While competitive big wave surfing is not as close to the professional mainstream of surfing as more conventional competitions, it is becoming more and more popular as revolutions in surfing equipment and technology continue to come forward. Big wave surfing is truly a different animal when compared to the more generic surfing competitions where much smaller waves are being approached and dropped in on by professional surfers.
There are some very clear-cut differences between true big wave surfing and more conventional surfing variations, one of which being the fact that big wave surfing generally requires the use of tow-in equipment. This fundamentally changes the very nature of the surfing being done, since big wave surfing typically does not involve the rider actually paddling into the massive breaking wave (though this is not always the case; there are exceptions to that rule). Rather than paddling in, a big wave surfing competitor will typically be pulled into the breaking wave by a towline that is carried by a high performance jet-ski type watercraft.
This is due to the fact that with most truly large wave breaks, it becomes next to impossible to achieve enough speed and power from paddling to actually get oneself moving down the slope of the breaking mega-wave. Generally speaking, the boards used in big wave surfing are also quite a bit different, though this is an area that involves much variation depending on the preferences of each individual big wave surfer.
Some of the most famous big wave locations in the world include Nazare in Portugal, Puerto Escondido, Teahupoo in Tahiti, and many more. While this World Surf League big wave competition at the massive break of Pe’ahi on the Hawaiian island of Maui actually did feature a paddle-in contest, this is definitely not the norm when it comes to big wave riding, and in this way it presented a major challenge for the surfers participating in this contest.
Paddling into the several meters high break at Pe'ahi was indeed no small feat, with judges, spectators, and surfers alike feeling intense excitement at seeing each rider do their absolute best in attempting to paddle into this insanely powerful break. This competition was definitely one for the record books, as it went from October 15th through November 11th, 2016. For the benefit of any surfing fans that happened to miss this wild big wave competition, the results of the contest will now be detailed and analyzed here.
1st Place Champion – Billy Kemper – Hawaii:
Taking home the 1st place champion spot at the 2016 World Surf League Big Wave Tour #2 event at Pe’ahi, Maui was Hawaiian surfing native Billy Kemper. Kemper maintained an outstandingly strong performance throughout the entire competition, and appeared to be right at home among the vast breaks at Pe’ahi. Given that temperament is a major quality that comes into play with the mental aspect of big wave surfing, Billy Kemper’s seeming mental ease and comfort in the thrashing monsters at Pe’ahi likely had a lot to do with his overall victory. Kemper took home the champion spot with a final total of 12,500 points, which handily bested the 2nd place runner up by a substantial margin of over 200 points. This is a huge victory for Kemper’s career, as it serves to not only further establish his identity as a professional big wave surfer, but it also afforded him a significant victory prize of $25,000.00 USD.
Kemper was able to establish his dominance early in the competition on the monster breaks at Pe’ahi, given that in the first round of the contest he came in with the 2nd highest overall score out of a field of around 24 other competitors. His scoring in the first round was an extremely high 18.74 overall score total, where the average wave score in his heat was only 3.74, to give readers an idea of just how dominate Billy Kemper was able to be right out of the gate. Both of Billy’s round one wave scores were 5.00 or higher, while literally every other wave score in his heat except for one other was less than 5.00 points. In this way, it was clear to everyone present for this contest that Billy was going to be a force to be reckoned with as the competition progressed.
Moving into the semifinals of the competition, Billy performed extremely well yet again, though not at the level of dominance he was able to demonstrate in Round 1. Billy competed in the Heat 1 of the semifinals, where he was able to surf his way into the second place spot. Greg Long turned out to be the only other surfer who was able to challenge and beat Billy Kemper’s scoring in the semifinals, with Long finishing out the semis with a total overall score of 16.66 points to Kemper’s 13.97 points. Kemper had two solid wave scores in the semifinals, and retained his consistency, but the judges were more impressed with Greg Long’s slightly more aggressive speed and drop angles and therefore awarded him the #1 spot in Heat 1 of the semifinals.
As it would turn out, Billy Kemper and Greg Long’s battle for 1st in the semifinals would end up translating into the final round of the competition as well. Unlike their battle in the semifinals, however, Billy really kicked his surfing into high gear in the finals and showed everyone what he was truly capable of. He ended up beating Greg Long by a margin of over two whole points in the finals, as Billy turned out to be the only surfer in the finals to achieve a perfect 10.0 scoring from the judges. That was on his Wave 1 score in the finals, and as fate would have it, Kemper was also the only competitor in the finals to achieve a score above 9.0 points. Billy finished out the finals with a whopping 29.07 final score, and an astonishing perfect ten Wave 1 score under his belt. His performance in the 2016 World Surf League Big Wave Tour event at Pe’ahi was definitely one for the books.
