IRVINE, CA (October 24) — The Billabong Odyssey, a multiyear project to find and ride the world’s biggest waves, kicks off its second year by announcing an expanded format designed to involve more top surfers on a global basis. In a new event partnership with Surfline, the world’s premier surf report and forecast service, the surfers who successfully conquer the world’s highest swells will be honored annually at the Billabong Odyssey XXL Big Wave Awards.
Over the last year, Billabong Odyssey surfers have used jet-powered watercraft to challenge new big-wave breaks in exotic frontiers like Western Australia, Washington State and islands off of Spain. At the same time, Odyssey participants have pushed the limits of performance at familiar surf breaks like Jaws in Maui, Maverick’s in Northern California, Todos Santos Island off Mexico and at super-shallow reefs in Tahiti and Tasmania. In addition to the significant media coverage to date, the first year’s adventures have been documented in “The Billabong Odyssey” a 35mm feature documentary by Arenaplex Films currently set for theatrical release next spring.
“The global response to the Billabong Odyssey has been incredible over the last year,” said Bill Sharp, the project’s director. “In fact, the biggest challenge has been trying to accommodate all the top athletes who have asked to be involved. Our Water Safety training camps have created a real team bond among the surfers and it’s difficult to have to pick a crew for one trip, and then a different group for the next expedition.
“Earlier this year we adjusted the format so that any wave an invited surfer rides at any spot will qualify for the Odyssey’s Biggest Wave Award,” said Sharp, who has created a series of big-wave competitions and devised the accepted standards for judging wave heights from the photographic evidence. “This way everyone stays in the hunt, wherever they are. The opportunity to combine forces with Surfline and the XXL contest was clearly a Win-Win situation.”
“By merging the Surfline XXL awards into the Billabong Odyssey, it covers all aspects of big wave riding competition and adventure,” said Sean Collins, founder and head forecaster of Surfline. “And by operating on a global basis, we’ll in effect be creating a world champion in the biggest-wave arena.”
Surfers participating to date in the Billabong Odyssey include Mike Parsons, Brad Gerlach, Darryl “Flea” Virostko, Shawn “Barney” Barron, Ken “Skindog” Collins, Josh Loya, Brian Keaulana, Brock Little, Ken Bradshaw, Layne Beachley, Cheyne Horan and Tony Ray. Additional invitations are being extended to a growing list of world-class big-wave riders who have proven themselves over their careers.
“Setting a high standard of safety has been a core mandate of the Billabong Odyssey since it began,” said Graham Stapelberg, Billabong USA’s VP of Marketing. “Our Risk Technician clinics taught by lifesaving legend Brian Keaulana and his fellow Hawaiian lifeguards marked the first time a surf event has formally involved the surfers in the safety planning process. We’re continuing that philosophy by having the athletes themselves evaluate all new entries. Surfing at this level requires a calculated approach. This is not about being reckless.”
A panel of top big wave surfers will decide who gets the additional bids to compete for the Billabong Odyssey XXL prize, based on ongoing peer evaluation of each waterman’s surfing and safety skills. As invitations are extended and accepted, names will be listed on the event website at www.Surfline.com.
Under the rules of the Billabong Odyssey XXL Presented by Surfline, the invited surfer riding the biggest wave of the year at any surf break in the world caught by any means will receive $60,000, plus an extra $1000 a foot over 60 feet. Awards will also be presented to the biggest wave caught by paddle power and the best overall performance. This year’s competition began in the Southern Hemispheere in April, and will conclude at the end of the Northern Hemisphere winter in March. The prizes will be awarded at a gala awards party in Southern California in early April. The Billabong Odyssey XXL Big Wave Awards Presented by Surfline will continue to run on an annual, global basis.
And the ultimate Billabong Odyssey prize awaits the surfer who may someday achieve a truly historic fusion of athletic and meteorological superlatives — the first 100-foot wave to be ridden successfully will be awarded $250,000.
Surfline forecaster Collins feels that the growing El Nino condition bodes well for a strong season of big waves, especially in the Pacific. “In just the last two weeks we’ve seen a string of very solid swells for this early in the season,” said Collins. “Last winter may have been below average, but the evidence is pointing to this being a bigger-than-usual season.”
Another new twist in the Big Wave Awards will be the addition of the Surfline LOLA XXL Sweepstakes, where online users of Surfline’s services can try to pick in advance where and when the biggest swell of the winter will strike. The visitor to the website whose prediction is closest to the date and places of the biggest XXL swell as verified by Surfline’s LOLA swell forecast model will collect $2,000 and be feted during the Big Wave Awards show.
Although breaks like Jaws and Maverick’s are eligible for Odyssey XXL honors, the project’s emphasis remains on discovering more about new frontiers. “On the right day, I know there are bigger spots out there in the middle of nowhere,” said Billabong Odyssey surfer Mike Parsons. “The greatest adventure of surfing lies in probing the outer reefs of places like Canada or Ireland or Africa or the islands of the Pacific for just the right spot and just the right swell. The Billabong Odyssey is about doing it in places people don’t normally think of as big-wave havens.”
And that includes remote patches of open ocean far from land.
“We’re on a constant standby for the right conditions at Cortes Bank,” said Sharp of the mysterious seamount 105 miles off the Southern California coast, where a Surfline forecast lead to Parsons’ ride on a 66-footer last year. “We’ve only surfed it a couple of times and we have a lot more business to do out there.”