The promise of the El Nino winter appears to have delivered for big wave surfers, as many long-standing records are ready to fall in this year's Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards presented by Monster Energy.
And more than ever before, the Monster Paddle category (just for surfers who catch their waves without any jet ski assistance) has taken center stage as the elite of the sport refocus on this elemental man-against-the-sea tradition. Visual evidence of these landmark performances can be viewed at the event website at www.BillabongXXL.com.
While huge swells have blasted nearly every coastline of the planet in recent months, it has been the Hawaiian Islands which have had the most mind-bending proof of the power of the current El Nino weather phenomenon. December 7-8, 2009 saw one of the biggest swells in modern history batter the northern shores of the entire Hawaiian Chain, followed by another extraordinary day of outer reef waves on Christmas. From these historic moments of oceanic grandeur have come images which show several top big wave surfers paddling into what may well be the biggest waves ever caught by human power in the long history of the sport.
Among these superlative rides is a massive dark wall caught by Billabong team rider Shane Dorian, and Mark Healey which closed out the legendary Waimea Bay on Oahu on December 7.
Both are likely to figure prominently as finalists for the Monster Paddle Award to be given out at the tenth annual Billabong XXL Big Wave Awards to be held in California in late April. A panel of big wave surfing and photography experts will analyze the available images and by interpreting the known sizes of the surfers and their surfboards, calculate reliable height estimates for the face of each wave. One will emerge as the Monster Paddle winner and will receive $15,000 out of the total event purse of $130,000.
Dorian and Healey are veterans of decades of big wave hunting and both concur that their shared ride at Waimea was easily the biggest either had ever caught. "I'd been waiting 15 years for that wave," said Dorian, of Kona, on the Big Island. "That wave, we could see it from when it was like two or three minutes away from breaking, we could see the wave coming in, everybody's screaming on the beach and yelling and stuff... When the wave finally came in, it was SO big. The thing was a MONSTER. We both put our heads down and started paddling and somehow we both caught it.
"I was going no matter what," Dorian added. "And I know Mark felt the same way. It was just fun. A party wave -- a wave of that size, and it was for sure the biggest wave I've ever paddled into, and to do it with my real good friend, it was very....memorable."
The wave was so large it closed out all the way across the Bay, not allowing the surfers the opportunity to kick out over the top of the wave as usual, and forcing them to straighten out and take the endless tons of whitewater on their heads.
"We were pretty stoked," said Healey. "Big waves are different, there's a lot of brotherhood involved, stuff like that. I'd rather have had Shane catch that wave than ride it alone. It was cool to share a wave like that with a friend, and someone I look up to."
Categories in this year's event include the Billabong XXL Ride of the Year, XXL Biggest Wave, Monster Paddle, Monster Tube, Surfline Best Performance, Billabong Girls Best Performance and the crowd-pleasing Verizon Wireless Wipeout of the Year. In addition to all the latest entries in each category, full event details including formats, rules and archives of past XXL years can be seen at the event website at www.BillabongXXL.com.
The Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards are presented by Monster Energy. Surfline is the official surf forecast, Verizon Wireless is the official communications provider and Honda Aquatrax the official watercraft. The event is sponsored by Surfing Magazine and Air Tahiti Nui airlines.