Billabong Pro Competition

By: Evan Finneke

Published: October 4, 2006

Imagine competing for one of the most coveted titles in your sport, but you couldn't simply win it in twelve rounds. And you couldn't win it in four quarters, or nine innings, or ten furlongs even. What if you had to compete all year, through the spring, summer, fall, and winter, and use the globe as your arena?  You just may be surfing for the Billabong XXL Big Wave Award given out annually to the surfer fortunate enough to catch the largest wave recorded that year. And if the coveted award is not incentive enough, riders can also be tempted into the frightening waves with the knowledge that the winning wave pays off at a thousands dollars a foot, leaving surfers to expect somewhere in the neighborhood of sixty thousand in winnings.

Every April, after the last waves have been ridden from the previous year's competition and the winners have been crowned, open season begins again for riders to float, paddle, and be dragged into the biggest waves they can find. With a panel comprised of acclaimed surfers and magazine editors, judges will base their decisions on photos and video taken of the entries and award the prize to the surfer with the most convincing big wave. The Billabong competition usually begins very slowly through the early months of the season. But as soon as winter arrives with its wealth of fat waves, riders begin surfing like crazy to throw down sizable entries for the contest. The meat of the competition often takes place between December and March 31, the XXL Competition close.

Although the most desired prize bar-none is the Billabong Big Wave Award, the riders keep surfing for a number of other prizes: both cash and surf cred. The photographer who captures the winning XXL image collects $5000, as does the surfer whom arm paddles into the biggest wave, the monster tube, female surfer of the year, and even the rider with the biggest wipeout goes home with the Donut award.
But don't let the spectrum of the competition confuse you. This is an invitation only event, and if chosen, it is safe to say you represent the seasoned base of surfers around the world from Australia to Spain to San Diego.

The Billabong 2006 Big Wave Award winner was no exception to the extreme riding achievements seen in past years. The competition for the 2006 Awards was stiff, however in the end it was forty year old surfer Brad Gerlach who went home with the prize after catching a 68ft wave of the Coast of Todos Santos Island near Ensenada, Mexico. With help from his partner and 2001 Billabong winner, Mike Parsons, Gerlach was towed into the wave that earned his team $68,000, beating out entries from California, Chili, Tahiti, and Tasmania. This wave height falls just behind past winners and world record holder Peter Cabrinha. Cabrinha, a veteran Maui surfer, is famous for setting the record two competitions previous surfing an incredible 70ft wave, and breaking the previous Guinness Book record.

The guidelines and event rules vary slightly with each competition, and each contest is very strictly outlined. Regulations and requirements for riders as well as photographers can be easily located at the Billabong site.  Because of the nature of the contest and the judging style, riders should understand and comply with riding Expression Sessions rules that aim to make judging the XXL Awards criteria as fair as possible.

Lengthy duration, extreme risks and wide open field all lay the foundation for this one of a kind contest.  With a healthy supply of waves and surfing around the world, the Billabong XXL competition appears to be rolling along without any signs of wipeout on the horizon.

Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards. 2006. 3 October, 2006.

Press Release. World Pacific Storms Produce Entries for 2006 Billabong XXL Big Wave Awards. Transworld Surf. 3 January, 2006. Transworld Media. 3 October, 2006.

Sanders, Marcus. Gerlach Wins Billabong XXL Award. Surf Line. 15 April, 2006. Wavetrak Inc. 3 October, 2006.