Historic Winning Images of the WSL Big Wave Awards 2000-2016
A Brief History of the WSL Big Wave Awards
Click above for the full list of every winner in every category.
It all began with the K2 Big Wave Challenge. When announced in October of 1997, it revolutionized big wave surfing events forever. The idea was ruthlessly simple: any spot, any day, any surfer—based on the photographic evidence, the Biggest Wave Wins. The timing was perfect…with one of the biggest El Niño winters surfing has ever known churning through the North Pacific, the paddle-in limits were being pushed like never before.
It was an amazing season, with massive swell events every few weeks. It was a banner season for the West Coast and in NorCal surfers like Peter Mel were stroking into the biggest waves ever seen at Maverick’s again and again. But it the final weeks of the event it was Taylor Knox’s shocking 52-foot drop at Todos Santos which won the $50,000 first place award and moved big wave surfing back to the front lines of extreme sports attention.
Within a couple of seasons, the tow-surfing virus went airborne and the limits of what was deemed rideable in Hawaii and the West Coast were erased forever. That year the XXL Big Wave Awards stepped forward to acknowledge these historic achievements, opening the competition up to tow-ins for the first time. Maui’s Pe’ahi (Jaws) emerged as the crucible of PWC-assisted refinement while in California, the bar was raised ever higher at Maverick’s with each passing swell.
But on January 19, 2001 a secretive pioneering mission to the Cortes Bank—a landless reef 100 miles off the coast of Southern California—produced some of the most astonishing and ultimately famous big wave images in the history of the sport. Mike Parsons shattered all existing records by smoothly towing in to a wave measured at 66 feet on the face on that day, and ultimately ending up on stage at the XXL Big Wave Awards ceremony, accepting the 2001 XXL Biggest Wave Award from the legendary Greg Noll. For that single ride, Parsons earned $60,000 and his own place in the big wave Hall of Fame.
During its second year, the XXL Awards began the process of diversifying, adding categories for Paddle-In and Best Overall Performance, but was still focused on the North Pacific Ocean during the winter season. And the seas did not disappoint, with XXL nominees culled from a pair of massive days at Maui’s Jaws and Northern California’s Maverick’s. And it was at Maverick’s -- on the famed “100-foot Wednesday” -- where Brazilan Carlos Burle bounced down a spooky, dark face to claim the winning wave just before the break was buried alive by the biggest swell of the modern era. Burle took home $50,000 and a new Nissan SUV for his wave, measured at 68 feet on the face.
Hawaii was still well represented, as Waimea Bay hosted Paul “Antman” Paterson’s biggest paddle in wave. Mike Parsons became the first recipient of the Jay Moriarity Performance Award, given in the name of the popular Santa Cruz surfer (and previous XXL finalist) who had recently passed away in a diving accident.
This was the year the XXL became a truly global event, running 12 months long and in every ocean…and the resulting action kicked the event into the international limelight like never before. Maui’s Jaws produced an all-time swell for a growing group of watermen and the resulting photos seemed a shoe-in for Biggest Wave – until the images arrived of a band of little-known Frenchmen riding enormous crests at an unknown break named Belharra Reef in the Basque Country. The controversy was heated and worldwide: How did the gleaming European bubbly measure up against the Hawaiian heavy water?
In the end it was an eighteen-year-old Makua Rothman of Hawaii who took the top XXL honors and $66,000 for his 66-footer at Jaws, with the awards presented at the Grove of Anaheim Theater for the first time. California’s Toby Cunningham won the Monster Paddle honors at Mexico’s Todos Santos and Hawaiian Garrett McNamara did a little bit of everything all around the planet to take Best Overall Performance Award.
The reign of Maui’s Jaws as the biggest, baddest break in the big wave world continued as yet another groundbreaking January day changed big wave surfing one more time, producing four out of five nominees for the XXL title. A new Guinness Book world record was set with the announcement of tow-surfing pioneer Pete Cabrinha’s successful ride of a left-breaking Pe’ahi wave measuring an incredible 70 feet on the face – worth a cool $70,000 in cash.
2004 marked the launch of the Monster Tube category, with Tahitian Malik Joyeux deservedly winning with a mindbending barrel at his home break of Teahupoo. Maverick’s brought Monster Paddle bragging rights to California thanks to a late, great Zach Wormhoudt drop while young Greg Long made his first of many trips to the XXL podium to collect Best Performance honors.
