The annual event period for the Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards presented by Monster Energy coincided with the end of the Northern Hemisphere winter last Saturday – but a last-minute off-season swell slamming Tahiti has turned the competition upside down with a fresh influx of stunning big wave images.  The largest waves seen there in three years (and some of the heaviest tubes ever photographed) heaved across the legendary reef at Teahupoo on March 17, scraping in under today’s final deadline for entering images into the XXL event.

For the first time in the ten-year history of the Billabong XXL Big Wave Awards, a swell with the power to rearrange the potential nominees has come in the final week of the year-long competition.  A unique event in surfing, the XXL honors the greatest achievements in big wave riding anywhere in the world at any time -- based on the photographic evidence. Generally, the short list of Billabong XXL Awards nominees has firmed up by late March, a time when the North Pacific and Atlantic are settled down for the season and the South Seas have yet to come to life.  But in a year of high surf superlatives, it should not have come as a surprise that an off-season game-changer would suddenly appear.
“It’s really, really rare to get a big swell this early in March,” said Sean Collins of Surfline.com, the official surf forecaster of the XXL.  “It could be El Nino-related as there’s already been lots of tropical activity in the South Pacific, all of which serves to supercharge these storms – like what we’ve seen in a few of our North Pacific swells this winter.”
Standouts at the all-star Teahupoo session included Tahitian locals Manoa Drollet and Raimana Van Bastolaer along with Hawaiians Shane Dorians and Ian Walsh.   The newest Ride of the Year entries can be viewed at the event website at http://www.billabongxxl.com/roty/index.htmlwhere they join video clips of epic moments of the last year at spots like Tasmania’s Shipstern Bluff, Maverick’s in California and Waimea Bay and Jaws in Hawaii.
Almost certainly the still photos of the day will weigh heavily in the nominations for Monster Tube, the award for the most intense barrel image of the year.  A gallery of those shots can be viewed at http://www.billabongxxl.com/monster_tube/index.html.
Nominations will be announced in all the key event divisions starting next week, with the gala Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards ceremony taking place April 23 at the Grove Theater in Anaheim, California. Featured categories include the Ride of the Year, XXL Biggest Wave, Monster Paddle-In, Monster Tube, Surfline Best Performance, Billabong Girls Performance and the Verizon Wipeout Award.  The event features over $130,000 in prize money and will be televised on the ESPN Networks starting May 18, 2010.
The Tenth Annual Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards are presented by Monster Energy.  Surfline is the official surf forecaster, Verizon Wireless is the official communications provider and Honda Aquatrax the official watercraft.  The event is sponsored by Surfing Magazine and Air Tahiti Nui.
Bill Sharp