There was about 40 seconds left on the clock, and the horizon at Jaws was stacked. Billy Kemper from Maui was in the lead; with current world champion Greg Long (USA) in second, and current tour leader Twiggy Baker in third.

A single wave, any wave, could alter the order, and both Long and Baker knew it, and knew the implications of such a wave. Both needed that wave, and the contest win. There was potentially a world title on the line.

The first wave went a bit wide, and there was a mad flurry of paddling for the left, but no one on it. The second wave in the set was a bomb and it looked like Twig was there, but it too went unridden. Finally there was a mad scratching for what was going to definitely be the last wave of the final.

Twiggy Baker (left of screen) and Billy Kemper going doubles during the Pe'ahi Challenge.

“With the wind like it was you needed to be in the perfect position to catch and make a wave out there,” said Twiggy of that second wave bomb that no one caught. “For that set I was a little too far out and missed the bomb. The thing is that it is a big playing field, but the variables to winning are minute.”

It was young Billy Kemper, last year’s winner and finals leader up to that point, who scratched into the last wave of the final. A massive bottom turn, a gallant raised arm, and the natural-footer pulled straight into one of those thundering caverns that only Pe’ahi can produce. That ride shut down the door for Long and Baker, as Kemper scored a 9.07 to combine with an early perfect 10-point ride to see him finish with an unassailable 29.07 (the highest score is doubled).

“I’m over the moon and I just surfed with a few of my heroes and pioneers of this sport - Greg (Long) and Twiggy (Grant Baker),” said Kemper. “I didn’t know I was winning so I just went for it on that last wave. This is what I live for right here.”

A very stoked Twiggy ended up in third place, to keep that before-mentioned ratings lead. “Jaws is not one of my strongest waves and the level of competition from the local Hawaiian surfers was high, so a third feels amazing,” reckoned Twig. “The final was an hour of nervous excitement. The swell jacked and the wind picked up and it was tough to keep rolling the dice on the bigger sets. I had a few drops where I was just hanging on.”

It didn't look that wonderful at first light however, with the Jaws lineup looking smaller than expected, and a bit fat. Some of the sets were pushing quickly into the deeper water, and missing the inside bowl section entirely. There were a few moments when it seemed like the forecast swell had been over-called, or that it had yet to arrive. Which was the case – it was slow in arriving.
Greg Long is hot on the heels of Twiggy Baker in the race for the Big Wave World Title.

This did not remain a problem for very long, as the sets started growing throughout the morning. The large wave faces combined with the roaring wind up the faces saw some horror wipeouts and a few injuries, but there were no complaints. This was a gaggle of big wave riders after all.  

Twig was one of them who were just so stoked to be competing, and so stoked to be in the zone with the best big wave surfers in the world. It’s as if the surfers on the tour, big wave and championship tour surfers, have finally realised their incredible luck, and the amazing opportunities that the World Surf League gives them.

“I'm feeling great health and fitness-wise and I've still got a few more years in me to compete at the highest level,” said Twiggy post-event. “I just wish I could have a heat with Billy at Dungeons.”

Which is unlikely, after the local South African big wave surfers turned the Big Wave Tour away from having an event at what is possibly the best big wave in the southern hemisphere. Still, South Africa has a big wave world champion in the bank with Twiggy Baker, and it looks like he might claim that title for a second time.

“It feels good to be in the lead, but it’s tight,” said Twiggy. “Greg Long is on my tail so it's going to be amazing to see what the next two events will bring. We have been surf brothers for almost 15 years now and I wouldn't want it any other way.”

The next possible big wave event is the Todos Santos Challenge. 

If you want more of the Big Wave Tour, check out the WSL Big Wave Awards nominees here