It’s only fitting that after three days of sunshine and summery south swell, as the world’s most elite big-wave riders amassed at The Grove of Anaheim for the Billabong XXL Awards, a gray, wet storm enveloped Southern California. Both inside the concert hall and outside in the clouds above, a storm raged.
“Crazy,” says Billabong’s Steve Clark, as he’s trying to slip out the door at the SURFER offices the day prior. “It’s been absolutely crazy. People are coming in from all over the world. That alone takes considerable coordination, but now we’ve got to find somewhere to rent a tent and a crew to put it up—all on Good Friday.”
Nobody ever said living in a world where men grapple with the largest swells the planet can produce would be easy. Reckon you just kind of have to hang on and hope you have enough time to catch a quick breath. In the end the edge goes to those who anticipate, which Clarky obviously was doing as weather forecasters were calling for rain. But there’s always those surprises you can’t plan for or don’t expect. After all, who would have thought that, XXL stipulation or not, nary a peep would be heard from Jaws all winter long? Or that the West Coast would once again prove that Mav’s, Todos and new-kid-on-the-block Ghost Tree are all very much worthy of worldwide attention? Or even better, as pioneers and explorers extend their tentacles ever farther, that places like Chile, Spain, France and even England would show up on the radar? If nothing else, the 2006 Billabong XXL Awards lead one to wonder: What else is out there?
But the evening isn’t about what’s out there, rather, what’s already been. And whether you were a judge calculating measurements with your calipers or just a stupefied spectator wondering how the fark Brad Gerlach could even consider whipping into something so absolutely horrendously huge, it was done in extra-large fashion this year.
The five frontrunners for the prized XXL Award are: Gerlach’s Todos behemoth; an equally daunting wave of Ross Clarke-Jones from the same session; Tyler Fox’s spooky ride at Ghost Tree; a Maverick’s tow-in of Flea’s; and relative unknown Ibon Amatriain’s assault on an even lesser-known big wave off the coast of Spain.
“The trick is finding the bottom of the wave,” remarked mastermind/Event Organizer Bill Sharp. “They’re so big, when it comes to judging we try to be as scientific as possible, but photographing and filming each wave presents its own unique circumstances, so there’s usually a little spirited debate.”
But that would not be the case this year. No debating this one. With a seat on the judging panel left open in honor of Larry “Flame” Moore (who passed away from cancer earlier this year), on Thursday night, when the weather and waves were still perfect in Orange County, the measuring sticks, rulers, calipers, and T-squares were all busted out to determine just who had ridden the biggest wave of the year. The decision was unanimous, but the world would have to wait 24 hours to find out.
And so, on a rainy Good Friday, as The Grove was packed to the gills with big-wave stars, tow-partners, hopeful photographers, media whores and other assorted hangers-on, it was announced: At 68 feet, Brad Gerlach’s terror from Todos stood the tallest. At $1,000 per foot Gerlach’s take tallied up to $68,000. Needless to say, he was a little excited.
Also on the list of winners for the evening was Diego Medina, who took a
huge step toward putting Chilean big-wave potential on the map with his
Paddle-In Wave Award; Shane Dorian’s Teahupoo barrel won Tube of the Year, almost based on absurdity alone — unlike the other awards, the Tube of the Year is voted on by hundreds of pundits around the world. Jamie Sterling was the Male Performer of the Year, which is fitting considering that somehow he managed to show up at every spot for almost every big-wave session. Waimea — he was there. Dungeon’s — been there and done that. Teahupoo — not a problem. Jaws — if it had had any good days he would have been there
too. And then there’s our dear Jamilah Starr, of Santa Cruz. She charged Mav’s, Waimea and whatever other sizeable surf she could paddle into, giving her the deserved Female Performer of the Year Award.
And as the rain continued on and off and the drinks started to flow, the XXL Awards kicked into overdrive and the party turned into a storm of biblical proportions. With limos waiting out front for their after-hours cargo, and for the moment forecast charts and buoy reports set aside, handshakes, hugs and plenty of cocktails took the place of one-handed pick-ups and tangled tow ropes.