A world-class field of big wave surfers, including three of the top four in the 2002 XXL big wave awards, and a streamlined format that enables the contest to be completed in under four hours, are the highlights of the fifth annual Red Bull Big Wave Africa international surfing event.
Scheduled for 2-22 June 2003, the 21-day challenge this year pits six South African and six international invitees, all specially selected for their skills in huge surf, against Dungeons, the deep water reef under the towering cliffs of the Sentinel at the mouth of Hout Bay on the Cape Peninsula that produces the biggest rideable waves on the coastline of Africa.
The international contingent is headed by Carlos Burle (Brazil) and Australians Cheyne Horan and Paul Paterson. Burle and Horan went head to head last year at the 2002 XXL award for the biggest wave ridden in the Northern Hemisphere where Burles 68 foot (21 metres) wave at Mavericks, California, narrowly pipped Horans 66 foot (0.6 metre smaller) version at Jaws in Hawaii, while Paterson scooped the award for the biggest paddle-in wave, a 48 foot (14.7 metre) monster at Waimea Bay, Hawaii.
This trio of legends will be joined by emerging superstars Jamie Sterling (Hawaii), a finalist in giant Pipeline last month, who will be back for his third crack at Dungeons and Californian Greg Long, one of the underground chargers at Mexicos Todos Santos, who returns for a second campaign. The sixth member of the international squad is yet to be confirmed, but watch this space!
The local crew has been pared down to UCT student Sean Holmes, winner of the event in 2000, the only time the conditions have met the stringent contest criteria and John Whittle (Durban), winner of the Biggest Wave ridden in 2001 and recipient of the Deep Throat award for the most committed surfer in the waiting period in both 2000 and 2002.
They will be joined by Durban chargers Grant Twiggy Baker and Jason Ribbink, Capetonian Chris Bertish, the first surfer to paddle into a wave at Jaws, who makes a welcome return to the mix after electing to sit out 2002, and Andrew Marr from Knysna, a new addition to the line-up, who has been selected in recognition of his efforts in charging every major swell in Hawaii during the Northern Hemisphere winter, earning himself the nickname of Waimea Andy from the locals.
The 12-man field allows the format to be simplified to two semi-finals, each featuring six competitors, with the top three finishers in each heat advancing to a six-man final. By allocating 60 minutes for each heat and a 30 minute break between the second semi and the final, the entire contest can be completed inside four hours.
Contest director Gary Linden (California), whose task it is to identify the right conditions for the Red Bull BWA contest to be staged, should find it significantly easier to run the contest than in previous years when he needed 6.5 hours of suitable conditions to complete the event. And with more than R225 000 in prize-money at stake, of which R100 000 goes to the winner, everyone is amping to see the contest run this year.
Utilising state-of-the-art wave and weather prediction modules generated locally and internationally, the organisers track the conditions that fit the criteria swells consistently over 15 foot (5 metres) in height that produce waves the size of three story buildings as they rear up and break over the Dungeons reef. The fickle nature of the winds and the life-threatening consequences of being wiped out in the mountainous seas, particularly in the icy, kelp infested seas adjacent to the Duiker Island seal colony, make waiting for the right conditions an intrinsic part of big wave surfing.
Safety also plays a huge role in the event and the 2003 Red Bull BWA event will again employ the services of California water safety expert Shawn Alladio, who, along with backup PWC riders Gigs Celliers and Nico Johnson, and Cape Towwns foremost tow-in team of Glen Bee and Pierre du Plessis in their IRB, provide the surfers with peace of mind that every precaution is being taken to ensure they survive the challenge.
The safety team and a doctor are on hand even during free surfing and practice sessions at Dungeons, in keeping with one of the primary objectives of the event which is to foster and encourage the culture of big wave surfing on the southern tip of Africa. The countrys top exponents get to live with and learn from the worlds best while the entire group of superbly fit and focused athletes wait for the biggest rideable wave on the African coastline to meet the criteria for the crowning of another Red Bull Big Wave Africa champion.
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