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WSL Calls Off Jaws Challenge Due To "Unsafe" Conditions

Yesterday, Billy Kemper told Stab that Pe’ahi would offer 25-foot Backdoor pits for the 2018 Jaws Challenge.

“I’m not thinking about anyone but myself on the biggest barrel that comes to me,” Billy concluded.

Today, on the first ride of the first heat of the Men’s 2018 Jaws Challenge, Billy Kemper got an 8.17 for a wave that was every bit of a 25-foot Backdoor barrel. At first glance it appeared Billy could have made the tube, but upon further helicopter review, a massive chandelier impeded his exit before the spit blew through the channel.

Somewhere between the barrel, the fall, and his immersion in the whitewater, Billy got knocked out.

“I don’t really remember much. I just remember it went really black and fuzzy,” said Billy. “I think I blacked out for a second. Sean Lopez said he came to grab me and hit me in the head with the ski. I guess I was just laying there, then he came back and grabbed me by my jersey. I came-to on the sled.”

Less than 20 minutes later, Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker, who recently won the Nazare Challenge, air-dropped into a smaller, cleaner cavern, which sucked him back with vigor and spit him out with the force of Niagara. Unfortunately for Twiggy, his board was left behind in the transaction, forcing him to bodysurf out of the pit.

Judges deemed it a 7.63

Despite having survived the most brutal part of the wave, Twiggy went straight to the medical boat after his fall. It’s unclear what exactly was the issue, but Twiggy never returned to the lineup.

Mark Healey was next on a foamy-white bomb. Holding his rail to mitigate bumps, the green-jerseyed sadist pulled into what was clearly a closeout. Pete Mel called it a Hail Mary. It looked more like suicide. 

Mark being Mark, he emerged relatively unfazed.

Russell Bierke rode a shoulder to completion and took another fall to push him into third behind Kemper and Baker. The heat ended with Healey unable to back up his tube.

BWT Commissioner Mike Parsons then put the event on hold due to concerns with, presumably, somebody dying. Albee Layer, who was set to be in the next heat, paddled out anyways to “warm up”.

Despite Albee’s best efforts, Parsons wasn’t sold.

“We decided to call the competition off for the day,” Parsons said, live on the webcast. "We'll pick it up again tomorrow."

Ultimately, he blamed it on the wind and swell interval.

 Screen Shot 2018 11 26 at 4.23.54 PM

According to Parsons, they wanted something closer to 17 seconds, rather than the current 20. Peter Mel agreed, saying that the “mass” of a 20-second swell is too fast and powerful for surfer to paddle into safely. This argument would hold a lot more water if we hadn’t seen Billy, Twiggy, and Healey do what they did.

These guys didn’t make their tubes, sure, but that’s only because they made a decision to take off deep behind peak. With Jaws as west and hollow as it gets, what did the WSL expect?

“That would have been the best barrel of my life if I had made it,” said Billy Kemper.

This raises the question: “Was [Mike Parsons] too cautious? Was he not?”

That’s from Dave Kalama in the WSL post-show. Kalama continued:

“Parsons erred on the side of safety, and you can never blame somebody for making the right decision like that.”


Parsons, between a rock and a Jaws place. Photo: WSL

For fans, this was a devastating end to what could have been the best Big Wave competition of all time. For the WSL, it was a decision they felt like they had to make.

The organization doesn’t want to see anybody die, or at least have that blood on their hands.

Which is fair, but perhaps Billy Kemper said it best:

“Somebody will win ride of the year if they do call this thing off. It is gnarly, it is dangerous, but this is what we live and train for. We’re going for the Big Wave World Title, right? You want the biggest, nutsest waves in the world? This is it.”

The WSL then commenced its live “tow session”, which is ironic because Albee Layer just paddled into a massive tube (and made it). The waves are only getting bigger. Kai Lenny is towing and just stomped a frontside rodeo flip plus a 20-foot airdrop (amongst several tubes). Lucas Chianca just got smoked on a paddle wave and others shouldn’t be far behind.

In terms of competitions being called off for "too-gnarly" conditions, this could be the WSL's Code Red 2.0. 

Tune in here to see the best Jaws ever action, which is noticeably without the weight of colored jerseys.

Assuming the swell is still big enough, the 2018 Jaws Challenge should resume tomorrow.  

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