Article

The End of the Machine?

Paddle vs. Tow Debate Surfaces in the XXL Nominations

| posted on April 19, 2011

Shane Dorian takes the elevator drop after scratching in the old fashioned way. Photo: Shimi

When the surf community turns its collective attention toward the Billabong XXL Awards later this month, we’ll be doing so with renewed standards. Tow-surfing is now being overshadowed by a big-wave paddling renaissance. Although the XXL’s Biggest Wave category—a chapter of the awards marked by tow-ins—yields a slew of harrowing rides, it can’t be denied that the waves that have drawn the most attention are all from the paddle-in category.

“I’d say we’ve definitely seen a shift toward big-wave paddle surfing in the last few years,” said XXL Contest Director Bill Sharp. “And I think this year’s XXL Awards is a pretty good indicator of that. We really try and act as a mirror to what’s going on in big-wave surfing and I think that shift is really reflected in this year’s paddle nominees.”

As a reaction, the XXL Awards have moved the Monster Paddle category later in the show to the second-to-last position, placing it into the slot once held by the Biggest Wave award and adding even more esteem to the movement.

Although the shift away from the ski has been inching along for years with groundbreaking paddle days at Maverick’s and along the North Shore’s outer reefs, the session that seemed to solidify the schism between brawn and machine occurred this past March when Shane Dorian, Danilo Couto, Ian Walsh, and others opted to leave their Jet Skis at home and paddle into 25-foot-plus wind-ravaged Jaws. Their exploits quickly went viral.

“I really can’t speak for anyone else but myself, but to me it seems like there’s definitely a shift toward paddling into waves that we once thought you could only tow into,” said Ian Walsh. “That day Shane and I paddled into Jaws, it wasn’t like we went out there trying to do something really special. We just thought it would be fun to try and paddle if we could line up a set. It’s not easy, but the feeling you get when you paddle into one is amazing. I can tow into 10 or 12 waves that are all a huge rush, but the feeling I get when I paddle into just one or two is completely different. You might ride way less waves but I would gladly sit out there for eight hours to get just one chance to go. I’m not saying I won’t ever tow again, because there might be a limit, but I really want to find out exactly where that limit is.”

As the XXL Awards formally move to certify big-wave paddle surfing as our most distant frontier, we’re left with the revelation that the pinnacle moments in the sport are no longer judged solely by the size of a wave alone, but by the method we use to get into it. If we’ve learned anything from the nominees in this year’s awards, it’s that the evolution of big-wave surfing won’t be dragged along by a tow rope.

  • Aquaba

    These guys are kooks – Rasta and Machado riding alaias (is that how you spell it) are the real cutting edge. Anybody can paddle into decent sized waves.

  • http://www.surfermag.com Mike Carter

    take a real hit over the falls a few times and you’ll wished for a tow-in. leave the sport alone. it’s not how you get into the wave, rather it’s what you do once you in it. paddliing in is not the issue, it’s getting the most out of what the wave has to offer. such is a tribute to the sport and nature.
    let’s make an issue over nothing, ok. ?

  • http://n/a zeno malan

    Have two awards.

  • http://robylaporte.com Roby LaPorte

    I agree with Zeno… there is a big difference between the two, obviously you can get bigger, deeper water waves by towing, but the paddlers deserve much respect for their huge huevos… for the later takeoff and the REAL drop in!!!! It should be separated into two categories’, yeah?

  • John Abdon

    Skill stressing power-edge control – taking angle-in monster drops deeeeeep in the pocket with a rush never attainable with already-near-speed tow-in.

  • Marcus Fender

    Amazing, well done! Thank you for sharing the video.

  • The Mailman

    There is no comparison. Everyone knows the hardest part of surfing is catching the wave. Not to dismiss tow-in talent, but it’s a different set of skills and type of equipment.

  • http://www.surfermag.com Spencer

    Just about anyone can strap on a board, get pulled by a ski or boat and stand up. thats why there are tons of people wakeboarding and waterskiing then there are people surfing. Yes surfing is difficult but if your already standing with control of your board getting whipped into a wave that is something almost anyone can do. you bring in a 9-10 foot gun, huge wind, and huge waves you’ll have a hard time paddling out and getting to were you need to be as it is. Then catching a 20-30ft wave with 30 mph wind gusting off shore in your face trying to push you of that wave, then the standing, then the drop, then the chatter and then riding the whole wave out till the mush catches and eats you. that’s something tow-in guy will never expirence, they’ll just be doing laps around you.

  • http://olosurfer-woodensurfboardsatpipeline.blogspot.com/ Roy Stewart

    A return to paddling in is great, the equipment being used in the video is not. I have a board in hawaii which will work much better at Jaws.

    Their boards lack balance, the riding position is wrong, they are too light and too thick, the tails are too wide and the tail rails are all wrong. Mark my words !

    The fin setups are not so good either.

  • Andrew Bennett

    Thank god real surfers are taking back the big waves. It was pretty shameful that a German Windsurfer was able to win an award last year…

  • ALETA VAN DYKE

    MY DAD FRED VAN DYKE RODE THE BIG WAVES HE IS AND HAS ALWAYS BEEN MY HERO. WHEN I WAS AROUND 11 YRS OLD, WAIMEA WAS CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC. WE MOVED THE BARRIERS AND ENTERED. UNCLE EDDIE WAS THERE WAITING FOR DAD. DAD WAXED UP AND TOLD ME “I’M GOING TO CATCH A COUPLE OF WAVES THEN BE IN”. I SAT THERE ON THE BEACH THE ONLY PERSON ON THE BEACH AND WATCHED DAD FOLLOW UNCLE EDDIE OUT THAT DAY. THE SEA SPRAY WAS FIERCE ON THOSE BIG DAYS! I’LL ALWAYS REMEMBER DAD AS FEARLESS. HE IS 81 NOW. AND STILL MY HERO.

    • Aquaba

      What’s this got to do with towing in? My Dad’s my hero too but I don’t need to tell the whole world about it.

  • Tim Mckaughan

    Zeno is right. There should be two categories. Most of the tow-in guys have foot straps that allow them to stay on their boards, paddle-in surfers do not. the drop is far more critical when one paddles in. they should call it the “Waterman Award” as only a true “Waterman” would have the stamina, skill and balls to paddle in to one of those monsters and survive. Any wanker with a modicum of skill (and cojones) can get towed in. I mean, we’ve all seen the guy on skis tackling big surf. It illustrates the obvious advantage that jet skis give to the surfer. My hat’s off to all of these guys but the Paddle-in guys deserve the greatest respect.

  • DAMIAN66

    “Aquaba”, you’re saying Dorian and Ian r kooks, or the people in this blog? cause if you meant Dorian and Ian, you really remind me of Kook-Meyer…bitter; Machado and Rasta my respects to them but come on, Dorian, a kook?