Ride of the Year: Greg Long (USA)
For the final act of the Billabong XXL Awards, five surfers lined up on stage to see who had won the most coveted award of the event. The Ride of the Year award had loomed large for the entirety of the show. Between each presentation, each surfer was depicted in a short film, self-narrating the day and the moment they caught that memorable wave that had brought them to this nomination.
And then, in a sort of poetic irony, the night came full circle: Greg Long, who so humbly passed his Title to the new BWWT No. 1 Grant Baker (ZAF) in the show's opening moments, was announced as the winner for Ride of the Year.
2012/2013 defending BWWT Champion, Long took third at Mavericks and second in Oregon. His most notorious wave, however, came at Puerto Escondido, leading to tonight's Ride of the Year victory.
Biggest Wave Winner: Galtier Garanx
While Jaws and Mavericks are well-known hunting grounds for monstrous rides, but there was an even draw this year in big wave success between Pacific and European waters. Four of the five nominations for Biggest Wave came from either Nazare or Jaws, but it was the wave in Belharra and the rider from France, Galtier Garanx, that would take the award.
Garnax blew down a 62-footer in the Northern Basque terrain. He is only the second Frenchman to win an XXL Award since.
Surfline Best Overall Performance Award Winner: Grant "Twiggy" Baker
The man, the myth and the legend, Greg Noll took the stage to present the Surfline Best Overall Performance Award. "They're a lot nicer than the guys in my day," he said with total sincerity.
And you didn't miss him too much did you? Twiggy made the short walk back to the podium to accept his second Overall Performance XXL Award. Baker won in 2009 for a 68-foot monster at Tafelberg Reef.
"Someone asked me today if I'm afraid of big wave surfing. I can't be afraid." Looking over at Noll he said, "Imagine the guys that pioneered these spots."
Paddle Award Winner: Mark Healey (HAW)
Alex Gray, current No. 4 on the BWWT rankings, welcomed the "jet ski is dead" crowd as he introduced the nominees for the Paddle Award. Images of Jaws, Mavericks and Sunset showed surfers catching waves big enough for most to question whether or not it would be humanly possible to do so without the aid of a watercraft.
Mark Healey won for a 52-foot wave ridden at Jaws.
"Within all these people is a warrior," Healey said. "I see what you do and in the water and I will always respect you."
Wipeout Winner: Koa Rothman (HAW)
With pummel after pummel, from Mavericks to Tahiti and Belharra, flashing on the big screen, the schadenfreude was in full effect for the presentation of this year's Wipeout nominees.
Victorious--I guess you can say--was Koa Rothman, fresh off his best Tube award.
Women's Performance Winner: Keala Kennelly (HAW)
Women's big wave has taken a huge leap in the amount of recognition it gets and the awe its athletes inspire in their onlookers and peers. In the opening "around-the-world" sequence, the crowd erupted as a thin surfer with a bleach blonde faux hawk emerging from the spit of a thick curl in Tahiti.
Winning the Women's Performance Award tonight gives Kennelly back-to-back victories at the XXL Awards, her third total. It also puts her ahead of inaugural winner Jamilah Star (HAW) who won back-to-back in 2005 and 2006.
Only three women have won the award in the 10 years it's been given, Star, Kennelly and fellow nominee Maya Gabeira (BRA). Gabeira has won five total.
Tube Winner: Koa Rothman
Biggest Wave nominee Ian Walsh (HAW) walked up to the podium dawning a suit, tie and lei to announce the winner of the Tube Award. Koa Rothman was by far the fan favorite, a large cheer echoing through the concert hall as the now-notorious photograph of the Oahu native slimly framed by a massive wave in Teahupoo centered on the big screen.
So, of course, the crowd erupted when Walsh read out the winner. Rothman skipped up to the stage, calmed his nerves long enough to thank his sponsors and family, looked at the big fake check and said this was his dream.
2012/2013 BWWT Champion: Grant "Twiggy" Baker (ZAF)
In the name of brotherhood, last year's Billabong XXL Champion Greg Long strolled onto the stage to pass the torch to the 2012/2013 Champion Grant "Twiggy" Baker.
After Twiggy bookended the 2009 BWWT season with a first place opener and a fifth place final event in Todos Santos, the South African slowly drifted down to the bottom rankings of big wave surfers. He's admitted the presence of surfers like Long and Shane Dorian (HAW) who, in the 2010/2011 and 2011/2012 seasons continued to perform at the top, made it difficult to stand out in those years.
But last season, something lit a fire and Baker devoted his life entirely, he says, to big waves. Maybe it was the heartbreak of losing. Or maybe it was being dropped by his sponsor in July 2013. Whatever it was, it led to Big Wave history.
For the first time under the official BWWT circuit, Baker won multiple events: He stood atop the podium at both Maverick's and Punta Galea. He took fourth in the final event, the Dive N Surf Oregon Pro but by then he had solidified himself as Champion of the season.
Baker's performances during the 2012/2013 season earned him Billabong XXL nominations. He is nominated for a Paddle Award for a ride in Sunset, SA, Ride of the Year for a wave he caught in Dungeons, and Surfline's Best Overall Performance.
But for this award there was no competition. After the waves had ebbed and the scores had settled, Twiggy had the most points.
Immediately following Baker's acceptance speech, Billabong took us through a journey across the planet, streaming footage of the memorable rides from this past season. From Chile to Jaws to Nazare, the now-raucous crowd "ooh"ed and "aah"ed for crazy tubes and gnarly wipeouts alike.
So begins the portion of the night where awards were up for grabs and anything could happen.
As the day melted away in Anaheim, Calif., hoards surfing fanatics, participants and spectators alike, poured through the stone archway of the City National Grove of Anaheim for the 2014 Billabong XXL Awards.
After opening comments by ASP Chief Marketing Officer Graham Stapelberg, the big wave community paid homage to a man whose legend precedes this event. Gary Linden, surfer, shaper and Big Wave World Tour (BWWT) founder, took the podium to the tunes of Jimi Hendrix. He assured the surfers and fans he'd "keep playing," watching his dream of Big Wave surfing go from independent journey to Tour to Billabong XXL recognition and now ASP incorporation.
As the room faded to black, the big screen lit up with the face of new BWWT Commissioner, big wave surfer Peter Mel. When the Commissioner arrived at the podium he was quick to say there's no "was" when you're talking about Peter Mel. He still refers to the surfers under his guise as his "brothers" and "sisters" and still recognizes a common ground between likeminded big wavers even in the face of fierce competition. As he strolled off stage he gave a nod in the direction of Greg Noll. Everyone at XXL knows where they came from.