The nation’s top big wave surfers were bracing for a long night on the town after Western Australia’s Alex “Alfy” Cater took out the coveted Oakley Surfing Life Biggest Wave Award at a gala presentation evening in Sydney's Bondi.
Cater, who'd been runner-up to last year's winner Damon Eastaugh, took home $20,000 in cash and a brand new Sea-Doo personal watercraft for his effort, and immediately announced he'd be making good on his pre-night promise to the 11 other ride entrants. "It'll be my shout tonight now for sure!" Cater says.
His ride, recorded last September at the terrifying deepwater break known as 'Cow Bombie' near Margaret River, Western Australia, was estimated at over 14 metres in face height by the judging panel (45 feet in surfer-style imperial measurement).
Cater's wave barely edged out three other rides recorded on the same day by Queenslander Mark Visser and Hawaiians Jamie Sterling and Ian Walsh, who travelled halfway round the globe to 'Cow Bombie' to meet the swells.
Alfy's reaction? "A sigh of relief really mate," he says. "Now I can pay the taxman all the money I've owed him for the past few years."
The Award will open doors for him in the growing global big-wave competition field, he says. Big surf competitions are now held in South Africa, Hawaii and California along with these Awards. "It's something I really want to pursue if I can … I've been to Hawaii and California and met a lot of the guys who ride their big spots and I'd love to challenge them."
The jetski will come in handy too – since not long ago, Alfy and his tow partner Ian "Wooly" McPherson had to abandon their own ski under a massive set of 10-metre waves waves at 'Cow Bombie'. "The ski conked out about three metres from the worst possible spot… We got three waves on the head and that was it for the ski."
The fact that they were six kilometres from land at the time barely raises Alfy's eyebrow – which is a little clue as to the sort of person who takes on surf in this range.
Since being inaugurated five years ago, the Oakley Surfing Life Big Wave Awards have revealed a side of surfing long hidden behind the glittering world pro tour arena – a group of surfers who've used their home-grown skills and experience to push the sport's natural limits, often without much publicity or attention outside their peers and slightly horrified onlookers.
"We're all pretty rough and ready I suppose but we're doing this because we love it," he says. "In a way this Award might change some things for me but it won't change why I go surfing."
As for Wooly, who towed him into the Award-winner: "He owns a surf shop and he's one of my sponsors, so he won't be seeing the colour of my money!" Alfy laughs.
Best Overall Performance Award for the season went to Tasmania's Marti Paradisis, who pronounced himself "over the moon" after his series of amazing tube rides at the Apple Isle's remote Shipstern Bluff reefbreak swept the judging panel's vote.
"It's on behalf of all the guys I surf with at 'Shippies' and who I know could win this Award too …we're stoked to have waves in our backyard that are as good as anywhere in the world."
The Shooter Award for photography went to Jamie Scott for his image of Cater's winning ride.
See the entries for yourself at http://www.surfinglife.com.au/bigwaveawards.
The Oakley Surfing Life Big Wave Awards presented by is an ongoing challenge to reward the riders of the biggest waves in Australasian waters. It runs from June 1, 2007 to February 1, 2008.