactive and say that I know it's scary and I know it's dangerous. I just tire of seeing the same up-high-far-away-spray-riddled-big foot-style image of the place. And the wave is really flat, so it appears much bigger than it is. (See this entry for further discussion on the matter). That said, I think Sebastian Steudtner's wave will allow for an accurate measurement, so I think we should give it to him and Seabass for thinking outside the cliff.
All of the nominees are tow-ins and three of the five are pocket rides (Brad Norris is, like, not even close to the tube). And has this always been judged by a single photo, rather than a video? Shouldn't we be able to see if the guys made the barrel? Anyway, since it is a single photo I think the best one is Domenic Mosquiera's shot of Matahi Drollet at Teahupo'o. That thing is a beast, and if it's worth a clip in Point Break 2, it's worth a check for $5,000.
Benjamin Sanchis. What an animal! The guys does a 30-foot chop hop, lands it, then falls on a bump in the worst possible place. It's also one of the most shapely Nazare waves I've seen. Give the man $2,000 for his chiropractor bill.
Albee Layer. He is more comfortable than anyone else at riding waves and getting barreld at Jaws. I don't care if Dorian's waves are bigger. Albee is smart, sits in the spot where he's going to get barreled and repeatedly does so.
Is it too late to swap out Brad Domke's Puerto wave for Paige Alms' barrel at Jaws? Paige could have done nothing else this winter and still deserved this award, but she was consistently ripping at Jaws, leading the ever-growing pack of talented big-wave surfers that happen to be girls.
There should be one more category. Call it "Alternative Craft" or "Huh?" or something. It's where the tow-ins, skimboarders, skis, SUPS and SUPsquatches should live…wait, shit…this rhetoric sounds very, "Fox News." Is this like the equipment version of being racist? —Taylor Paul