While it could be argued there was a significant shortage of northern hemisphere swell activity this winter, putting the kibosh on the Maverick’s and Nelscott Reef contests, that’s not to suggest there weren’t any big waves this year. On the contrary, there were a lot of big waves. And last weekend Billabong and a select group of surfers, groupies, and industry folks gathered in Anaheim to celebrate the best that the winter season had to offer a la the Billabong XXL Big Wave Awards.
This annual event celebrates the winter’s biggest waves and accordingly the bravest riders. Tow-in, paddle-in, tubes, wipeouts, women and men are sized up, selected, and celebrated. Respectfully, the waves are revered as much as the surfers who ride them. Standouts this year included perennial favorites like Teahupo’o (Tahiti) and Jaws (Maui) but also newcomers like Praia do Norte / Nazare Canyon (Portugal), Agiti (Basque Country) and Mullaghmore Head (Ireland) and well-known but seldom XXL candidates Puerto Escondido (Mexico) and Cloudbreak (Fiji). Yes, Maverick’s and Todos Santos were represented but not to the extent of the others. And other big wave breaks like Ghost Tree, Nelscott Reef, and Cortes Bank were missing but that’s not to say they didn’t deliver big waves this winter. They just didn’t deliver XXL waves.
But I digress. Nathan Fletcher cleaned up, winning Ride of the Year, Monster Tube, and Surfline Best Performance honors for his incredible feat at Teahupo’o on August 27, 2011, a day that will not soon be forgotten. His and other surfers' death-defying rides on this monumental day were not only captured on film but captured using technology that puts all previous surf films to shame. Chris Bryan filmed the day’s events using a Phantom HD Gold camera. He accompanied the 7 and one half minute film with a soundtrack entitled “Lower Your Eyelids to Die with the Sun” by M83. I must say that in my 20 years of surfing, deep love of surfing, I have never been more captivated and blown away than I was when I watched this film. Several months later, I still am. Filmed in HD and presented in slow motion, you can witness the sheer beauty, intensity and rage of this dangerous wave on a life threatening swell. Yes, surfers have been maimed and killed at this shallow wave reef break.
The conditions this day forced a Double Code Red classification by the French navy (Tahiti is a French protectorate), prohibiting and threatening to arrest anyone that entered the water. Well, French naval law was broken by a brave few men. Not the most ideal conditions to enforce the law....
Chris Bryan’s amazing film can be seen below. He was working for Billabong that day and the company’s finished product, “Code Red” can be seen below as well, under Chris’ film. Despite featuring a narrative and being twice as long, “Code Red” pales in comparison to Chris’ film. With Chris’ film, just the wave and the surfers riding it are the focal point; anything else is just a distraction. Judge for yourself.
Chris Bryan's (amazing) production:
Billabong's "Code Red" production:
Thank you to Chris Bryan and the surfers who risked their lives on August 27, 2011. And thank you to the judges' panel who recognized Nathan Fletcher for his outstanding achievements. I will forever be in awe. Until next time, may your waves be head high and glassy.