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A New Kind of Surf Contest at Nelscott Reef, Oregon

While big wave surfing as a whole has been progressing by leaps and bounds, competitive big wave surfing has sort of been stagnating over the past few years. It all started with the abysmal call at Nazare last season, when the world title was decided in waves that were barely big enough for a step-up, let alone a gun. Then this 2018/19 season continued with woeful calls, as both the men’s and women’s events at Jaws were plagued with questionable judging, with many people agreeing that Kai Lenny and Emi Erickson both got robbed. To make matters worse, it has been a pretty slow season on the West Coast, and it looks very unlikely that the Maverick’s event will run before the waiting period ends next week. That means there have been only two events for the men and one for the women—and that the women’s world champion will be crowned without making a single drop during the only contest of the season. That’s not exactly the step forward that we want to see competitive big wave surfing take!

What we needed was something to change the momentum, a bright spot to end the season on a good note. And last week, Oregon offered up just that opportunity. Although the swell wasn’t massive, Sunday, March 10 saw contestable swell in the 20-30+ range at Nelscott Reef, with light offshore winds forecasted the entire morning. While everyone else was setting their clocks forward an hour, Jamie Sterling, Trevor Carlson, Nic Lamb, Jojo Roper, Emi Erickson, Bianca Valenti, and a host of lesser known chargers gathered in Lincoln City to contest a new type of event. This crew was ready for something different, and that’s exactly what the new director of the Nelscott contest provided. Rather than one-hour elimination heats, the format was an all-day expression session, with everyone surfing together, and the athletes voting on who scored the best rides.

Adding to the grassroots feel and positive vibe of the event, the athletes all decided the night before to split the prize money—equal pay for both the men and women at $5000 apiece. Rather than one person walking home with all the dough, everyone received some cash for their trouble, which helped with the travel expenses (especially helpful since many competitors were unsponsored). So when the sun rose on Sunday and the surfers started making their way out into the frigid lineup (water was in the upper 40s, while the air started out in the upper 30s!), it was all smiles all around. This was a local event put on by relatively unknown crew, yet it featured free accommodations and food for all of the competitors—in other words, a lot more than the recent Big Wave tour events have provided. And with nearly all of the competitors being friends from past swells at Nelscott, it was all laughs and happy chit chat in the lineup. But the surfing was still serious, with everyone pulling in a few monster rides. North Shore big wave queen Emi Erickson ended up getting voted as the winner for the women, while California charger and Big Wave Tour competitor Jojo Roper won for the men.

But at the end of the day, everyone left feeling like they’d won. A good-vibes contest where everyone got waves, everyone got paid, and everyone felt like they’d been treated like VIPs—it doesn’t get much better than that. As the northern hemisphere winter comes to a close and we enter the off-season for big wave competition, it was nice to see such a positive event bookend the year! Congratulations to the winners and all of the competitors. Now here’s hoping we can see the Eddie and the Queen of the Bay events run here in Hawaii next winter!