2nd Place – Greg Long – USA:
Greg Long was a competitor in the 2016 World Surf League Big Wave event at Pe’ahi that truly gave everything he had to give out on the unforgiving breaks of Pe’ahi, Maui. He was, in actuality, the only competitor at the event who stood a serious chance of beating Billy Kemper given that Kemper was performing at such an elite level of confidence and ability. Greg Long led Heat 1 in first place within Heat 1, setting his pace for the rest of the competition.
Although he did manage to take first in Heat 1, he did so on a level of scoring that simply paled in comparison to the level of riding that Billy Kemper was able to exhibit in the first round. Long scored an 11.66 point total in Heat 1, Round 1, where the average wave score was 3.26 overall. While this was significantly lower than Kemper’s outstanding 18.20 scoring, it still put Greg in a position where he could move into the semifinals with some momentum and meaningfully challenge Kemper’s early leading position.
The semifinal round was where Greg Long was able to display his best riding of the competition, putting up some quite impressive scores in both his Wave 1 and Wave 2 performances in the semis. His Wave 1 scoring was a 5.83, and he rode that line with incredible stability and focus. He did not falter at all on that wave, which is a major reason he scored so highly on it. Additionally, his Wave 2 score was almost equally as strong at a 5.00 point total. With an overall scoring total of 16.66 in the semifinals, it looked as though Greg would have a real chance at challenging Billy Kemper in the finals.
Heading into the final round of the 2016 World Surf League Big Wave Tour #2 event at Pe’ahi, Maui, Greg Long looked like a real contender for 1st place, which at that point he surely was. Greg performed extremely well in the finals, as he had for the entirety of the competition, but by the end it simply was not enough to beat the Hawaiian big wave titan, Billy Kemper. Greg’s Wave 1 scoring in the finals was 8.83 points, and his Wave 2 scoring was 8.93 points. Clearly, he had momentum, he had confidence, and was surfing near the peak of his game. He never really faltered at all, and this is yet one more testament to the elite, almost superhuman level of surfing that the champion Billy Kemper was able to demonstrate at this monumental event in professional big wave surfing. Greg Long finished out the competition with a final points total of 10.416, which was impressive in spite of being over 200 points less than the first place finisher, Billy Kemper. Greg walked away from the contest with a significant cash prize payout of $16,000.00 USD.
3rd Place – Grant Baker – South Africa:
Grant Baker, the South African big wave professional, also gave a strong performance at the 2016 World Surf League Big Wave Tour #2 event at Pe’ahi, Maui. Finishing out the competition in 3rd place overall, Grant started out the competition already in direct contest with the eventual champion of the event, Billy Kemper. The two surfers were pitted against each other in Heat 2 of the first round, where Billy was already starting to dominate the field. In spite of Billy beating him by almost two points in this heat, Grant Baker held on strongly and put up an outstanding scoring total of 16.67 in Heat 2, Round 1. This powerful score put Grant in a solid position to progress through the remainder of the competition, and he definitely held his own for the rest of the event.
Competing in Heat 1 of the semifinals, Grant Baker exhibited another strong performance, with all of his individual wave scores totaling out at 13.51 points in the semifinals. His Wave 1 scoring ended up at 4.67 points, and his Wave 2 scoring finished out at 4.17 points. Grant’s unique takeoff style and his consistency on the massive waves at Pe’ahi allowed him to score so well, and by the end of the semifinals he was still in a position where he could reasonably challenge the lead of other elite surfers like Greg Long and Billy Kemper.
In the final round of the 2016 World Surf League Big Wave Tour #2 event at Pe’ahi, Maui, Grant Baker had a real chance of taking the lead, but he simply did not score high enough to present a challenge to the two leaders, G. Long and B. Kemper. This had a lot to do with the fact that Grant’s Wave 1 scoring in the finals left a lot to be desired, coming in at only 6.33 points in total. After that wave score was up, it became clear that he was not going to be able to take down the leaders in the finals.
He did manage to recover a bit with his Wave 2 scoring, which ended up at 8.07 points overall, and this was very important for him because it allowed him to at least rank in 3rd place on the podium by the end of the event. Grant definitely demonstrated that he is a genuine contender in the sport of professional big wave surfing, and we should expect to see a lot more from him in future big wave events. He finished out with a final points total of 8,680, and a 3rd place cash prize of $10,000.00 USD.