By Tetsuhiko Endo
The Billabong XXL awards took place last weekend and its big winners reflected the surfers who have forsworn jet skis over the last few years to catch waves the old fashioned way—one hefty stroke at a time. The coveted ride of the year award went to Brazilian paddle surfer Danilo Couto, who rode his fateful wave at Jaws off Maui. Perennial Hawaiian standout Shane Dorioan also nabbed two awards and broke the existing record for “largest wave ridden without a jet ski” by paddling into a 57-foot wave at the same spot.
To put this all into perspective, big-wave surfers started using personal water crafts (PWCs) in the late 90s as a way to catch waves that were considered too large and too fast-moving to catch using the power of two arms. The upper limit of what was considered “paddleable” at that time was around 35 feet. When Jaws first came into the media spot light, it was said to be impossible to ride without the aid of jet skis. How far back to the future we have come. Although PWC assisted surfing hasn’t lost favor among the small group of men and women who chase big waves (read: 30-foot plus) around the world, the last four years have seen a resurgence in eager paddlers due to the overcrowding of big-wave spots with watercrafts, and also a simple change in mind set. By paddling into his 57-foot foot wave, Dorian has added considerable fuel to the fire of what can now undoubtedly be called a full-blown surfing movement.
Most of the award winners, including the Hawaiian siren Keala Kennely (whose barrel at Mexico’s Puerto Escondido was arguably the biggest ever ridden by a women) pledged to give their money to the widow and children of Sion Milosky, their brother in arms who died surfing California’s infamous Mavericks in March. Check out Surfline.com for the videos of the award winning waves.
- Nat Geo Expeditions