Saturday evening Huntington Beach’s newest upscale hotel, the hotel Pasea, hosted the WSL Big Wave Awards. The annual event recognizes the surfers, photographers, and filmmakers who risk it all in the world’s heaviest surf.
Fashion for the evening ran the gamut from jeans and tees to formal wear. Francisco Porcella would definitely have received Joan’s nod of approval. His impeccably tailored tux landed on sockless ankles; surfer chic at its best. Nic Lamb was his usual perky and coiffed self and sat as a sharp counterpoint to the quintessential surfer boy , Greg Long, with his wavy hair, once-ironed shirt and Chuck Taylor low tops. Billy Kemper seemed to be paying homage to a 90’s Justin Timberlake in faded, ripped denim on denim; and, of course, the cowboy hat.
The women went all out. Cut lace, sexy stilettos, and curled hair reminded us that these bad-ass chargers are beautiful women. Paige Alms went for a floor length, sleeveless black over taupe, while Bianca Valenti’s personality shone through in her choice of peacock blue. Nicole Pacelli was stunning, as always, a in red mini with stacked heels. For this evening, It WAS pretty.
Strider Wasilewski was our Emcee this year and did the WSL proud. It’s hard not to love his enthusiasm and big-kid grin. He did a great job recognizing the crowd and ad-libbing as needed when he either couldn’t see or didn’t agree with the teleprompter. Speaking of enthusiasm from the WSL commentating team, Peter Mel was in rare form as he passed the Big Wave Commissioner torch to Mike Parsons and jokingly (but not joking) asked for a wild card spot on the tour.
There’s definitely a generational shift happening across the board in surfing and our Big Wave founders are beginning to step down. Carlos Burle announced his retirement early on in the show. He received a well-deserved standing ovation and seemed to be fighting back the heavy emotions that accompany leaving a sport to which he’s given so much commitment and time.
Nazare was well represented and it proved to be one of our former commissioner’s crowning glories to have added it to the tour. There were waves nominated in every category from Pria de Norte, with the biggest wave of the year going to our aforementioned exceptionally dressed Francisco Porcella for an incredible ride last fall.
Another result of Mr. Mel’s tenure was the addition of a women’s heat to the Pe’ahi challenge. The ladies were front and center and stoked to be a part of the evening. The Women’s Best Performance went to Paige Alms for her win in that event. During her speech, she reiterated that one event was not enough to call a tour and hoped that women would be included in more events this year.
Unfortunately, that may not happen, as the tour has been cut short for 2017 (amid rumors of financial cutback at the WSL). Gary Linden announced to the crowd that Puerto Escondido, Pe’ahi, and Nazare would be the only events run this year. With Pico Alto, Todos Santos, and now Mavericks up for grabs, it makes one wonder what the tour will look like next year.
One of the most interesting (and possible crazy) people I had a chance to speak with was fellow Floridian Brad Domke. He skimboards Nazare. Just think about that…finless in 50+ feet. I asked him why he would do that and what he was hoping to achieve, and he said “It needed to be done and nobody was doing it”. He wanted to push the boundaries of what people thought was possible. He just wanted to catch big waves and survive. He said that with a laugh as if the alternative was a possibility he’d already come to terms with. You can catch some great footage of Brad at Pria de Norte in Rocky Romano’s last film Red Chargers. It chronicles a season with Garrett MacNamara’s team in Nazare.
Lest you think the world of big surfing is centered in Portugal, fear not, as Hawaii took home the big prize. Maui’s Billy Kemper has an amazing run at Jaws last year and won the Billabong Ride of the Year for a session last November.
California had a seat in the winner’s circle as well. Paddle of the year went to Ben Andrews with roaring applause; NorCal was well-represented in the audience. Speaking with Ben after the show, he was just so excited to have been in the right place at the right time. Regardless of the award, he’d won the best ride of his life that day at Mavericks.
The after party provided a chance to shake hands and congratulate the winners as well as light the spark of excitement for the season starting this week. Standouts of the evening: meeting Rory Russell (and Rory Russell), speaking with It A’int Pretty filmmaker Dayla Soul, talking with Gary Linden, a chat with Grant Washburn about the Mavericks / Cartel debacle, and it’s always good to see the Gudauskas boys; they exude happy and should be invited to every party.
As I was leaving the event I was offered one of the ride entry posters the WSL team was taking off the walls. I grabbed Trevor Carlson’s Biggest Wave entry at Nazare and was walking out a happy camper. Before I could make it to the door, an older couple stopped me and asked me for the poster. I hesitated and told them that I wouldn’t fight them for it (although I was pretty sure I would if I had to), but I would really prefer to keep it. They offered another poster in exchange and I was still not on board with giving up the new addition to my office wall.
Turns out it was Trevor’s in-laws and they wanted to have all of his posters. They asked why I wanted that one in particular, and I told them about how I met Trevor at the Big Wave Safety Summit in Oahu and how the story he shared about his experience with Keoki Saguibo resonated with me and that I had admired him ever since… and it was an amazing wave. My story paid off and the family connected us. We had a chance to chat and I managed to get an autograph on the poster. They were all lovely and I ended up with a gracious invite to stop by and say hi the next time I was in Hawaii.
2017 WSL Big Wave Award Winners:
Billabong Ride of the Year: Billy Kemper
Videographer: Etienne Aurelius
Paddle Award: Ben Andrews
Photographer: Fred Pompermayer
TAG Heuer XXL Biggest Wave Award: Francisco Porcella
Photographer: Bruno Aleixo
Tube of the Year Award: Shaun Worrall
Photographer: Jamie Scott
TAG Heuer Wipeout of the Year Award: Wilem Banks
Videographer: Curt Myers
Surfline Men’s Overall Performance Award: Jamie Mitchell
Women’s Best Overall Performance Award: Paige Alms
2016/2017 WSL Big Wave Men’s Champion: Grant Baker
2016/2017 WSL Big Wave Women’s Champion: Paige Alms