When Ryan Hipwood came off the bench and stole the spotlight
The 2017 Jaws Big Wave Event was an extraordinary contest, with giant, glassy waves peeling through for the entire finals day. How big was it? Forty feet, fifty feet, how long is a piece of string?
While the whole event had been riveting, the second semi of the day saw things go to another level.
It was important because everything was stripped back. There were just these perfect, glassy waves, huge and thundering and severe in terms of risk, and surfers with nothing to lose. Well, except their lives. It was a heat that you either stood up, or you stood down.
Ryan Hipwood entered the fray. Some might say that the Gold Coast surfer is a lesser-known surfer and that he was an underdog for the event. He did sneak into the event as an alternative, so he definitely wasn't on the radar as one of the top big wave surfers in the world at the time.
Which is why the story becomes so important. Hippo had one shot, one opportunity, and he fucking captured it in front of all the big wave surfers, big wave surf fans, and spectators the world over.
The wave appeared, and it looked falsely benign due to the sheet glass. The first two surfers had a dig but were too far out. When he saw the opportunity, Hippo turned and started paddling and thrashing. He wanted the wave.
As he started gaining traction, the wave jacked, until it was a full-on Jaws, north-corner beast. Hippo displayed his skills making the drop but magnified his with a grinding bottom turn before high- lining it into a gaping Jaws tunnel.
Our guy rode the tube and emerged cleanly for the first perfect ten of the contest. At that exact moment, emerging from that wave, Hippo had suddenly joined the big league and was automatically vindicated for his alternate spot in the event. He was charging harder than the big wave legends at that stage of the event. The hungry underdog was now running with the big dogs, but enough about dogs.
Hippo’s moment of fame was in some ways fleeting. Our man was shaded by the eventual contest winner, Ian Walsh, who pulled into a bigger, deeper barrel for the second 10-point ride of the day a few minutes later. This had developed into the heat of the contest. Chumbo was charging, Jamie' Mad Dog' Mitchell was getting bombs, and Albee Layer was also finding massive waves and ripping them. So tight was the heat in fact, that Walsh only managed a third place with a ten-pointer on his scorecard. Hippo won the semifinal and was the man.
In the final, however, Hippo ran out of mojo. The surf was still booming, and he suffered a massive wipeout, the slam resulting in him being removed from the water. He came 6th in the tournament and finished the year 11th on the Big Wave Tour ratings (he was 29th in 2018). However, nothing can take that one wave away from him. One giant Jaws tube, when he decided to go and committed to pulling in, and rode that giant Peahi tube into the history books. In quiet moments, Hippo will forever be able to reflect on that moment when he speared through a gaping hole in the ocean off the coast of Maui. Very few surfers have that kind of memory to cherish.
Hippo knows a good wipeout as well. Here's a highlight wipeout reel from 2012.