The Red Bull Big Wave Awards are almost here and this year's consortium of giant surf, hellish rides and acts of exceptional bravely should, frankly, shock the world.

From the coast of Portugal to Hawaii's outer reefs, the men and women who ride mountains have taken things to a whole different level this time. The four categories for 2021 include Ride of the Year, Biggest Paddle, Biggest Tow and Performer of the Year.

The 2021 Red Bull Big Wave Awards show airs on Friday, October 29, at 3:00pm PST on WorldSurfLeague.com. Here's a little back story to get the party started:

Kai Lenny

We can't talk about redefining possibilities without throwing straight to Kai Lenny, a one-of-a-kind athlete who seems to be able to do just about anything in the ocean.

Chief among those talents though is making riding giant waves look easy. Lenny has almost single-handedly redefined what is possible in big waves, especially when it comes to tow-in surfing.

At Jaws and Nazare, Lenny has used the straps on his tow boards to enable him to huck lofty airs -- he's literally flying above some of the biggest waves in the world.

Riding these waves used to be about surviving, but Lenny has found a way to make it look as fun as a two-foot shore break ... for him, anyway.

This year he's nominated 11 times across the three main categories: Ride of the Year, Biggest Paddle and Biggest Tow. With such a volume of top rides in contention, it's hard not to see him as a favorite to take out the Performer of the Year category, too.

2021 Men's Ride Of The Year Nominee: Kai Lenny At Jaws, Entry 1
2021 Men's Ride Of The Year Kai Lenny At Jaws on January 16, 2021. Video from Marcus Rodrigues.

Justine Dupont

January 2021 seems like a long time ago, but the giant barrel France's Justine Dupont rode at Jaws is still reverberating through the surf world. This has to have been one of the biggest barrels ridden by anyone, ever, man or woman.

It's a stand-out entry among this year's field, putting Dupont in a great position when it comes to the Ride of the Year category. She's gone all in on chasing swells and has really taken the reins from other amazing athletes such as Keala Kennelly -- a true pioneer when it comes to women's big wave surfing.

Kennelly may be someone who has been blazing a trail for decades now, but she's also right in the mix this year too, with a stand-out paddle wave at Himalayas.

2021 Women's Ride Of The Year Nominee: Justine Dupont At Jaws
2021 Women's Ride Of The Year Justine Dupont at Jaws on January 16, 2021. Video from Slater Nebrosky.

Peter Mel

Speaking of pioneers -- and waves so intense we've barely recovered from them -- WSL analyst and big-wave legend Peter Mel is a standout with his Ride of the Year entry from Mavericks, ridden in January.

This was described as perhaps the best wave ever ridden out there -- which would be impressive enough, but once you factor in the fact that Mel was 50 years old when he did it, it's all the more groundbreaking.

How many other people who have been on the planet for half a century do you think could paddle into a wave like this, make the barrel and come out with such a big smile on their face? Mel enjoyed another banner season at his beloved Mavericks and it'll be interesting to see what the judging panel thinks of his accomplishments.

2021 Men's Ride Of The Year Nominee: Peter Mel At Mavericks
2021 Men's Ride Of The Year Peter Mel at Mavericks on January 8, 2021. Video from Curt Myers.

Billy Kemper

They don't call him the King of Jaws for nothing. But a Ride of the Year award would be extra special for Billy Kemper after what he's been through. Kemper seriously injured himself during a trip to Morrocco in early 2020, and has made a heroic effort to get back to his best.

At the time of the injury -- documented in the WSL series "Billy" -- Kemper was at the peak of his career. But you can't keep a warrior like him down, and while a near-collapsed lung, cracked pelvis, contused quad muscle, torn ACL and MCL and shredded meniscus would have ended many other careers, Kemper fought back to return to the heaviest wave on earth, where he made his name.

Kemper's Ride of the Year entry is a standout -- one of the cleanest, longest barrels at big Jaws we've seen to date.

2021 Men's Ride Of The Year Nominee: Billy Kemper At Jaws
2021 Men's Ride Of The Year Billy Kemper at Jaws on December 2, 2020. Video by Marcus Rodrigues.

Maya Gabeira

Once again it is looking like it could be a tight race for the women's Ride of the Year with Maya Gabeira right there with Dupont. Gabeira is another athlete pushing the sport forward with courage and determination -- she held nothing back during the February 2021 swell at Nazare during which her entry was filmed.

She's had to battle through some serious injuries and near-death experiences over the years, but the Brazilian charger still manages to stay at the top of the big-wave game and is a true barrier breaker. In Nazare she seems to have found a spot she feels especially comfortable, which has helped to enhance both her longevity and the size of the waves she gets whipped into. Few have ever done it like Gabeira and 2021 is more proof of that.

2021 Women's Ride Of The Year Nominee: Maya Gabeira At Nazare
2021 Women's Ride Of The Year Maya Gabeira at Nazare on February 5, 2021. Video from Ceshina Feliciano.

The 2021 Red Bull Big Wave Awards show airs on Friday, October 29, at 3:00pm PST on WorldSurfLeague.com. For a full list of nominees and all the clips, head here.

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