Maui local Billy Kemper (HAW) won the Big Wave Tour's Pe'ahi Challenge Sunday, scoring one for the home crowd. His rhythm was undeniable throughout the day, as he built his scoreline in three heats. He ultimately controlled the Final thanks to a perfectly timed tube-ride in massive conditions.
It was the first-ever Pe'ahi Challenge and with wave faces of 40-to-60 feet predicted, it promised to be a historic event. When dawn broke Sunday morning, there was no doubt that the hype would deliver.
Round 1 opened with Dave Wassel (HAW) and Carlos Burle (BRA) taking massive wipeouts that washed them almost all the way to shore. But their falls would be just the first few on a day that saw inexplicable drops and mind-blowing performances.
Former Big Wave champion Greg Long (USA) and local legend Shaun Walsh struck gold in Heat 2, earning the contest's first nine-point rides. But their points were where the similarity stopped: Long earned his 9.00 for tucking into a heavy barrel, which ultimately swallowed him whole, while Walsh rode out a huge wave after an intense freefall for his 9.00.
"It was probably one of, if not the best waves of my life even though I didn't make it," Long said in his post-heat interview. "It's been a dream of mine to catch one of these barrels and to see that vision. It's the perfect direction to do it and get the waves from way out the back. Paddling in it looks impossible to make it all the way to the channel but then you get around that first section coming from behind and you're set."
As the wind picked up, sets marched through the lineup, offering opportunities for big rides and stunning wipeouts. Long continued to dominate, dropping into a bomb and staying just ahead of the closeout for an 8.93 in Semifinal 1. Kemper and Albee Layer (HAW) also found huge scores in the Semifinals to set up a powerhouse finish.
At the start of the Final the ocean was eerily quiet, as if gearing up for a grande finale. But after the restart, competitors were quick to pick up the pace. Layer was the first to take off but his early lead was fleeting. Kemper's momentum continued to build as he thrived in the home court conditions. He earned an 8.00 on his first wave after standing tall in a barrel, solidifying his momentum.
Long battled back, earning his own high-range score for a ride nearly identical to the one that saw him through the Semis. But Kemper found a midrange backup and held a solid lead when the final horn blew.
"This is a dream come true," Kemper said. "We've been talking about this moment for years and to have a paddle event in my backyard at, to me one of the most premier, outstanding waves in the world, means everything to me. It doesn't feel real and I just want to dedicate this to my brother. To paddle Pe'ahi has been a dream of mine for a very long time and to be out there with some of my favorite surfers and best friend -- I'm just speechless."
The Pe'ahi Challenge is the second Big Wave Tour event to run in the 2015/2016 season and the first of the Northern Hemisphere window, and with the massive 40-to-50 foot faces coming in the event was deemed a Gold Coefficient competition - meaning the maximum amount of points were earned by competitors. With a win, Kemper earned 15,625 points and is the current Big Wave Tour Rankings leader.
With a historic El Niño expected to hit in the coming months, stay tuned for more big wave action. Should they run, the upcoming BWT contests will air live on the WSL homepage and the WSL app.