Big-Wave Surfing’s 5 Most Pivotal Moments of the Decade

grant twiggy baker
Grant "Twiggy" Baker.Photo: Courtesy of Ryan Craig/SURFER Magazine

The twenty-tens. Can you believe they’re over?

From the tragic death of Andy Irons, the birth of the WSL, the Brazilian storm, the wavepool revolution, and so much more, the past 10 years were packed with unforgettable moments and historical significance. But, at this point, it still feels too early to define it. Was there any clear theme or direction? Or did the surf world move in a hundred directions all at once? That’s hard to say today. Maybe later.

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That said, there were many individual standout moments that we won’t soon forget. So, in the interest of defining them, we asked four experts for their opinion on what the most important moments of the decade were, in four different areas: big-wave surfing, aerial surfing, women’s surfing and longboarding.

First up is three-time Big Wave World Champ, and 7-time XXL winner, Grant “Twiggy” Baker, who gave us his insights on which waves–and which days—helped define the decade.

The 10’s started with a big-wave bang, in the form of the Mavericks Surf Contest, which ran in mid-February of 2010. Eventually won by Chris Bertish, the event was a big leap forward in the paddle revolution. “The Mavs event in 2010 was the first big-wave event in waves pushing the 60-foot mark, and it left the surfing world reeling at what was possible for the future,” Twiggy tells us. “It gave us a glimpse of what could happen when a big-wave event and giant waves came together, and it forced surfers to push their limits.”

That day Twiggy, along with Greg Long, Carlos Burle, Shane Dorian, Shawn Dollar and event winner Bertish would re-write the book of big-wave paddle surfing. (It’s also the day Shane Dorian copped a two-wave hold down and nearly drowned, inspiring the invention of the inflatable vests worn by every big-wave surfer today.) Twig continues: “Looking back, that really was a monumental event, and it set the tone for the rest of the decade.”

THE BIG-WAVE CONTINGENT PADDLES MASSIVE PE’AHI IN 2012

“I remember January 4, 2012 well,” says Twiggy. “It was the swell everyone had been waiting for to paddle out at Jaws. Led by Shane Dorian, [Dave] Wassel, Ian Walsh, Kohl Christensen, Marcio Freire, Danilo Couto, Yuri Soledade, Carlos Burle and Nate Fletcher, the crew redefined what was possible as far as paddling into the world’s most perfect big wave.”

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In years prior, a swell like the one in January of 2012 would have been buzzing with skis at Jaws. Not this time. It was the day and swell the big-wave paddle contingent had been waiting years for. “That one day sent the sport catapulting forward in one giant stride,” Twiggy continues. “It opened the door for every big swell since.”

GARRETT MCNAMARA RIDES 78-FOOT WAVE AT NAZARE IN 2011

Love him or hate him, Garrett McNamara put Portugal’s Naźare on the mainstream map. McNamara’s tow bomb at Naźare in November of 2011 captured the world’s attention and was featured on every news outlet from CNN to Good Morning America. But, according to Twiggy, two of the last decade’s most impactful moments in big wave surfing actually happened off Portugal’s coast.

“The first was McNamara’s 78-foot wave in 2011, which introduced the world to the fact that the biggest rideable waves in the world are in Europe,” says Twiggy. “And the second was in November of 2017, when Brazilian surfer Rodrigo Koxa broke the previous big-wave record, surfing an 80-foot wave at Naźare. But, more important than those two waves individually, a core group of remarkable surfers have dedicated their lives this last decade to riding the biggest, most dangerous wave in the world off Portugal’s coast.”

CLOUDBREAK GOES XXL IN 2012; ‘CT EVENT CALLED OFF

In 2012, during the waiting period for the Volcom Fiji Pro, Cloudbreak delivered one of surfing’s most historic days. And while surf fans hoped to see the world’s best ‘CT surfers compete in truly massive surf, it wasn’t to be, and after a few heats in dangerous, increasing surf (and a serious injury to Raioni Monteiro’s knee), the WSL called the comp off.

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Fortunately, they kept the cameras rolling, live streaming (arguably) the best session of the past 10 years. “Just like that, Cloudbreak, a wave that had been off-limits to the surfing public since its discovery in the early ’80s, revealed herself as an incredibly frightening, beautiful spectacle,” Twiggy says about that day. “That one session showed what was possible as far as getting barreled in 20-foot surf.”

THE 2018 JAWS INVITATIONAL RUNS IN SOME OF THE LARGEST SURF EVER CONTESTED

“In November 2018, Mark Healey, Billy Kemper, Russell Bierke, Alex Botelho, Ryan Hipwood and I were sent out to compete against each other [at Jaws] in waves like I’d never tried to catch before, or since, for that matter,” laughs Twiggy. “Ten wave 60-foot sets were pouring through the lineup, with 20-knot offshore winds making them almost impossible to catch. But, just as it did at Mavs back in 2010, competition in waves like that forced our hands, and the rest is history.”

Of course, the event itself was controversial. After that first heat, with waves getting larger by the set, Tour Commissioner Mike Parsons deemed the day unsafe, and called competition off. “Even though Billy Kemper was actually knocked unconscious, and I was sent to the medical boat with burst lung capillaries, Billy was bummed,” continues Twiggy. “After the decision, he said something like: ‘It is gnarly, it is dangerous, but this is what we live and train for. You want the biggest, nutsest wave in the world? This is it.’”

According to Twiggy, that day was just a fleeting look at what’s to come. Next time, the best big-wave surfers in the world will all be ready. “The future is waiting,” Twiggy continues. “That heat was just a taste. Nothing is too big or too dangerous anymore. I’m confident the next generation will take things to the next level, and I’m just stoked to be along for the ride.”

This article originally appeared on Surfer.com and was republished with permission.

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