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Could the big wave tour’s greatest event also be its demise?

Words by Craig Jarvis

It was the greatest big-wave event ever. It was definitely the biggest, the most watched and the most dramatic. There were injuries, barrel rides, horrible wipeouts, and skis getting engulfed by towering walls white water. Excitement! Panic! The bar was raised, and then some!

Mark Mathew’s drop was otherworldly. It took so long for him to get down, with the wind holding him up there, that I honestly thought that it was slow motion. The drop took too long. It looked like those Facebook April Fool Photoshop images of people dropping into 120-foot waves in Southern Chile.

Except it was Matthews, and it was December, on Maui.

By the end of the day’s competition we had a winner in Billy Kemper, and we had new parameters drawn on where big wave surfing could go. The WSL Big Wave Tour had redeemed itself after a few slow uptakes last year, a few events not green-lighted when they could have been run, a webcast problem in Chile, and some average conditions for one event on a Big Wave Tour scale.

Hell, the Big Wave Tour hadn’t just redeemed itself; it also had justified big wave surfing, webcasting, the whole World Surf League approach to the sport of surfing, as well as those underground Jaws chargers, all at once. That’s a healthy round of redemption. It was, to sport a hearty cliché, one helluva day.

The webcast? Informed sources speak of close to 2m uniques, 3.5m page views – best ever numbers for a surf event and a few other superlatives, for a one day event!

Leading to the question – where to from here? Where does one go after reaching a pinnacle like that? What happens after a peak?

Well, the brutal answer is that after a peak, there’s only one way to go, and that’s not up.

It’s going to be hard to keep the momentum going, and it’s going to be hard to keep the Big Wave Tour interest from slipping after such a high. A brief look at the tour calendar shows an average future at best.

The Oregon Challenge at Nelscott Reef is not going to blow people’s minds. It’s the sort of wave where, on some conditions, you take off and go straight and into a long drawn-out fade, just to ride the wave effectively.

The Punta Galea Challenge isn’t much better. It’s a slopey righthander breaking off a harbour wall that shifts and wobbles and fades and goes wide and catches everyone inside. While Nic Lamb is an amazing big wave surfer with a long and illustrious career ahead of him, he won the event with a lefthander, riding towards the harbour wall, and his big move was a layback recovery.

Todos Santos does have potential, but that potential hasn’t really been realised since Taylor Knox paddled into a ridiculous wave in ’98 to win $50k.

That left in Chile? Punta De Lobos has also not stood to attention for the BWT yet. It has potential, and it’s a long ride when it gets going, but it’s rare, and fickle, with the prevailing offshore winds perpetually howling up that stretch of coast in Chile.

Pico Alto in Peru also needs to wake up, thus far only revealing a glimmer of what could be.

However, Puerto Escondido could be a shining jewel on the tour if she decides to show herself. A couple of waves like this one of Shane Dorian’s could help to redefine the sport of big wave surfing by bringing in the tuberide. The only way to really perform at Puerto is by riding the barrel. This coupled with an extremely viewer and camera-friendly setup could be a double win.

And by then we’re back to Jaws!       

The thing is, Twiggy for one disagrees, and feels that there is still a long way to go before any sort of peaking occurs: “Imagine if the wind had been 15 knots lighter, and the swell a bit bigger and longer lasting?”

Then there are also the performance levels. “The younger guys coming up are faster, stronger and fitter with better techniques,” says Twig. “They’re riding better equipment, and there are higher standards of safety in place. This is only the beginning and these guys are going to take it to a whole new level.”

Peahi semifinalist Nic Lamb agrees. “A few years ago they told us we could not paddle Jaws, and now we are competing at the highest level,” he says. “All past records have been broken and anything is possible now.”

Shane Dorian, who came sixth in the event, does think that limits were witnessed. “I think we saw some waves in the early morning that were just not meant to be caught,” Shane said after the event. “I saw people trying really hard and in perfect position just getting launched. Still, we’re in for more. The event had incredible moments but those conditions are not super rare for Jaws.”

Also worth noting: The WSL brought all this to our devices. Nothing compares to them in surfing right now.

When Rabbit took over the ASP he introduced the Dream Tour. Maybe the BWT needs a Dream Tour as well. Puerto Escondido, Mavericks, Waimea and Jaws would be a pretty good, pretty succinct Big Wave Tour. The WSL only has two of those venues on their tour. Just saying…

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