The Big Wave Awards are always controversial, and this year was no exception. In the weeks running up to the award ceremony, a number of people spoke out about what they felt were overlooked rides that should have received nominations but didn’t. Some feel this is political, while others simply believe that certain names bring more hype to the sport, and that is why they tend to get the nod when it comes to subjective awards such as ride of the year.
There were a few conspicuously absent names this year, including Albee Layer (who paddled a crazy barrel at Jaws after the event was called off because it was “too big and dangerous”), and Laurie Towner, who paddled the wave of the swell of the century at Cloudbreak, a critical, late, backside drop to long barrel. But with so many amazing rides over the course of the year, someone was always going to get left out. The fact of the matter is, the rides that did make the cut were all amazing—and on Thursday night we finally found out who the big winners were.
Here is our recap, live from the Big Wave Awards in Redondo Beach.
1)Biggest Paddle Wave:
There were a number of monsters paddled this year, many pushing the 55- to 60-foot range. Although none quite matched Aaron Gold’s record-holder from a few years ago, Grant “Twiggy” Baker’s behemoth at the Jaws event was the crowd favorite, not only because it was tall, but also because it doubled-up mid-face, swallowed him whole in the barrel, then vomited him out in a violent rag-doll beating. Twiggy’s wave ended up getting the nod as the biggest paddle wave of the year, which was simply the cherry on top of an historic ride.
2) Biggest Paddle Wave Women:
Andrea Moller took the win in this category for a beast that she paddled at Jaws during the contest (a theme you will quickly come to recognize from this year’s awards). Not only was it the biggest wave paddled by a woman this year, but it was also a new Guinness World Record!
3) Biggest Tow Wave:
Yet another entry from the Jaws contest day, the winner of the biggest tow wave was that crazy beast Kai Lenny towed after they called the event off. While it wasn’t a world record, Kai’s wave was notable for being from somewhere other than Nazare (which typically hosts the biggest tow waves each season). The fact that the biggest tow wave this year happened on Maui just goes to show how big that swell actually was—and how incredible it was that the women and some of the men ended up surfing a few heats out there that morning!
Another of Kai’s tow waves from that day—the one that included a top-turn and then a 20-foot, mid-face air drop—was nominated for ride of the year, but didn’t end up taking the win.
4) Biggest Tow Wave Women:
Justine Dupont had a breakout season in 2018/19, paddling and towing some of the biggest waves of the year. She had two entries from Nazare in the women’s biggest tow category, and ended up taking the win with her second entry. And that wasn’t the only prize she took home tonight (but more on that later)!
5) Wipeout of the Year:
This one is always a crowd favorite, as we tend to love carnage, especially when it involves huge waves. Most of the entries were from the Jaws contest, but the ultimate winner was Makua Rothman, who got annihilated by the foamball on a massive tow barrel at Cloudbreak.
6) Ride of the Year:
This was the category with all of the controversy, and one that was highly anticipated all night. Of the five nominations, two were tow waves (Kai’s air-drop turn at Jaws and Ramon Navarro’s enormous barrel at Cloudbreak), which many thought should be disqualified since there is such as huge gap between the difficulty levels of towing and paddling. Two more of the entries were paddle barrels that were not completed—Twiggy’s winner from the biggest paddle category, and Billy Kemper’s enormous closeout barrel that he rode a few minutes before Twiggy’s wave during their heat at Jaws. Twiggy’s wave was arguably the craziest drop-to-barrel ever completed in surfing, but the fact that neither of these rides were completed caused some to question their inclusion in the category.
The fifth ride nominated was Natxo Gonzalez’s crazy backdoor barrel during the Nazare contest, which many thought would end up winning. But Twiggy’s huge drop-to-barrel ended up taking the day, winning him not only the biggest paddle award, but the ride of the year as well.
7) Performer of the Year (Women):
After a pretty wild year that involved a controversial Jaws contest and world title (number one and two at the Jaws contest and on the world title rankings failed to make any waves in the final, but got the scores based on their wipeouts), it was anyone’s guess who the performer of the year would be for the women. While local Oahu charger Emi Erickson was probably the crowd favorite (since many feel she was robbed of the Jaws win and world title), Justine Dupont’s performances at Nazare this year couldn’t be argued with. The fact that she also paddled a couple of beasts during the Jaws event cemented her win as the women’s performer of the year!
8) Performer of the year (Men)
As far as most people were concerned, there were two stand-out performers tonight battling for the performance crown—world champ Grant “Twiggy” Baker, who had already won ride of the year and biggest paddle, and Kai Lenny, who many consider to be the best waterman and big wave surfer alive, and who was nominated in two categories in the Big Wave Awards as well (taking home the win for the biggest tow wave). In the end, it was Kai who took the win, further establishing him as the best waterman of our time. He has come up just short in the world title race the past two years, but we have no doubt that he will take home the cup sometime soon.
Congratulations to all of the winners and nominees at the Big Wave Awards!