By Taylor Paul
If you didn't catch the biggest wave of your life this winter, you have nobody to blame but yourself. It was there. If you didn't go, and went home with nothing but aching coulda-shoulda-wouldas, it was there again next week. And on Thanksgiving and Christmas. "What made this winter so special," Shane Dorian says, "was opportunity. In a normal winter we get maybe three 20-foot swells. This winter there were eight in eight weeks." And with all those opportunities, people had time to hone their equipment and approach to produce performances that matched the glory of the waves.
Now come the Billabong XXL Awards. Nominees were announced last week and I've analyzed them and crunched the numbers. And when that didn't work I picked the waves that scared me the most, the surfers with the coolest stickers on their boards, and factored in some good ol' fashioned politics.
Ride of the Year
This is a stacked category, and proof that big wave surfing is going back to its roots with paddle-in surfing. Only one tow-in nominee: Raimana van Bastolaer, on a wave we can agree can't be paddled into. Then again, we probably woulda said that about most of the other waves on here, too. Anyway, I'd bet a beating at Maverick's that SHANE DORIAN wins this one. He matched the benchmark Greg Long set last year that says to win this category, you must paddle in and pack it. Runner up: Grant "Twiggy" Baker, 'cause that wave was tall and heavy and he was riding a 9'2" or something.
Three from Maverick's and two from Waimea. As Greg Long told me a couple weeks ago, "There are so many waves that won't even be nominated that in previous years would have won it." Which makes the ones nominated that much more special. Santa Cruz underground (for now) charger SHAWN DOLLAR will win this one, and if he doesn't I will take off my right sock, dip it in my gin and tonic, and hurl it at Bill Sharp. It coulda been entered in the Biggest Wave category and had a shot. Dollar's been a standout for years at Mav's, so it's no surprise he plucked this one from the hungry pack at the contest's intermission. Runner up: Twiggy. Again. With his trim figure he'll have no problem slipping into that bridesmaid's dress this year.
Who cares? All entries from Jaws. All look identical. This winter was so focused on paddling that I think this category is slowly dying, and I'd be happy to put the pillow over its face. Sigh. Okay, I'm going with DANILO COUTO. It's massive, and it's a hint unique because it's a left. Runner up: Sebastian Steudtner 'cause I think it'd be funny to hear the announcer butcher his last name. "Lets hear it for Sebastian StEE-ud-TANNER!" And, according to my records, he would be the first German to win an XXL award. If he doesn't win, someone can make a funny YouTube video about it -- you know, the ones where Hitler is freaking out and someone writes the translation. Uber fun.
This is the toughest category to call. There are two entries (Rusty Long and Twiggy) where the surfer doesn't even come out. So if they win the category, it sets a precedent that closeouts can triumph. Which means this summer we'll se an influx of guys at Puerto pulling in without hope. But the other guys towed in. I want to give it to Rusty or Twig, but I'm afraid my Maverick's bias will be exposed. Whatever, I'm sure you knew anyway. Winner: RUSTY LONG. He went out there the morning before the contest and it was his first wave. He set the trend of rolling in from the second reef and pulling into the bowl. Then Dorian did it. Then Twig. Then Carlos Burle. Rusty was the spark that lit an entertaining fire. Runners up: Twig and Raimana. Twig's was ridiculously heavy, it might have even out-heaved Rusty's. Or they may give a nod to the Southern Hemisphere on this one and throw it to Raimana. C'est la vie.
Wipeout of the Year
This one is difficult to call too because there are nine nominees. But I'd say CARLOS BURLE is the winner. Hold on...what? Oh, apparently Carlos' face-plant halfway down a 25-footer during the Mav's contest didn't make the cut. I guess they figured they already had their Brazilian quota filled by Danilo Couto. Okay, in looking at actual nominees, I'm gonna go with TWIGGY's wipeout at Jaws. I think that it's most surfers' worst fear. Plus, they gotta give one category to Twig, he's been so close so much! Runner up: Joao de Macedo at Mav's. (Maybe they didn't put Carlos in here because they thought Joao was Brazilian. He isn't. He's Portuguese. He rushes. Sometimes, he falls.)
Performer of the Year
They should publicly establish these nominees, but they don't. We can still guess, though: Dorian, Mark Healey, Sion Milosky, Nate Fletcher, Greg Long, Twiggy, Chris Bertish, Rusty Long, etcetera etcetera. But the winner has to be SHANE DORIAN. He paddled into the biggest waves and performed on them. He did it in Hawaii and finally brought his act to Maverick's, where he blew minds. He has two nominations in Ride of the Year and one in Monster Paddle (although why is he included in the Waimea nomination when Healey is deeper? The shoulder-hopper has always been ignored in the past). Either way, Dorian dominated this year. Runner Up: Greg Long. He won in Peru. He won the Eddie. He donated his own money for the Todos contest to happen. Big wave surfing is a circus act, and Greg is the ringleader. His absence from the XXL is eerie.
Women’s Performer of the Year
(Raspy announcer's voice over a montage of glory rides and glamour shots) "For the past four years, big wave women's surfing has had a shadow cast over it by two words and five syllables MA-YA GA-BEI-RA." Cut to Maya sitting in her seat looking stunning and embarrassed. Back to the montage. Wipeout. Head shot. Steep drop. Lifestyle. Wipeout. A dramatic closing barrel. Fade to black. There will be no Hansel comeback this year. While girls like Savannah Shaughnessy and Mercedes Maidana put in good shows, Maya is still ahead by a couple years worth of 20-footers.
There it is. One of the gnarliest winters in memory has fizzled into the lagoon, and the winners have been established. The only reason to tune in to the awards show now is to find out who parties the hardest. With copious amounts of booze and the most testosterone-filled guys on the planet to compete for it, it may be too close to call.