Depending on the results of this year's Billabong XXL Awards, we may be witnessing a slight shift in momentum in big wave competitionâ€”very slight.
Longtime favorites like Greg Long (USA) (Ride of the Year, Surfline Best Overall Performance), Shane Dorian (HAW) (Ride of the Year, Best Overall Performance) and Carlos Burle (BRA) (Biggest Wave) are not actingâ€”nor are they ridingâ€”like they're at the end of their careers quite yet. Still, a new generation of surfers has emerged just in the last few years and its members are making a move toward the XXL podium.
North Devon surfer Andrew Cotton (GBR), nominated for this year's Biggest Wave Award, sits at the crossroads where old meets new. The 34-year-old is still awaiting an exact measurement for a wave he rode this past February that the media and Twitterverse is sure was the largest ever ridden. A week after winter storm Brigid hit Nazaré, Portugal, Cotton bombed down what was estimated to be an 80-foot (24.3-metre) wall of ocean swell.
If that measurement is confirmed by XXL, Cotton will have registered an official world record. He was able to hit a 78-footer in mid-October, which tied him with the current record holder. That would Hawaiian Garrett McNamara. McNamara was on the ski, towing Cotton out on the same waters he had earned his own XXL award in 2012.
It's this blend of big wave staples and newfound chargers that will be splayed out for all to see once the checks are raised Friday night at the City National Grove of Anaheim. Up against Cotton in the Biggest Wave category is Burle, currently ranked No. 42 on the Big Wave World Tour (BWWT) (Cotton is ranked 48th). Burle claimed the 2009/2010 BWWT Championship and took the XXL Biggest Wave Award in 2002, long before Cotton even came on to the big wave scene. Somewhere in between, fellow nominee Ian Walsh (HAW), 31, garnered several XXL Biggest Wave nominations from his rides at Jaws.
Perhaps the most obvious testament to the trend can be seen in the ever-evolving Women's Overall Performance category. The 10th anniversary of the award pits five-time XXL winner Maya Gabeira (BRA) against Keala Kennelly (HAW), who is going for a back-to-back. It wouldn't be all that surprising if you look back at the history of the award: Jamilah Star (HAW) won the first two years the award was given. Gabeira took over from there winning four in a row. Kennelly interrupted that streak in 2011, lost to Gabeira in 2012 and won again last year. If Kennelly is triumphant Friday night, we may be looking at the affirmation of a dominant new era in women's big wave surfing.
This all remains to be seen, of course. It's totally possible, especially with names like Dorian and Long amongst the nominees, the good 'ol boys will blow the newcomers out of the waterâ€”so to speak.