SURF SCENE with Andrew McKinnon
THE Hawaiian big wave season has kicked off in spectacular fashion at Pe'ahi, Maui, scarily known as "Jaws”.
The night before the wave, buoys rose rapidly, giving every indication that some seriously big surf was on the way.
Saturday's opening day of competition dawned, exceeding all expectations by producing towering 30-40ft faces for the second event of the WSL Big Wave Tour that begun in Puerto Escondido, Mexico, in July this year.
A flotilla of PWCs manned by professional water patrollers guarded the competitors like their lives depended on it, with the live production crew from boat, water, land and helicopter, capturing every conceivable angle, making for one of the most exciting televised events to date.
The Hawaiian event was owned by local Maui big wave chargers Paige Alms and Ian Walsh, winning their respective women's and men's finals.
Saturday's swell was bigger in the 45ft range, with a slight bump on the face due to the trade wind, but Sunday's finals cleaned up with offshore winds, producing 10-point rides and some of the best big wave surfing witnessed for a WSL Big Wave Tour event.
The Quiksilver Air Lift aqua lung was compulsory for all competitors. The new big wave surfing device can inflate and deflate by pulling a cord and provided safety for the competitors suffering horrendous wipe-outs and hold-downs.
Event officials rated this year's Pe'ahi Challenge a gold coefficient, the highest possible BWT rating, which will allocate 15,625 points to first place.
Gold Coast big wave charger Ryan "Hippo” Hipwood survived his first-round heat after a crazy vertical take-off was smashed at the bottom by the threatening lip, driving him to the bottom. Once he surfaced, he had to dive under the next explosive wave, which bounced him around like marshmallow man. Luckily he had his aqua lung on.
In the semis, Hipwood successfully navigated the best big wave tube of his life to win his place into the final, scoring a perfect 10 and almost put Ian Walsh out of the event in third place.
That semi-final co-starring Hippo and Walsh has been dubbed the best heat in BWT history.
In the final, Walsh took it to the next level with his own 10-point ride, arguably bigger and deeper than Hippo's, while Hippo was unable to repeat his semi-final performance, finishing sixth in the final.
Twenty-four hours later, Hippo confessed his head was aching not only from celebratory drinks the previous night but his back was making him uncomfortable.
"It feels like I've been in a car accident,” he said in a WSL interview.
But that stacked semi-final with Walsh, Kai Lenny, Albee Layer and Currumbin's Jamie Mitchell brought out the best in Hipwood, who had been given a late wild card call-up by Big Wave commissioner Mike Parsons.
Hipwood tried not to get caught up in the battle to paddle deepest and the plan worked. His best wave of the day came directly to him.
"I knew that I had to do something special for a high score,” he said.
"So I stuck with my line-ups, didn't get put off by the other guys trying to push me deeper. The 10 pretty much came to me.”
The next Big Wave events are at Nazare, Portugal, and Mavericks, California.