Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards Goes Huge off the California Coast

The most amazing year yet in big wave surfing continues with the latest development – the largest waves ever encountered at the legendary Cortes Bank seamount 105 miles off the Southern California coast. Believed to be among the tallest wave faces challenged in the history of the sport, photos of the rides are expected to be likely contenders in the next Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards presented by Monster Energy taking place in April, 2008. The new photos and video from Cortes can now be viewed at the event website where they join incredible images already posted from last month’s epic string of swells in Ireland, Spain, Mavericks and Ghost Tree in California and Todos Santos in Mexico.

Perfectly timing a small gap in last weekend’s flurry of nasty Pacific storms, photographer Robert Brown led the mission to the remote open-ocean reef on Saturday, January 5, 2008 utilizing his customized 36-foot high-speed Twin Vee catamaran powerboat. Included on the vessel’s manifest for the day trip were four of the world’s best big wave surfers and pair of personal watercraft. Departing Dana Point Harbor at 7am on the spur-of-the-moment operation, the crew passed through vicious rain squalls and raging seas, arriving at Cortes after noon. And while most of California remained in the grips of gray clouds and onshore winds, conditions at Cortes Bank improved through the day, becoming sunny and windless, allowing an afternoon of epic surfing.

Surfers participating in the historic session included Mike Parsons (San Clemente, CA), Brad Gerlach (Encinitas, CA), Greg Long (San Clemente, CA) and Grant Baker (Durban, South Africa). Parsons won the inaugural XXL award for a 66-footer ridden at Cortes on January 19, 2001, the first time the break was ridden by tow-surfers. Gerlach won the Billabong XXL Award in 2006 at Todos Santos, Mexico, and Long took the XXL Biggest Wave honors last year at Dungeons in South Africa. Baker gained global prominence when he won the most recent Maverick’s Surf Contest.

Grant “Twiggy” Baker at Cortes Bank, photographed by Rob Brown on 05/01/08

According to Long, it was the biggest waves any of the surfers had ever seen – by a significant margin. “We all rode the biggest waves of our lives by far,” said Long.”Compared to the wave Mike had out there in 2001, this was so much bigger. I don’t know how it looks in the photos, but I know I saw a lot of 80-foot-plus waves out there. It was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”

Surf forecaster Sean Collins of Surfline was instrumental in providing detailed data, and while the swell looked massive, he was dubious about the certainty of finding smooth surface conditions so far at sea following the storm front which tore through the region the night before.

“This was actually the biggest swell we’ve ever surfed at Cortes with a nearby buoy reporting a pure deepwater swell of 23 feet, resulting in 40-80 foot+ surf heights,” said Collins. “Considering the extremely volatile conditions with gale force southerly winds associated with two successive storm fronts on Friday and Saturday nights, there was only a slight window of opportunity to score good conditions on Saturday afternoon during the peak of the swell. I was actually quite skeptical they would be able to pull it off, but to their credit the boys charged the 100 miles out there and back to score one of the best sessions ever at Cortes.”

Robert Brown (San Clemente, CA) is no stranger to the XXL photo award, having won it more times than any photographer in history. An accredited charter captain, Brown has combined his pursuits by developing specially-designed vessels for photography, including the 550 horsepower Mercury outboard-equipped speedboat used for the Cortes mission.This was the first successful surf trip to Cortes Bank in over two years, following a couple of challenging seasons for big waves off California, and all participants were mindful of the isolation and danger that comes with the world-famous break.

“We were the only people out there, so everyone played it very safe,” said Brown. “There was a tiny window to get out there and back before the next storm, and very little room for error. The waves that were ridden were massive, and there were a few rogues that were much bigger. I saw one set swing wide of where the surfers were that was perfect and at least 85 feet. It was totally rideable.”

The group surfed until dark, loaded the boat and rushed back to Dana Point at close to 30 knots, just beating the arrival of the next major storm hitting the Southland that night.

Cortes Bank veteran Mike Parsons returned from the voyage absolutely certain that larger sea monsters are awaiting around the spooky open-ocean shoal. “It’s getting closer and closer now…I guarantee you there will be a 100-foot-wave ridden out there,” said Parsons. “For sure. There were several big peaks that jumped up at the top of the reef outside of us that could not have been too far off that size. If you put yourself in the right place at the right time, it will happen. It’s only a matter of time now.”

The latest XXL entries from the landmark session can be seen at the Billabong XXL event website. A detailed story from the day with additional photos is available on Surfline, the official surf forecaster of the Billabong XXL Awards.

The Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards run on an annual cycle ending in late March. The Eighth Annual awards ceremony will take place in Southern California on April 11, 2008 and over $120,000 in prize money will be awarded in an array of categories including the Billabong XXL Ride of the Year, the Billabong XXL Biggest Wave Award powered by Honda, the Monster Paddle Award, the Monster Tube Award and the Surfline Best Overall Performances for both Men and Women.

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