Stab Magazine | The Debate Over Ride Of The Year According To Greg Long, Twiggy, Kai Lenny, Laurie Towner, Nathan Florence And More

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The Debate Over Ride Of The Year According To Greg Long, Twiggy, Kai Lenny, Laurie Towner, Nathan Florence And More

Part II of the Ride of the Year quandary. 

style // May 3, 2019
Words by Stab
Reading Time: 11 minutes

Tonight in Redondo Beach, the Big Wave Awards will happen; winners crowned, XXL checks passed around. There will be high fives and clinking of cups. Individuals with wicked power in waves that most prefer to watch from the comfort of their iPhones will add an extra molecule of Oxygen to the affair.

This is part two of the debate over the Big Wave Awards Ride of the Year – the most prestigious and financially grossing award to be given out later tonight. You can read part one with Kelly Slater, Albee Layer, Billy Kemper, Nathan Fletcher and more here. 

And, as comes with the territory, this year’s nominees were met with criticism. 

So we reached out to 18 of surfing’s 8-foot-plus swingers on who was overlooked for the award, and a bit about what qualifies for Ride of the Year. The Big Wave Contingent responded with calculated answers. If anything, their responses show the dedication and care these men and women have for progression in their macro-genre of surf. 

We’ll allow two time Ride of the Year winner and former BWT World Champ, Greg Long, to take it from here. 

Greg Long 

No disrespect intended towards any of this year’s Ride of The Year nominees, all of whom I consider to be friends, and have the utmost admiration for their surfing abilities, but I must admit that an eyebrow of perplexity was raised on this side of the computer upon reading this year’s ROTY selections. I now suggest you put on the broken “Judging Surfing is so Subjective” record and play it softly in the background as you continue reading my thoughts on the matter. 

When I think about what constitutes a wave deserving of the title “Ride of the Year” there are a few questions I base my decision off of. They are, in no particular order: Did something happen during the ride that has never been witnessed before, or is seldom seen?  Is what happened on the wave going to elevate the sport and set new standards which will be adopted by the big wave community? Would most big wave surfers look at the ride and say, “I wish one day to ride a wave like that?” And a very relevant question in this year’s awards is did the surfer actually complete the “meaningful” part of the wave?  The word “meaningful” within the Big Wave Awards has always been a confusingly gray area, and the shade in which it sleeps grew even darker this year. 

Justifying why tow-in and paddle-in waves should have their own distinguished categories is an easy thing to do as they are extremely different disciplines within big wave surfing. Doing so in the future would undoubtedly minimize a lot of controversy over which is better or more difficult. But I don’t believe it is necessary as long as the judges who decide the nominees for ROTY have an honest understanding of the level difficulty required from one discipline to the next and make their decisions keeping in mind what the majority of competent big wave surfers feel to be a coveted ride. This being: Getting barreled, and preferably doing so by paddling in.   

All that being said, if you were to look back through the catalog of waves ridden this year, using my personal criteria, you would likely find a few which deserved the distinction of a ROTY nomination that were not recognized – the most prominent of them being Albee Layer’s barrel after the Jaws competition was called off. 

That day had arguably the biggest and most difficult conditions of any session this past year, and Albee was one of the few surfers who went back out after the event was called off to try and pick off one of the few diamonds within the rough. Every surfer present had the opportunity to do so, with most choosing to opt out, as the conditions had become far too sketchy for how big it was.  

Nevertheless, Albee picked his way through the madness, got caught inside a few times in the process, but eventually found the wave he wanted–a giant barrel which he rode perfectly start to finish. The definition of “finish” in this case was the safety of the channel. Which I must note, I find to be an extremely “meaningful” place after having been immersed in potentially life-threatening conditions only moments before his wave. 

The other wave that I feel falls in line with my criteria was Laurie Towner’s barrel in Fiji. Although smaller in size than Albee’s, both rides were what I consider to be displays of big wave surfing mastery. Call me old school, but I have always admired the surfers who can make the difficult seem effortless which both surfers did. But tragically I think each surfer’s perfect wave selection, positioning, style and control throughout their rides made them look too easy and the level of difficulty was lost on the initial nominee selection committee.  

210b8a8fb9574d5924c197ed6ee4b920 1

Twiggy with possibly the greatest drop of all-time.



Grant “Twiggy” Baker

First, I think we’re focusing too much on who wasn’t nominated rather than on the amazing rides that were. 

Natxo’s wave at Nazaré is remarkable – a behind-the-peak backdoor, over the foam ball tube and barely scraping out the back on an 18-foot wave. 

Ramon’s wave is the one that everyone has been after in Fiji since that historic day in 2012. A picture-perfect box! 

The commitment from Billy on his Jaws wave is incomprehensible. Unless you were out there looking down at what those waves were doing while trying to catch them, you will never know the balls it took to test the first wave of that heat. It’s a 30-foot barrel from behind the West bowl!

And Kai’s wave is a different line, something new and exciting in Tow surfing.