Yet again Jaws delivered in spectacular fashion, handing Oahu’s Dan Moore a skittering ride down the face of a 68-footer before it ultimately caught up with him, breaking his ankle in the process. As some consolation, Moore earned $68,000 and the 2005 Billabong XXL Biggest Wave Award – the last time Jaws would produce an XXL nominee this decade.
Maverick’s likewise came through again on the Monster Paddle side, with Shane Desmond going back-to-the-wall to lead the arm-powered entries. Tasmania’s Shipstern Bluff made its debut on the global stage thanks to Aussie Dylan Longbottom’s fantastic voyage through a Monster Tube while Shane Dorian handily captured the Best Overall Performance division. California’s Jamilah Star won the inaugural Best Female Performance honor, launching a new era for women in the waves.
Variety was the name of the game in 2006, with XXL Biggest Wave nominees coming from Ghost Tree and Maverick’s in Northern California along with contenders from Todos Santos, Mexico and Playa Gris, Spain. California’s Brad Gerlach emerged victorious when judges decreed his Todos Santos ride the tallest of the year, measuring 68 feet on the face for which he earned $68,000.
The diversity theme continued as the Monster Paddle Award went to Chile’s Diego Medina, who scraped into a feathering beast of a wave at Punta de Lobos. Hawaii’s Shane Dorian barreled through the depths of a true Monster Tube winner at Teahupoo, Tahiti and it was a grand variety of great rides which allowed Jamie Sterling to take the Best Overall award back home to Hawaii.
Jamilah Star repeated as top female performer.
Always evolving to match the progression of big wave riding, the Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards made a major shift in emphasis in 2006, inaugurating the Ride of the Year Award as the top-line category with $50,000 for first place, meant to reward extreme performances rather than pure face height. Santa Cruz stalwart Ken “Skindog” Collins set the tone for the years to come after being spit out of a gigantic beachbreak cavern at Puerto Escondido, Mexico. It also earned him Monster Tube honors.
Acknowledging the resurgence in doing things the old-fashioned way, the Monster Paddle award prize was brought even with the XXL tow-in award. California’s Greg Long took the XXL Biggest Wave title with a 65-footer at Dungeons in South Africa while Hawaii’s Garrett McNamara was Monster Paddle champ with a perilous drop at Maverick’s – both waves photographing equally dark and scary.
McNamara was the Men’s Best Overall, while newcomer Maya Gabeira of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil was the top female in the water.
A vintage year indeed. Hawaii’s Shane Dorian set the standard for Ride of the Year drama with an astonishing head-over-heels escape from the gullet of a monstrous Teahupoo maneater. California’s Mike Parsons became the first man to repeat as the XXL Biggest Wave winner thanks to wave at Cortes Bank measured at well over 70 feet on the face – a new world record.
Greg Long continued his streak of various category wins, taking the Monster Paddle crown thanks to a well-timed bomb at Todos Santos, Mexico, along with the Best Overall title for good measure. Tahitian Manoa Drollet navigated beneath a freakish collapsing wall at Teahupoo to earn the Monster Tube prize while Maya Gabeira repeated as the number one girl in the world.
The shift toward human-powered excellence continued as California’s Greg Long became the first surfer to win the Ride of the Year Award with a paddle-caught wave, blowing minds with his deep tube at Dungeons, South Africa (on a huge nine-foot-plus surfboard).
Long also happened to tow partner Grant “Twiggy” Baker of Durban, S.A. into the XXL Biggest Wave winner – a 68-foot behemoth at nearby Tafelberg Reef, ensuring Twiggy the Overall Performance win as well.
The Monster Paddle nominees were dominated by waves from a perfection day at Maverick’s, with California’s Derek Dunfee stroking into the biggest of them all. Monster Tube rights were secured by Hawaii’s Mark Healey after he was photographed below sea level on a heaving slab of a wave in Oregon.
Brazil’s Maya Gabeira made it three in a row as she collected yet another Best Female Performance prize.
All eyes were on arm-powered achievements once again in 2010 and South African Grant Baker captured the Ride of the Year Award with a huge late drop at Maverick’s, securingthe $50,000 top prize. Californian Shawn Dollar took the Monster Paddle honors for another landmark wave that same day, this one measuring 55 feet on the face and setting a new world record.
