While blood-thirsty surf fans may have criticized the WSL for pulling the plug on the Jaws Challenge yesterday due to conditions deemed “too dangerous,” the surfing done likely kept everyone entertained. The swell may have dropped in size, but the level of commitment didn’t decrease in the slightest–especially from three-peat Jaws Challenge winner and defending Big Wave Tour World Champion, Maui’s own Billy Kemper.
The Jaw’s Challenge has become “Kemper’s Contest.” Kemper’s strategy to hunt tubes during the final paid off, even though he didn’t make any. He pulled into two big ones and got shot out of both like a cannon ball, detached from his board. Though the barrels weren’t ridden to completion, the commitment was enough for the judges to reward one in the excellent range with an 8.07 and the other close to it with a 7.70. Is the Jaws Challenge the only contest where makes don’t matter?
Maui’s sons dominated the final. Their smooth lines down the windswept 35-to 45-foot Pe'ahi faces displayed not only both their homegrown comfort and knowledge of Jaws, but also the bottom-contour wizardry that local shaper Sean Ordonez crafts into their guns. A master on all manner of wave-riding craft, Kai Lenny had the highest-scoring wave in the final with an 8.33 for his clean line through a barrel. Unable to find a solid backup, Lenny, like last year, finished right on the heels of Kemper in second place. Albee Layer finished third and Tyler Larronde, who managed to smoothly thread a tube for an excellent-range score, finished fourth.
South Africa’s Grant “Twiggy” Baker and Oahu’s Koa Rothman, who put on commanding performances all event long, unfortunately, had a hard time finding rhythm in the final.
Even though the surf was smaller than yesterday, there was still plenty of carnage. Tyler Larronde free-fell down the face of a XXL wave. He paddled to the channel after coughing up some blood before heading back out to his heat. "Coughing up blood is a common occurrence in big-wave surfing,” commentator Peter Mel said as he shrugged off the “if it bleeds it leads” framing of the issue. “Wipeouts break capillaries in the lungs, which causes the coughing up of blood,” Mel explained.
Kemper explained how his victory was not earned on his own. He’d previously been plagued by a torn ligament, an injury that threatened his ability to compete, but through a dedicated team of doctors and trainers, he was able to recover. Kemper also emotionally dedicated his win to his late mother. Unabashedly honest about his competitive drive in all his post-heat/win interviews, Kemper said, “I had no sponsor just a few years ago. I was a wild card in this event, I won it and I told myself I was never going to stop winning it until I was done competing here. That's my goal. Everytime I surf a heat out here my goal is first and only first. This is my pride and joy, I put blood sweat and tears into here.”
SURFER congratulates Kemper on his third win at Pe’ahi and all of the other brave surfers who put on an incredible performance.
Stay tuned for more coverage.