For the world's premier big-wave surfers, this is the time of year to learn who really stood out during the past 12 months: who captured the best ride; who rode the biggest wave; who tucked into the gnarliest tube, and so on.
Nominees in the top categories of the Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards have been announced and fans can view photos and videos of the athletes' performances on the contest website. Winners will be named May 4 during an invitation-only ceremony at The Grove theater in Anaheim.
The most distinguished category is Ride of the Year. The five nominees are featured in the accompanying video and the winner will be paid $50,000.
Nathan Fletcher may look to some to be the obvious winner because he appears to have defied death on a massive day at Teahupoo in Tahiti. But Fletcher fell before riding the wave to completion, and that might cost him.
Garrett McNamara enjoys an edge because of the sheer size of the wave he was towed onto behind a personal watercraft at a spot off Portugal. But he was towed onto that wave, whereas Jeff Rowley paddled into his gargantuan wave at Jaws, Maui, a spot widely regarded as boasting waves too large and fast to be caught without the assistance of personal watercraft.
Additionally, the performances of Ryan Hipwood at Cloudbreak, Fiji, and Greg Long at Puerto Escondido, Mexico, should not be discounted. Both paddled into monstrous waves and both got completely barreled.
McNamara may look like an easy pick if you throw out Fletcher, but this is Ride of the Year, not Biggest Wave, so who knows. (McNamara's ride is also a nominee in Biggest Wave.)
Personally, I'd vote for Hipwood, for the simple beauty of his lengthy backside barrel ride; or Long, for his deep barrel ride on a massive and scary day at the "Mexican Pipeline."
But that's simply because I appreciate old-school simplicity and aesthetics.
That said, all five rides are amazing.
-- Pete Thomas