Behind The Scenes Of The 22nd Annual Waterman’s Ball

On Friday night, a who’s who of  675 surf industry executives, celebrities, and a cadre of athletes, journalists, and more converged on the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel, California for the 22nd Annual SIMA Waterman’s Ball. The event honored big wave surfer Greg Long as Waterman of the Year; shop owner, environmental activist, and former Malibu Mayor Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner as Environmentalist of the Year; and surf legend, pioneer, and founder of Quiksilver’s Eddie Aikau contest George Downing with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

“The SIMA Board of Directors and Environmental Fund are proud to honor Greg, Jay, and George,” says Paul Naude, chairman of the Waterman’s Weekend Event Committee and president of the SIMA Environmental Fund Board of Directors. “All of the honorees have undoubtedly earned our respect and appreciation for their accomplishments in and out of the water, and for the influence they have had on the sport and culture of surfing.”

In addition to the awards, the event’s primary purpose is to raise funds for the SIMA Environmental Fund, and this year’s event set a new record of over $400,000 raised in a silent and live auction hosted by Sal Masekela for 20 environmental organizations.

We arrived on the scene early Friday to help with the set up and learn more about what goes into planning the event. Here’s a look at the day’s proceedings and the evening’s festivities:

Paul Naude and Fernando Aguerre give a run through of the auction items:

Billabong Director of Surf Shop Relations Royse Cansler walks us through the boards:


Here’s more on the event from SIMA:

“I’d like to pay tribute to the 20 amazing beneficiaries that the SIMA Waterman’s Weekend supports as first off, they all put in countless hours to keep us in the water and secondly, they allow us to continue our business in this great industry,” said Paul Naude, President of the SIMA Environmental Fund and President of Billabong USA.  “Thanks to the surf industry, this year we raised $400,000 and now Waterman’s Weekend has raised more than $5.8 million over the past 22 years for environmental causes. A special thanks goes to our honorees, Greg Long, George Downing and Zuma Jay for their dedication to the sport of surfing as well as their constant efforts to help preserve and protect our ocean.”

The event also honored big wave surfing champion Greg Long as Waterman of the Year, former Malibu mayor and environmental stalwart Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner as Environmentalist of the Year, and Hawaiian big wave pioneer and legendary shaper George Downing with the 2011 Lifetime Achievement Award for their powerful influence on the sport, culture and business of surfing. Downing’s award was presented by CEO of Quiksilver, Bob McKnight and Mr. Pipeline and surfing legend, Gerry Lopez, Wagner’s award was presented by the former editor of Surfer Magazine, Sam George, and Long’s award was presented by big-wave surfing legend and surfboard shaper, Greg Noll.

“I am honored to be recognized tonight for my actions and accomplishments,” said Long. “It’s been an amazing journey and I look forward to many years to come, but to be here tonight and to be acknowledged and to know that I have been an inspiration to others along the way, that brings me a gratitude that is greater than any of the best waves I have ridden.”

Along with the honoree award presentations, the live auction was a highlight of the Waterman’s Ball. Audi donated the 2012 Audi A4 Avant with 2.0 TFSI, four cylinders, 211 horsepower and legendary Quattro all-wheel drive and the heated bidding for the car finally settled at $40,000.  The House of Blues Anaheim donated a private party for 500 people and doubled up the package, selling each for $37,500. The Doheny Days Music Festival package had a winning bid of $20,000 and included a VIP hospitality suite for 20 people, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to introduce Donavon Frankenreiter on stage, a two night stay at The Riz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel, and an Audi A8 loaner car all to complete the experience. Other auction items included an original art piece by Thomas Campbell on a cut-down piece of a 1960s pop-out surfboard, an exclusive dinner for 10 prepared by The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel’s Executive Chef, a Tavarua surf trip, and a spontaneous trip to see the next running of the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau Big Wave Event.

The dinner table centerpieces, created by Malcom Wilson, were handcrafted, limited edition, miniature replicas of George Downing’s breakthrough circa 1950 big wave gun, “The Rocket,” surfboard. Each surfboard was signed by the 2011 honorees themselves. Each board was individually glued up from balsa and redwood, then hand-shaped and finished like its full-size counterpart with polyester resin using numerous hand-sanded coats and hand-polished. The centerpieces were auctioned off to the highest bidder at each table.

All funds raised will go directly to supporting specific programs of 20 non-profit environmental organizations that address water quality and oceanpollution issues, defend beaches and surf breaks from development, and provide public education on ocean conservation. Beneficiaries include: Surfrider Foundation, Ocean Institute, WiLDCOAST, Heal the Bay, Orange County CoastKeeper, Surfing Education Association, Alaska Wilderness League, Seymour Marine Discovery Center, Algalita Marine Research Foundation, Save the Waves Coalition, Reef Check, KAHEA: The Hawaiian-Environmental Alliance, SINADES:Natural Systems and Development Civil Association, Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, North Shore Community Land Trust, Assateague Coastal Trust, Santa Monica Baykeeper, Ocean Defenders Alliance, Paso Pacifico and Cook Inletkeeper.

Greg Long, Waterman of the Year
San Clemente-local and Waterman of the Year, Greg Long, is often referred to as “the best young big wave surfer on the planet.” Like the waves he surfs, his resume of accolades is equally as impressive: winner of the 2003 Red Bull Big Wave Africa, the second longest running big wave paddle event in the world; 2008 champion of the Mavericks Surf Contest; in 2008 he earned an official invitation to the most prestigious big wave event of all time, the Quiksilver Eddie Aikau, held at Waimea Bay Hawaii, and won the event in 2009. Long has become one of only two surfers in the world to be invited to all three major big wave paddle events. Long is also the winingest surfer at the Billabong XXL Global Big Wave awards, and has been featured in magazine publications such as Sports Illustrated, Outside, Men’s Fitness and numerous others, as well as newspapers and surf films across the globe. When he’s not tackling the world’s biggest waves, Long gives back to the community by giving motivational presentations to schools and community groups, as well as through his involvement in environmental organizations including Surfrider, Save the Waves, Wildcoast and The San Onofre Foundation.

Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner, Environmentalist of the Year
Environmentalist of the Year, Jefferson “Zuma Jay” Wagner, is a longtime advocate and protector of one of surfing’s sacred spots – Malibu. In addition to owning a surf shop and formerly serving as the city’s mayor, Zuma Jay is dedicated to the fight to preserve Malibu’s beaches and keep its waters clean. He ended 20 years of Malibu City policy to avoid the implementation of advanced local wastewater treatment systems in the civic center, an area that is contiguous to Malibu’s Surfrider Beach. He is currently promoting therestoration of Malibu lagoon, and worked with the California Coastal Commission and the Los Angeles County Beaches and Harbors to establish Malibu as the 1st World Surfing Reserve.

George Downing, Lifetime AchievementAward
For decades this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, George Downing, has been a leader in the surf industry and community. Growing up on Oahu, Downing became an adept student and pioneer of big-wave surfing while the sport was still in its beginnings. Downing studied the waves and equipment needed to master the giants, and his research and design discoveries helped him create equipment that opened the doors to big-wave surfing. In 1951, Downing constructed what is known as the first board for truly big surf, and it soon became the template for all serious surfers. Downing has shared his incomparable knowledge, research and theories of heavy water with generations of surfers, making him an invaluable leader in big-wave surfing. In fact, Downing serves as the director for the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau big wave contest, determining when the conditions are best to hold one of the most prestigious big-wave surfing events. Downing also created the revered Downing Surfboards, and serves as the president of the Surfing Education Association which is dedicated to the preservation of our oceans, coral reefs, waves and beaches.