What do you need to host a big wave awards event? Answer: Waves of consequence, a brazen, band of hard-charging surfers and someone willing to pull the whole gig together.

The Cronulla Big Wave Awards are the brainchild of Blake Johnston, a former WQS ripper who now operates the M.O.B surf shop in Cronulla. Eager to attract core surfers to his store and strengthen the bonds between lineup regulars, Blake has developed a concept, which showcases the big wave spots in the area and the unique brand of urban wave warriors who thrive on them.   

Brad Hampson earning hellman status on a rarely surfed Cronulla bombie. Photo: Southwave

The zone stretching from Cape Solander to Jibbon Point includes several well-known slabs, reefs and points (think Voodoo, Ours and Shark Island) and a bunch of others the boys keep a little closer to their chest. When you factor in the local crew of hellmen, the Maroubra guys who frequent the breaks and the regular international and interstate visitors to the region, you have an incredible depth of talent to draw from.   

Since the the window for submissions to The Cronulla Big Wave Awards opened in April, the east coast has been blessed with almost non-stop, blue ribbon swell events, and as the submission period edges towards the September 30 cut off, Blake reckons the entries are still pouring in form a mixture of recognized pros and underground gurus.    

You can check out the details at https://themobstore.com/pages/cronulla-big-wave-awards 

Below Blake answers a few questions about the competition and features a couple of submissions that wouldn’t be out of place in the more established Big Wave events.

Where did the idea for a locally focused Big Wave event come from?   

I just wanted a way to link in with the real surfers in the community… I wanted to think of a way to not just be like everyone else and also target people that actually surf and live in the area to show that we’re real. I grew up surfing all the reefs and I just know how good the waves are around here and that it would actually be pretty entertaining. So, it’s not just like Bondi doing one. We’ve got real world-class waves … I just wanted to get some camaraderie going and generate a bit of chit-chat amongst the boys. There’s so many die-hard surfers that wouldn’t give a shit if they got a shot or not. They charge really hard and a lot of surfers look up to them as well.  It’s about a bit of respect for them and showing how good they are at those waves.

Kirk Flintoff's never-ending drainer – submission for Ride of the Year in the Cronulla Big Wave Awards.  

What’s the criteria for the contest?

It’s got be ridden between the 1st April and the 30th September and be ridden between Cape Solander and Jibbon Point. We’ve got Ride of the Year, Performer of The Year, Wipeout of The Year and Photo of the Year. The submission either has to be a full sequence of the wave or a video clip, but of course Photo of The Year is a single shot and that doesn’t have to be surfing it can be lifestyle. Each category will have $1000 in total ­– $300 for the photographer and $700 for the surfer.  We’re only really going to showcase the top five in each category and then the panel of judges will have a meeting and discuss who’s valid for the win. The panel includes myself, photographers Steve Baccon and John Veage, and John Shimooka.   

Kirk Flintoff's never-ending drainer – submission for Ride of the Year in the Cronulla Big Wave Awards.  

Do you have to be from Cronulla or the immediate area to be in contention?

No, you can be from anywhere. It’s just about riding the wave… Obviously there are a lot of Maroubra guys who come over here ­– Evan Faulks and Richie Vaculik ­– and those sort of guys. They’re just as much a part of our surfing community as the blokes who live here too.

Brad Hampson's horror wipeout.  

Is there already a fair bit of banter being traded by the local boys about who is in contention?

It is a little bit …There’s already people chasing their clips that you wouldn’t expect to be.  You know we’ve got a few guys that are just hard core and surf because they love it, but they’re chasing their clips for sure and want to be a part of it. If you get all these guys together that know one another purely through surfing, you’ll get them talking a bit of rubbish and trying to go harder than one another.  It will be something that develops a bit of camaraderie. Hopefully it means we’ll start looking out for each other more and the grommets can be exposed to it a little more too.

Cronulla seems like the sort of area where the bragging rights on a good, solid wave still count for a lot? 

Yeah, some of the waves around here are so special to the local surfers… It’s what we live for here.

Do you think the number of quality, heavy waves in that zone between Solander and Jibbon breeds a particular kind of surfer in Cronulla and The Shire?

I think it does. There’s a lot of people that the media wouldn’t have even heard of who live and die for the reef breaks and the raw ocean power. It’s a different type of surfing.

I assume none of the rides from the Cape Fear contest will be in contention?

I haven’t even pursued them. I think they’ve been used a lot so I’d rather get some from the days where you don’t see.

What about from the same swell?

There was a couple of days either side of that that were pretty good as well.Kirk Flintoff has and entry from around that period.

Are any of the lesser-known waves featuring in the submissions?  

We had that swell back in May and there was a wave that turns on once every ten years and it was massive and there’s a couple of entries from that, which are dropping soon.   

What about one time Tracks writer and former Owen Wright coach, Matt Griggs? Is he in contention?  

Griggsy’s got one I just received. It’s pretty good, it’s right up there. It will rival Flintoff’s wave.  And there’s one of Jared Hickel that no one’s seen yet. Jezza Harbach’s in there. He’s like the boss out Vooey so it’s good to see him in the photos and stuff too.  It’s a been a good year to do it with the swells we’ve had.  

Matt Hollman's big descent.     

Is there ever a danger of incentivizing big waves with money and prizes?Could it push surfers to take unnecessary risks?

I think the best guys, as hard as they go they are calculated in their approach.They go into a situation knowing the break, knowing the direction of the swell, knowing everything they need to. They’ve been doing it out here for years so they’re not going to put their lives and their families at risk.

Do you think it may inspire some other local surfing communities to host their own awards?

I think so, but I think we’re just bloody lucky here. We’ve got a lot of waves that are open to a lot of different swell directions and a lot of guys willing to surf them and dedicate their free time to finding those sorts of waves.  I think in the small area that we’ve got we’ve got some world class waves there that people want to see get ridden and guys get smashed on.

Is there a crew of Cronulla guys who are using their locally acquired knowledge and chasing big waves in other parts of the world?

Yeah there is for sure. Matt Hollman who works with me at the shop and then Mark Wrigley whose a local Real Estate Agent; Kirk Flintoff as well.   They’re all just hunting some big tubes.

 When is the actual awards night and what is happening?

On the 16th October. We’re doing a demo day with boards for the shop then a tag teams event for men’s mental health and then that night we’re premiering the awards at Wanda surf club with Shmoo, (John Shimooka) hosting.  

So there’s about 21 days til entries close?

Sounds good, bring on the next swell.