Last night in Redondo Beach, the upper echelon of big-wave surfers–and the fans of XXL surfing–gathered for the 19th-annual Big Wave Awards. The whole shindig is the WSL's way of honoring those who pushed the sport of giant-wave surfing throughout the previous season–and to throw a party, of course.
The list of winners who took home trophies were as follows and, I might add, much like you'd expect: the Men’s and Women's XXL Biggest Waves went to Kai Lenny and Justine Dupont; the Men's and Women's Biggest Paddle awards went to Grant Baker and Andrea Moller (who also is now the world record holder); the Men's and Women's Overall Performance awards went to none other than Kai Lenny and Justine Dupont; and Wipeout of the Year went to Makua Rothman.
But there was a bit of confusion–at least on social media–when the award for Ride of the Year was given to Grant "Twiggy" Baker for a massive wave he caught during the 2018 Jaws Challenge. The wave itself was a monstrosity–one that only a steely-eyed charger like Twiggy would have the mental fortitude to even consider stroking into–and he slotted himself inside of an ugly, death-trap of a barrel. But, he didn’t make it out. It was an incomplete ride.
As you’ll see above, messages of shock and befuddlement flooded the WSL’s Instagram post announcing the Ride of the Year winner. Some fans opined that Ramon Navarro should’ve earned the title, as he actually made it out of his wave. Others said this should have been called the “Wipeout of the Year”. Someone, who so aptly summed up many people’s thoughts, asked “I’m confused. Phenomenal ride but should it not have gone to someone who completed their wave???”
Since the announcement of their nominees last month, those who put on the Big Wave Awards have been caught up in the heat of controversy. Their list of Ride of the Year noms included the incomplete rides of Baker and Billy Kemper (also at Jaws), but left out the impressively completed rides of guys like Albee Layer at Jaws, Nic von Rupp at Mavericks, Bianca Valenti at Puerto Escondido and Laurie Towner at Cloudbreak. Surfers and fans alike began tackling the debate over whether or not a ridden wave should qualify for such an influential award if the surfer fell off his/her board at some point during the ride. Layer, who isn’t one to mince words, took to Instagram to say that, “falling shouldn't count and towing shouldn't be compared to paddling….I swear this needs to change, just for the longevity of our sport as a whole. We should encourage the next generation to SURF big waves not survive them. It's a weird thing to tell the next generation that it's okay to fall in life threatening situations.”
Just a few weeks ago, SURFER reached out to event director Bill Sharp and we asked him to break down the selection process for picking Ride of the Year nominees. “In this year’s case, wave height had a lot to do with it [deciding on a final five],” Sharp told us. “It’s the Big Wave Awards—it’s not the solid, hollow and perfect wave awards. It’s really meant to be the greatest performance on the very biggest wave. Some years a couple surfers do amazing things on waves that are just a little smaller and don’t get the nod, and that’s really what happened in this year’s voting.”
As with all sects of surfing, deciding on who is the most deserved winner involves some degree of subjectivity. And certainly no one is trying to diminish Twiggy’s feat (he is one of the best–if not the very best–big wave surfers in the world). But the act of awarding Ride of the Year or a high score in a WSL contest to someone who didn’t finish their ride, no matter how large and herculean it was, will no doubt prompt further discussion as to what may or may not need to change about the Big Wave Awards as well as the WSL judging criteria. Looks like it already has.