The nominees are in for this year’s scariest big-wave wipeouts

The brave young athletes who travel the world in pursuit of the largest, gnarliest waves they can find have enjoyed a banner 12 months of surfing thanks to the many El Nio-fueled storms that churned so ferociously across the Pacific.

Understandably, then, many of these same surfers also endured a banner season of wipeouts on virtual mountains of water whose massive lips heave shoreward and explode like bombs upon the surface.

Fortunately, for those of us who attain great pleasure by witnessing the seemingly comical mishaps of others, many of these wipeouts were captured on video and will be featured during an April 23 ceremony honoring surfers in various categories.

In fact, while the annual Billabong XXL Global Big Wave Awards are designed to honor top performances by big-wave riders for their exploits during the course of a year, the Verizon Wireless Wipeout of the Year category is typically considered by the show’s audience to be the most entertaining.

Certainly, while competitors devote their yearlong efforts to try to claim the Ride of the Year prize of $50,000, those who end up as finalists in the wipeout category accept their lesser accolades red-faced, but with the kind of pride that comes with having survived a bona fide hydraulic pounding.

Finalists this year include South Africa’s Grant “Twiggy” Baker, whose most dramatic of two wipeouts up for consideration might have been an over-the-falls slamming (while visibly encased by the lip) on a 50-foot day at Jaws off Maui.

Hawaii’s Shane Dorian was hurtled like a rag doll down the face of a giant green wave at Maverick’s off Half Moon Bay, Calif., and endured a two-wave hold-down, meaning he could not gain the surface until the second wave had broken and passed.

The other three finalists are Australians Dan Griffith, Ryan Hipwood and Brooke Phillips, who met their matches on wickedly frightening outings at Shipstern Bluff off Tasmania. Contest director Bill Sharp described that wave as “a twisting, torquing, torture-chamber of a tube” but happily reported that none of the surfers was seriously injured.

That in itself is testament to what remarkable athletes the world’s premier big-wave riders have become.