What: Stop No. 3 on the Big Wave World Tour: the Dive N' Surf Oregon Pro.
Where: Nelscott Reef, a wave located a half-mile offshore of Lincoln City, Oregon.
Who: A handful of the world’s best female big-wave riders along with the Big Wave World Tour top 12, event wildcards, alternates, and four local big-wave surfers.
The Dive N' Surf Oregon Pro kicked off on Wednesday in clean, 15-foot-plus surf (30-foot faces) that was groomed by a stiff offshore wind. Up first at Nelscott Reef, Oregon, were the ladies of the Big Wave World Tour, and unheralded Dana Point, California, surfer Bianca Vallenti took down renowned big-wave surfers Keala Kennelly, Paige Alms, Andrea Moeller, and Jamila Star, who, it should be noted, wore nothing but a bikini and booties in the 50-degree Oregon water after the final.
Riding a 9-foot, 6-inch gun shaped by longtime Mavericks surfer Matt Ambrose, Bianca told event reps and media after the final: "There were rumors that they might have a women's event at Todos Santos [the next stop on the Big Wave World Tour], and that would be a lot of fun. But yeah, it was great being out there with the rest of the women; it was good vibes!" For her efforts, Bianca became the first-ever woman to win a Big Wave World Tour (BWWT) event, yet it remains to be seen if the trend of having women compete in BWWT events will continue.
After the women made their mark, the men were given the green light to compete in the growing surf. With the tide dropping but an onshore breeze starting to strengthen, conditions deteriorated throughout the day but remained contestable and in the 12- to 15-foot range (25-foot faces).
Besides early exits by Greg Long and former Big Wave World Tour champion Jamie Sterling, the usual suspects (Shawn Dollar, Alex Gray, Grant "Twiggy" Baker, Will Skudin, Anthony Tashnik, and Kohl Christensen) fought their way through the big and bumpy surf and into the final. What the contest lacked in size it made up for with the surfers’ performance, as guys including Shawn Dollar from Santa Cruz, California, were ditching their 10-foot boards for 9-footers and throwing down full rail carves on the "smaller" boards. Another wrinkle in the equipment was the weight of some of the competitors' boards. Finalist Alex Gray (surfing in his first BWWT event) rode a board that competitor-turned-commentator Greg Long estimated to weigh 25 pounds—the heavier boards allowed the surfers to negotiate the wind chop much easier than they would on a lighter board.
At 5 p.m. the final heat paddled out into giant peaks that were shredded to bits by a gusty March wind that is typical to Oregon this time of year. Despite surfing in his first-ever Big Wave World Tour event, Los Angeles-based surfer Alex Gray took a quick lead after air-dropping his way down the face of a large set wave and nailing a 10-point ride. Halfway through the final, the bumps on the face of the waves resembled small waves and competitors struggled to stay on top of their boards.
With two minutes left in the final, the wind backed off and a massive set approaching the 20-foot range reared onto Nelscott Reef. New York's Will Skudin got crushed at the bottom of one, and Grant "Twiggy" Baker (who won the previous two Big Wave World Tour events) swooped into another. The South African was unable to drop a big score and Alex Gray hung out for the win.
"It got windy in the afternoon, and there was some clam chowder out there," said Gray about the choppy conditions. "By the time the final started it was like the Wild West out there. You'd just hope for the best, try to get into one, stay low, and hang onto your board. It was like hitting moguls on the way down a mountain. Just radical, crazy big-wave conditions."
When asked if he saw himself doing more Big Wave World Tour events, Gray said, “I never went into surfing thinking that I'd be a big-wave guy—I enjoy surfing whether it's 2 feet or 20 feet. To find myself wearing a jersey and mixing it up with the best big-wave riders in the world is something that's really fun for me, and I'm really honored to be a part of the Big Wave World Tour and can't wait to do more of the contests, especially the Jaws and Mavericks events."
When asked about the camaraderie between the surfers in these Big Wave World Tour events, Gray lit up: "It's so amazing. In the final, I was sitting there going, 'This has been one of the most fun days of my life!' We were all laughing, cracking jokes between sets, and giving each other shit. It was the exact opposite of what you would think a competition atmosphere would be like. That's what draws me to the Big Wave World Tour." Alex would go on to split the $12,000 winner's check between his fellow finalists, keeping up a generous tradition in Big Wave World Tour that began a few years ago.
With one event remaining, the Dive N' Surf at Todos Santos, Baja California, a champion of the Big Wave World Tour has yet to be crowned, but Grant "Twiggy" Baker has to be considered a shoo-in after two wins and a finals appearance in Oregon. One unique aspect of the Big Wave World Tour is that if the waves aren't up to par, meaning 20 feet or bigger, then the event will not run. Therefore, if a giant swell doesn't hit Baja California between now and the end of March, then there will be no contest there and Twiggy will win the Big Wave World Tour season championship.
For more information head over to bigwaveworldtour.com.
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