Well ... that was insane!
This morning we were gifted an insight into what makes the surfers on the Big Wave World Tour tick during a post heat interview with Billy Kemper. Fresh off a ten point ride at Sunset yesterday during the triple crown, Billy had just survived, and I use the word survived literally, perhaps the heaviest heat in surfing history at the Jaws Challenge. During the exchange he admitted to losing consciousness after a wipeout and having to be plucked from the water by the skis, but immediately stated he couldn’t wait to paddle back out and do it all again. “A bit of water and I’ll be sharp as nails”, was the quote I believe.
Unfortunately for Billy, Mike Parsons would soon step in and put a halt to proceedings after deeming the conditions too dangerous. 60 foot faces were erupting at ridiculous speed over the reef at Peahi, delivering enthralling viewing for those sitting safely behind their screens, but giving the surfers little opportunity to make a ride.
Young Australian Russell Bierke was in fact the only surfer to make a wave during the days competition, and he had to chip in on a giant shoulder to do it.
The rest was utter glorious carnage, and perhaps the most engaged with a live surfing event since the giant cloud break free surf session. I cant remember ever watching a regular tour event and having my body dosed with adrenaline via a laptop screen nearly ten thousand kilometres away, but this morning I was mainlining.
In the end it was Billy, despite being knocked unconscious, who came away with the heat win. From the outset it was clear he wanted a third Jaws Challenge title. On the first wave of the day he fell from the sky deep on the peak and drove into a huge tube that would’ve been a twenty point ride had he come out, but he got clipped and had to settle for a 16.34.
Following his lead was second place getter Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker who found himself pushing over the ledge of a 50 ft double up slab. He somehow managed to stick the drop and like a pilot trying to pull out o a tailspin, used every bit of big wave knowledge he’s gained over his career to pull his gun off the bottom and up into a tube so large I can’t do it justice with words. The wave erupted and Grant’s body was spat out of the mouth of the wave like a stray crumb. It was incredible, but it also sent him to the medical boat.
In third place was our boy Russell Bierke. One can only assume what was going through the rookies mind as he navigated that lineup. This was the real deal, and surely he must’ve felt the pressure and nerves of wanting to stand up and be counted.
The first wave he paddled for was a monster. The wave lurched and he got to his feet on what looked like a kamikaze run. Perhaps mercifully the wind didn’t quite let him over the ledge and he was blown out the back. Playing a smart game Russ shifted wide and found a corner, albeit a 40 ft corner, and fell from the sky as it spat a metric tonne of water at him. He managed to keep his feet among the deluge and rode the only make of the day.
Guest commentator Dave Kalama mused that trying to comprehend how much water was moving out there was akin to trying to comprehend the amount of stars in the universe. And I’ve got to give it to him, he wasn’t far wrong!
Russ then took a wipeout on a smaller wave and as far as the webcast went, wasn’t seen surfacing again as a giant set erupted out the back. The water patrol scoured the whitewash as they looked for Russell. Whether the camera didn’t catch him coming up I’m not sure but suddenly the oxygen left the room. None of the commentators twigged on what seemed to be going down, or they did well to keep it under wraps. It wasn’t pleasant viewing and thoughts of just how easily something could go wrong flashed into my mind.
Not long after, the lineup mysteriously emptied and I feared something bad had indeed happened. Fortunately it was because Mike Parsons had stepped in and called it off. Russ must’ve been ok. But that scary moment made Snips’ call seem the right one for me. It was super entertaining, but it felt like something could go wrong at any second.
Parsons’ reasoning was that the extended period, size and speed of the waves was making it virtually impossible to make a wave from the peak. The water patrol also stated that due to the frequency of sets and the horrific wipeouts, they felt they weren’t able to adequately ensure everyone’s safety.
The call is to come back tomorrow and finish it off. And the good news is that it is still expected to be huge!