It was in the spirit of big-wave brotherhood (and minus the drunken antics that had plagued award ceremonies in years past) that the Grove Theater in Anaheim was filled to brimming Friday night with an upbeat crowd of more than 1500 big-wave fanatics anxiously awaiting the announcement of the Billabong XXL Award for the biggest wave ridden in 2004. At the end of a two-hour award show, and after handing out three awards in separate categories, all eyes were on five men who had been selected as having ridden the biggest waves of the winter. And when Billabong’s Paul Naude opened the envelope and announced the winner, 42-year-old Pete Cabrinha of Maui might have fallen down had his wife not clung to him ecstatically. Too nervous to sit, Cabrinha had been standing in the aisle stage right, waiting, as he would later say, “To clap as hard as I could for whoever won.” And though he didn’t clap for himself, he hugged his wife for a full minute, kissed his baby daughter and howled ecstatically at having received the honor of the year in front of a fraternity that had come to pay him respect.
It proved to be quite a fateful night for Cabrinha, who not only won the Billabong XXL Award for the biggest wave ever ridden, but who took home a $70,000 check and a new world record, as his left at Peahi on January 10 was deemed to have been 70 feet, two feet bigger than Brazilian Carlos Burle’s wave at Maverick’s that won the same award in 2002. His first words on taking the stage told it all: “This is an out of body experience.” Cabrinha took his time, stepped back, breathed deep and took to the microphone, engaging in the typical list of thank-yous: his wife, his tow-partner, the Strapt crew, etc., etc. But then he stepped back to take a look at the cardboard check in his hands–$70,000–and deadpanned. “I hadn’t looked at the number,” he said. “That’ll buy a few bars of wax.” He then proceeded to discuss the meaning of his wave, and by the time the patrons at the Grove had flooded out to the slippery confines of the bar and dance area, Cabrinha was still backstage, holding his wife, eyeing his daughter, taking congratulations, and being swarmed by reporters. The spirit of the event played out even then, as one by one, all four of the other nominees came up to Cabrinha to embrace him and congratulate him.
One of those nominees, Greg Long (nominated for a wave at Cortes Bank featured on the cover of SURFER Magazine), was carrying an oversized check of his own, having won the Jay Moriarty Overall Performance Award, presented by the late Moriarty’s wife Kim. The award, which is presented to the surfer who was deemed to have exhibited the most dedication throughout the big wave season, was an obvious honor to the 20-year-old long, whose emotional acceptance speech reflected his obvious thrill at having been recognized in such prestigious company. Long was a deserving winner of the $5,000 prize, having won a big-wave event in South Africa, been on an expedition to Cortes Bank, taken his familiar seat at Todos Santos, and searched out big waves around the world in a month's long quest for the biggest surf he could find.
Zach Wormhoudt of Santa Cruz was presented the Monster Energy award for biggest Paddle In Wave for his heroic late drop on a bomb at Maverick’s on December 17.
The fourth award on the ballot, the Tube of the Year award also presented by Monster Energy Drink, was presented to Tahitian Malik Joyeaux for his unfathomable life-or-death barrel at Teahupoo, as photographed by Sean Davey, certainly one of the most stunning images of 2003.
The remaining three nominees for biggest wave of the year all came from Peahi–Ian Walsh (Hawaii), Danilo Couta (Brazil), and Archie Kalepa (Hawaii). At the end of the evening, however, Pete Cabrinha was the man of the hour, proudly beaming, and attempting to shake off the anxieties of three month’s worth of waiting for the award that, to this crowd at least, was the utmost sign of recognition. On stage, Cabrinha addressed this point: “I don’t care what anybody says: this is a big deal. And it's a big deal to me.”
But backstage, as the impact was still settling in, Cabrinha made a remark that perhaps best sums up the spirit of the evening, and of big-wave surfing in general. “For me, it was just another day of surfing.” Remarkable nonchalance considering that this day of surfing involved shattering world records and going left backside at Peahi.
And with his award in hand, what are Cabrinha's plans? “I’m taking my daughter to Disneyland tomorrow. And anywhere she wants to go!” — Brad Melekian