Germany’s Sebastian Steudtner won the XXL Biggest Wave category with a giant left at Jaws on Maui, the first time that famed break had produced a finalist in many years. Tahitian Raimana Van Bastolaer took the Monster Tube division with a gaping barrel at his home break of Teahupoo.
Hawaii’s Shane Dorian won the Surfline Best Overall Performance Award for the second time in his career, while Brazil’s Maya Gabeira captured the Billabong Girls Performance prize for an unprecedented fourth time in a row.
In 2011 the Billabong XXL Awards were centered on the idea of paddling into a wave once thought to be only in the realm of tow-ins – Jaws, on the North Shore of Maui, Hawaii. Brazil’s Danilo Couto won the Ride of the Year for a pioneering backside air drop and bowl ride at the legendary break, which set the stage for Hawaii’s Shane Dorian to win both Monster Paddle and Monster Tube on an astonishing 57-foot wave of the decade.
Basque surfer Benjamin Sanchis won the XXL Biggest Wave category with a dark and stormy wall at Belharra, France. The Surfline Best Overall Performance honor was awarded posthumously to Sion Milosky of Hawaii, who sadly drowned at Maverick’s late in the season. Winning the Billabong Girls Performance Award for the first time was Hawaii’s Keala Kennelly.
The 2011/12 season was truly one for the record books, with a new Guinness superlative established with Garrett McNamara's 78-footer at Nazaré, Portugal. (McNamara also won the Wipeout award for a spectacular fail at Jaws.) Managing to eclipse McNamara's run was Nathan Fletcher who towed into a massive, exploding slab at Teahupoo, Tahiti that earned him both the Ride of the Year and the Monster Tube honors plus put him over the top to capture the Surfline Best Overall Performance Award. It was the first time a surfer had claimed three categories at the XXL awards.
Other champions included Dave Wassel who took the Monster Paddle award at Jaws and Maya Gabeira who received the Women's Overall Performance Award for the fifth time.
Shane Dorian affirmed his spot at the top of big wave surfing's totem pole with a huge, perfectly ridden barrel at Jaws that sealed the 2013 Ride of the Year and the Tube Award for him at the same time. Shawn Dollar also did double duty, winning not only the biggest Paddle award with a 61-footer at Cortes Bank, but also claimed the XXL Biggest Wave Award as it was larger than any of the waves caught with a jet ski all year.
Greg Long kept a steady pace all year, earning the Surfline Best Overall Performance nod. Keala Kennelly was the Performance winner on the female side.
Greg Long was the Ride of the Year champ for 2014 thanks to a wild backside barrel at Puerto Escondido, Mexico. Mark Healey won the Paddle Award at Jaws and Gautier Garanx claimed the XXL Biggest Wave title at Belharra, France. Koa Rothman managed to squeeze two awards out of a single massive Teahupoo pit, taking out both the Tube and the Wipeout of the Year.
Grant "Twig" Baker was the winner in the Surfline Overall Performance category while Keala Kennelly again took top honors for the Women's Performance division.
For 2014/15 it was once again Shane Dorian who climbed the stage to accept the Ride of the Year champion's check thanks to a stunning freefall drop and barrel ride at Puerto Escondido, Mexico. (He took the Overall Performance title as well.)
Germany's Sebastian Steudtner took the XXL Biggest Wave honors at Nazaré, Portugal while Jamie Mitchell won the Paddle Award at Maverick's in California. Matahi Drollet had the best tube at Teahupoo, Tahiti and Hawaii's Paige Alms claimed the Women's Performance award.
Hawaiian surfers and Hawaiian surf spots dominated the proceedings in 2015/16, claiming nearly all the top prizes and filling all five Ride of the Year nominees, with the $60,000 winner's check again going to Shane Dorian, for a spectacualr Jaws barrel (he also took the Surfline Overall Performance honors as well). Aaron Gold entered the Guinness World Record listings with a 63-foot paddle wave at Jaws, Maui, Hawaii and Yuri Soledade had the biggest wave of the year at that same spot.
Keala Kennelly made history as the first women to win an "open" category in taking the Tube Award. Andrea Moller won the Women's Best Performance division.