Looking Ahead to the Big Wave Awards
Ask 100 big wave surfers if they’d rather win the Big Wave World Championship or the Big Wave Ride of the Year award, and you’ll get a pretty even split between the two. While a world championship puts you in the history books, Ride of the Year honors go to the single best big wave ridden all season—and for most people, that one wave will probably qualify as the best ride of their life.
Every April, the WSL Big Wave Awards celebrate the best in heavy water heroics, bringing together the hardest charging men and women for one night of red carpet awards, raucous partying, and hilariously inappropriate monologues by Greg Noll. This next weekend, the 2017 Big Wave Awards will acknowledge the best rides from March 2016 to March 2017. Here are my predictions for the winners.
Wipeout of the Year: Wilem Banks
While all of the nominees are cringe-worthy, Wilem Banks’ pin drop to lip explosion at Mavericks in late January is on another level. Big wave board designs have taken a monumental leap over the past decade, with more width and thickness and fuller templates giving surfers that extra boost they need to get into watery beasts. But sometimes even the best boards can’t save you, especially when you are packing a Maverick’s monster from deep in the bowl. Wilem put in a heroic attempt, and will walk away with the consolation prize on Saturday night.
Best Tube: Shanan Worrall by White
Technically, this is a photo contest, not an award for the best big wave tube ridden all year. The winner will be the photo that best exemplifies the feeling of riding a big barrel, regardless of how long the ride actually was, or if the surfer even made the tube. One would like to think that priority would be given to paddle barrels over tow, and Dane Gudauskas’s throaty runner at Cloudbreak last May was arguably the best big paddle barrel ridden in 2016 (although far from the biggest). Connor Maguire’s paddle barrel at Mullaghmore is another obvious candidate, with its unique light and color (although it is arguably more of a pocket ride than a barrel). But the blur shot of Shanan Worrall towing The Right will likely take home the cheddar, based on size, depth in the tube, and overall composition.
Biggest Wave (tow): Francisco Porcella
The biggest wave awards are the least subjective of the lot, as they are highly quantifiable, requiring only a measuring stick and a general agreement on where the wave’s trough begins. The overall biggest wave category is full of tow waves, and they are all massive, but word in Portugal is that Francisco’s was the biggest ever ridden at Nazare, so it will likely win.
Biggest Wave (paddle): Chris Mashburn
This one is going to be closely contested, as there are a number of entries that could theoretically win. Trevor Carlson’s beast in Portugal looks at first glance to be the biggest, but Nazare is always difficult to measure, since it’s hard to tell where the bottom of the wave. Ben Andrews’ beast at Maverick’s in November is arguably the best overall ride of the year, but foot for foot Chris Mashburn’s may just be the biggest.
Ride of the Year: Ben AndrewsThis was a weird year for Ride of the Year, as there were no really obvious standouts. Historically, the winners over the past few years have been huge, crazy barrels at Jaws or Puerto, but there were only a couple of days at Jaws all season, and Puerto didn’t really deliver as it has in the past. Billy Kemper’s barrel during the Jaws contest was solid, but compared to previous winners it doesn’t really stack up. The same can be said for Jamie Mitchell’s high-line barrel at Puerto during the contest, and Lucas Chianca’s pocket ride at Nazare. And while Francisco’s behemoth at Nazare might be the biggest and longest wave ridden in 2016, the days of rewarding tow surfing over paddle have come and gone. Ben Andrews’ commitment on a maxed-out, doubled-up Maverick’s beast are undeniable, and the steeze with which he completed the ride sealed the deal. Ride of the Year goes to the Mavs local.
Performance of the Year (Women): Paige Alms
This one is a no-brainer. The only real women’s big wave session to go down this year was at the Jaws contest, where Paige and Peahi made the rest of the contestants look a bit silly. Her performance at Jaws that day won her the inaugural women’s big wave world championship, and it will win her performance of the year as well.
Performance of the Year (Men): Jamie Mitchell
This one is virtually impossible to call, as all of the nominees were sending it throughout the year. But this highly objective category is often affected by politics, which means that it helps to have a good public persona and a big following in the surf industry. While Twiggy won his second big wave world championship this year, it was Jamie Mitchell who stepped up on the gnarliest competitive day ever seen (at Nazare), and who put in arguably the most time chasing down bombs all over the world. Mitchell will take home the title, but the real winners will be Lucas Chianca, Trevor Carlson, and Francisco Porcella, all of whom should qualify for the 2017 Big Wave World Tour through the performance wildcard program, since the other seven nominees have all already earned their spots on tour through end of year ratings.