Obviously, Laurie has a case and his wave deserves to be in the mix, maybe ahead of Kai’s only because it seems like guys at Shipsterns Bluff have been doing that similar thing for years and then getting a huge barrel afterward without much reward. Laurie’s wave was a technical masterpiece of tube riding excellence.

Albee’s wave is a tough one, is it better than Billy’s? In my opinion, it’s not, both have their merits but I think if Albee is honest with himself he didn’t get deep enough while Billy got too deep. So whose is better? Half will say Albee’s and half will say Billy’s and someone had to make a final call.

The third wave I’m going to throw in will be mine from West Africa. A solo session in 15-20ft barrels, howling offshore and I scored an 18ft tube as deep and critical as I’ve ever had. Greg Long saw it from the channel and claimed the best wave he’s ever seen ridden.

But it wasn’t chosen and that’s how it is. 

Tow vs paddle is a tough question; tow surfing is not the same sport as paddle surfing. In the same way Stand Up Paddleboarding is different to foil surfing and kiteboarding is different from surfing. 

The skill it takes to paddle into a big wave is far greater than the skill it takes to tow into a wave. At the same time, tow surfing has its place in big wave surfing; it’s taken the sports to new heights. We have the Biggest Tow and the Biggest Paddle categories, and ride of the year is Ride of the Year. 

Ramon’s wave is incredible and definitely deserved to be in that top five and Kai’s is maybe a little more contentious that it’s in there but it’s still a different line on a very big wave – it’s exciting. We will see what the final result is and if paddle is seen as more skillful and deserving to win over the tow guys. 

Hope that helps. Stay positive with this please, there seems to be so much negativity in surfing these days when in all reality we have fuck all to complain about.

ScaleWidthWyIxMjAwIl0 Kai Lenny Mavs 16 Bonnarme 0285 3

“I paddle too!” – Kai Lenny


Bastien Bonnarme

Kai Lenny

Many agree including me that the rides of Albee Layer and Laurie Towner should be in the final five. I watched both of them in person. They were stunning. While many rides weren’t being made on both those days at Jaws / Cloudbreak these guys were and they made it look easy. Maybe too easy. Paddling into a big wave to me is more than the drop itself but the lead up to positioning, dodging closeouts and committing. That is what makes a ride most impressive to me. 

I do recall a big barrel that Nathan Florence caught at Puerto a year ago on an eight-foot-something that has been widely overlooked. Watching a few of the boys go ham at Mavericks left was exciting. Also watching Lucas Chumbo at Nazare doing tow-in’s was crazy, but I don’t think tow surfing counts so why I am nominated for towing? I paddle too! [Laughs] 

Ride of the Year to me is about the single craziest ride made. The paddling level is getting pushed harder every year and one could argue that towing is easier and that’s true but the ability to perform snowboard/shortboard maneuvers that have never been done isn’t easy… at all. That’s a door that I think should be opened. Wait a second nevermind, I take it all back. Towing sucks, don’t do it! 

Should they be in their own categories? Absolutely. But currently, there isn’t enough money to go around for all the categories so it seems unlikely. 

Any decision in surfing is a difficult one. I think one way to make it more perceivably fair would be anyone that enters into the XXL awards are required to vote. That way the surfers are putting their two cents on the matter. Of course, a panel of ex-big wave surfers would be amazing, but I don’t think any of that will rid the awards of controversy.

Eli Olson 

First off, I have nothing but love and respect for all of the nominees they are all so talented and gnarly! But on this subject, I can’t help but think about Laurie Towner, Albee Layer, and unfortunately, I have to say myself which I hate doing. 

Both Albee and Laurie’s waves are once in a lifetime kind of waves. I think Albee’s wave was a little bigger but Laurie’s was so crazy and I saw the whole thing from the shoulder. It was just such a gnarly drop and huge backside barrel and so technical. If I had to pick between the two, Laurie’s Cloudbreak wave was more rare and unique. Love ya Albee your wave was fucked up too! [Laughs]

I think towing is awesome and you can put yourself in way bigger waves and in better positioning to have these crazy rides but it is so different from paddle. They should have different brackets.

The judging panel I think it should be a teamwork thing. Like keep the guys that are in charge now and team them up with a ton of athletes who have credentials. That way they can have an overall feel and I think it would be a lot more of the right picks/calls. 



Brenden O’Neal


Lest we forget Nathan’s Chopes wave from a few years back.


Brendan O’Neal

Nathan Florence 

I think Albee’s Jaws wave should have been nominated. 

Laurie Towner’s wave should have been in as well and vying for a definite win. 

I was either in the water or watching from land for almost all the nominees and have a good feel for just what it took for them to catch those waves. 

In both cases, conditions were crazy scary. It was hard to position and harder to make.

Laurie’s wave was one of the most mind-blowing drops and rides I’ve ever seen, just because he makes it look easy does not mean it wasn’t as heavy. He has incredible reflexes; I saw his nose drag water for a moment and he leaned back pulling it out like it was a Pipe wave, except it was a 20 foot and he was fucking backside. Has there ever been a backside barrel ride with that kinda drop on a wave that size along with the tube he got?

