The Maui County state building sparkled in the morning sun as big-wave champs Ian Walsh and Paige Alms embraced against its cement exterior. An official resolution had just taken place on the 8th floor to honor the two for their wins at the 2017 Pe'ahi Challenge, WSL's most recent Big Wave Tour event, which ran in October 2017 on their home island.
The surfers' closest family and friends joined in hugs and photos outside, beneath the United States and Hawaiian flags, and congratulated the two with ear-to-ear smiles. Handsome Bugga Productions, the team that supports the operation of the Maui big-wave event alongside the WSL, snapped selfies with the athletes and stood by to represent the solidarity of the community.
The 2017 Pe‘ahi Challenge has been touted as one of, if not the, best big-wave competitions in history. Ideal swell direction and size lined up along the north coast of the Valley Isle and produced some of the most preeminent surf ever witnessed during a professional competition.
Both Paige and Ian are quick to pass any credit along to those who have come before them in the big-wave scene. However, the two cannot deny the roles they play in increasing the prominence of paddle surfing for both men and women from the tow-in scene that once dominated the lineup. Through athletes like Ian and Paige, big-wave surfing has taken on more than just an extreme sports reputation.
"I think, more than what the world gets to see, is a lot of hard work that happens behind the scenes," Ian commented, as he addressed the council members. In the background a monitor displayed an image of him knifing down the face of a massive wave at Pe'ahi. "At the end of the day, what [these] guys do to keep our heads above water is above all else.
"It's an honor to be standing here today and I really, really appreciate the opportunity to even be here," he continued. "I think that both of these victories, along with the two previous years coming from Billy [Kemper] and Paige, previously, is a strong testament to this beautiful island and the work ethic that you guys and my family have instilled in all of us."
Ahead of the presentation, Rodney Killborn, who heads Handsome Bugga, took to the podium to commend the surfers and their accomplishments within the Maui community. Killborne emphasized Ian and Paige's upbringings, integrity and heart, along with well-deserved credit to the surfer who won the very first WSL Pe‘ahi Challenge, Billy Kemper, in 2015. A third-generation Maui native, Kemper now resides on the North Shore of Oahu with his young family, but his roots run deep as does his significance in big wave surfing.
After a historic victory in 2015, Kemper went on to win back-to-back titles with another powerful performance in 2016. Many believed he was unbeatable for a threepeat, until Ian dominated the competition in 2017 and earned his first Big Wave title, only to keep the trophy on Maui turf for a third consecutive year.
On the women's side, Paige now also holds back-to-back victories at the Pe‘ahi Challenge and made a massive needle-jump for women around the world. A symbol of hard work and total dedication, Paige shares her sentiment with younger generations, encouraging them to pursue their wildest dreams, even when that includes charging 40-foot waves.
"I feel that winning this event is a win for our whole entire community, not just for us," said Paige during the presentation. "I hope it inspires people from all over the world to go out and chase their dreams.
"There are so many people in my life that put in so much to help me achieve my goals and my dreams, I am so grateful. Thank you, especially the family and friends that are here today. I hope the next generation can see that through hard work and determination, anything is possible."