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Big Wave Surfing Awards And Records

By: Lindsey Gregory

Published: November 13, 2006

Catching big waves around the world is rush for surfing purists and revolutionaries alike.

In fact, since the inception of the Billabong XXL Awards six years ago, riding big waves has become big business, according to Sean Doherty of Tracks magazine. The bigger and badder the wave, the bigger the resulting payout will be.

Many of the world's top surfers enjoy being handsomely rewarded for their almost super-human skills. This explains the success of the Billabong XXL Awards among all other contests; many of the world's biggest waves are ridden for this competition. Big wave surfing awards and records have become an important part of many professional surfing careers.

Many surfers spend their entire careers chasing big waves. But before the happenstance invention of a special type of watercraft, big wave surfing was not always feasible. Up until the early 1990s, physics made waves measuring more than 30 feet simply too dangerous and too quick to catch. Then, in the early 1990s, three men from Hawaii—Darrick Doerner, Laird Hamilton and Buzzy Kerbox—experimented with an inflatable zodiac boat to tow the surfer into the wave. The inflatable boats added an extra jolt of speed needed to catch big waves. They have since been replaced with high-powered jet skis.

Bill Sharp of the Billabong Odyssey stated, ‘‘...there's always a bigger wave.'' It took a $50,000 dollar payout to Taylor Knox for big waves in 1998 to get the ball rolling. And while there were plenty of big waves from then until 2001, it was the world-record smashing wave in 2004 that blew the competition out of the water for the Billabong XXL Awards.

On the Jan. 10, 2004, Pete Cabrinha set out to ride the waves of Jaws, located on the north shore of Maui. The wave that would put him in first place at the XXL Awards measured a staggering 70-foot wave. Not only did he smash the previous record of 68 feet, he won a prize of $70,000 and earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for biggest wave ever ridden.

In 2005, it was time for a new wave-riding champion. That man would eventually turn out to be Dan Moore of Hawaii. Until then, Moore had been a pioneer of personal watercraft assisted towing, but on December 15, 2004, he became a champion. Moore caught a 68-foot wave in the same spot as Cabrinha, at Jaws in Maui. He received a check for $68,000 the next year at the Grove Theater in Anaheim, Calif. The runner-up for a prize of $5,000 was Brad Gerlach. And as fate would have it, he too would later become champion.

On the first day of winter 2005, Gerlach caught his award-winning wave at Todos Island off the coast of Ensenada, Mexico. On Dec. 15, Gerlach caught a 68-foot wave, making him the first place winner of the Billabong XXL Awards in 2006. As impressive as 68-feet waves are, there has yet to be a surfer who can match Cabrinha's 70-foot wave in 2004.

Billabong XXL Awards Update. Surfline/Wavetrack, Inc. 7 November 2006. id=1647/
DiMartino. Dan Moore Wins XXL. 22 April 2005. About, Inc. 7 November 2006.
Doherty, Sean. Waiting for the Big Break. 24 April 2004. 7 November 2006.
Pete Cabrinha Wins...World Record Ride. 16 April 2004. 7 November 2006.