Albee paddled out after they called our heat – I followed with Koa [Rothman] and [Lucas] Chumbo. Dude, I couldn’t even sit 100ft from where Albee was.  I was so scared of getting caught inside. 

I think Tow and Paddle should be separated and have their own categories, or at least be recognized that paddling into the wave and taking on the drop is added points and difficulty towards choosing the winner even if the tow wave may have been bigger and heavier or surfed in a wild way. I am not taking anything away from what guys did this year on tow boards, it was incredible and Kai Lenny is doing things that are baffling. 

I saw Kai Lenny do an airdrop at Mavericks that was similar to his Jaws one but he paddled it – where was that wave?

Twig and Billy pushed the limits of what was possible at Jaws and I think that deserves recognition and nomination but brings up the argument of make or no make? Both those guys did everything you could do to attempt to make waves of the year and made it farther than most would have, especially Twig! Absolutely mind blowing! I think the judging criteria must be clarified moving forward. I’d hate to be a judge myself, this was an incredible year. 

It’s laughable; so much confusion, so much hurt feelings some very rightfully so!

Laurie Towner 

I don’t think there should be tow waves in Ride of the Year. It should have its own category. Paddling is way harder and more rewarding, everybody knows that. 

To me, Eli, Bianca and Albee’s waves got overlooked. All three were beautifully well ridden and massive waves. They stand out because they were amazing rides. 

Makua Rothman 

If you don’t make the barrel, it can’t be Ride of the Year. 

I don’t care if you came out on your belly or your back or what you did, you ate shit. Those rides shouldn’t count. You got to make the wave. Good attempt braddah, but no cigar [Laughs]

No one’s in the record books for an animal they shot but never got. 

For The Ride of the Year, it doesn’t matter how you catch the wave it’s a ride. Fuck, how come the SUP guys aren’t in? If they’re gonna let every Tom, Dick, and Harry enter the show, they should let them all in. 

I want the sport of big wave surfing to prosper; I don’t want to shoot it down in any way. 

If Twiggy would have come out of that wave it wouldn’t matter. That wave would’ve been better than any tow wave. 

Tow and paddle shouldn’t even be an argument. I don’t know why it’s even an issue. There are some waves you can’t paddle into. You can’t paddle into the Right, you couldn’t have paddled into Ramon’s wave. Being in the ocean is what it’s all about.  

But I don’t think they should be separated. That’s why it’s Ride of the Year; it’s about the actual ride. Who cares what you ride or how you caught the wave.  

Let’s just let a beautiful sport be and congratulate the people who are doing good.

Paige Alms (the shortest and sweetest response received)

Albee’s, Laurie’s and Eli Olsen’s, duh.

Paddling should always have top tier over tow — my opinion. Everyone has one.

For the judging panel? The surfers first and foremost. 

ScaleWidthWyIxMjAwIl0 WEN3004 Edit

Let’s take a deep breath and recall the time Russ Bierke won Red Bull’s Cape Fear.


Red Bull

Russell Bierke 

In my opinion, the two most notable exclusions are Albee’s Jaws wave and Laurie’s wave at Cloudbreak. For Albee to go out there and surf the wave of the season at Jaws right after the contest got called off was pretty crazy. I definitely thought it would make the top five. 

Laurie’s wave was Ride of the Year to me. I’ve never seen someone take off like that on a wave that big. Maybe he made it look too easy but it was an upside down takeoff into a long barrel on a giant wave. 

I think it’s pretty hard to compare tow and paddle. Towing still has its place but it’s pretty hard to put it in the same category as a paddle wave. 

Twiggy’s wave was one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen and deserves some sort of recognition, but I remember a few years back Kohl Christensen fell on of one of the best Cloudbreak barrels ever and it didn’t count. There’s a grey area when it comes to completion. 

I was also expecting to see Nic Von Rupp’s Mavericks left up for Ride of the Year. They definitely got Naxto’s Nazaré barrel right, though. 

I think the judging process and panel needs to be more transparent. But if it was a peer-reviewed format it could turn into a popularity contest. I’m not sure if there’ll ever be a perfect answer but it should definitely be discussed more as a group.

Natxo Gonzales 

It’s been a crazy selection for the Ride of the Year this year. I think Laurie’s wave has to be the Ride of the Year. Albee’s wave at Jaws was during one of the craziest sessions I’ve ever had. That wave has to be in the final too. 

I don’t think there is any other ride that I’ve seen that should be in there. 

Ride of the Year for tow waves should have a separate category. Like Ramon’s wave wasn’t paddle-able, you can’t compare that wave, you know. 

Twiggy’s wave at Jaws was a crazy wave, I’m glad he’s okay because that wave was on the next level. But he didn’t make it, so I don’t know what is gonna happen. 

With my wave, I’m stoked to be in the final. It was a paddle wave and I made it. 

I don’t care if I win or not. But it’s pretty heavy for me, I’ve been dreaming of being in this final for a while.


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