In a season that saw huge strides forward in big-wave paddle-in surfing, as well as the loss of two beloved Hawaiians, Andy Irons and Sion Milosky, who went after their surfing careers with as much drive and commitment as anyone in our sport ever has, this year’s celebration was marked by a note of sadness—perhaps even a sense of our collective mortality. A moment of silence on Saturday at the Surfing Heritage Foundation let us reflect on our fallen comrades.
As Gary Linden, founder and driving force behind the BWWT said, addressing the crowd from the podium, “We’re a community, and if you stay in this community, you will be called upon.” He was referring to the devotion required to pursue big-wave riding as a career, and that without the backing of the larger community, none of the achievements of the past two years—arguably the most significant performance leap in the history of the sport—would have been possible.
Sterling acknowledged as much, dedicating his victory to Sion Milosky and acknowledging his fellow competitors more as teammates than as foes. “These are incredible athletes, the best big-wave riders in the world,” he said of his fellow finalists. Sterling’s victory is significant not only for representing Hawaii, the spiritual home of this most seafaring of the surfing arts, but also for his determined recovery from a dislocated shoulder that had him sidelined for much of the phenomenal El Nino season of 2010. To have recovered and come back to become the Tour Champion was the best example of what many of the BWWT stalwarts have long been saying: If a surfer wants it badly enough, he or she just needs to show up on the days that the events are happening and make a name for themselves.
Jamie Sterling had long since “made a name” for himself before his shoulder injury—riding god-awful waves all over the planet for at least the past 10 years—but his determination was obvious in the 2010/’11 season, making the finals in each of the three events that ran, and winning the Pico Alto contest in Peru in 20-foot surf (with what looked to be some 25-footers sneaking through). As Gary Linden pointed out, making the final in a BWWT competition means six or seven hours of competition-level surfing in the most demanding of ocean conditions. “You have to train for this,” added Carlos Burle, the 2009/’10 inaugural Tour winner.
Looking forward, Linden announced the addition of a BWWT event at Jaws, and additional safety measures for the contests in rescue skis and on-site EMTs. With the performances put in by the likes of Ian Walsh, Shane Dorian, and Danilo Couto this past winter at Jaws, Linden noted that they “showed what was possible out there.” The waiting period is open for the next season. The first contest of the new tour year is set to happen in Chile, and as the Southern Hemisphere winter grinds into next year’s Northern Hemisphere season, expect remarkable feats from these surfers. The BWWT is a reality, the surfers are committed to the format, and as Jamie Sterling stated Saturday night, for the “brotherhood of big-wave surfers, the bar is raised every year.”