The 10th Annual Billabong XXL Big Wave Awards will be given away tonight in California, in seven different categories: Ride of the Year, Biggest Wave, Monster Paddle, Monster Tube, Verizon Wipeout, Surfline Performance and Billabong Girls Performance. It has been an epic, El Nino fueled year with a mind-blowing list of nominees. Relatively new mutant slabs, as well as legendary big wave spots are represented, and the performance level has become increasingly cartoonish in scale.
Of course the images and videos speak for themselves, but I’d like to entertain you with some empirical data. Of the five Ride of the Year nominations, one took place in Tahiti (barely making the deadline), two took place in Hawaii, and the final two took place on the very same day in California. Unfortunately, we don’t have any real-time buoy data from Tahiti, but we do have access to the Waimea and Half Moon Bay buoy observations.
On December 7th, 2009 at Waimea Bay, Mark Healey & Shane Dorian both caught the same, monstrous closeout. A day later, during the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau, Ramon Navarro earned a perfect 100 points for his backside bomb. Looking at the Waimea Bay buoy, we can see that when the swell peaked on December 7th, the swell height was 19.4 feet at 18.2 seconds. The next day, the swell height actually peaked a bit higher at 19.7 feet, but at a lower period of 16.7 seconds. Now, the exact time of each ride is most likely a bit earlier than swell peak, but the wave energy for each is pretty close.
The next two nominees occurred on February 13th, 2010 at Mavericks. On that day, Shane Dorian earned his second Ride of the year nomination with this pre-contest barrel. Later, during the event, Grant Baker entered his name into the running. Taking a look at the Half Moon Bay buoy observations from that day, you can see there were two distinct peaks to the swell. A 21.7 feet at 16.7 seconds reading was recorded at 9 a.m., and a 22 feet at 16.7 seconds observation at 2 p.m.
Now these readings are just averages, and some waves within a swell are larger than average, so judge the video not the data. In addition, each location is subject to unique variables that influence wave height and shape, such as swell direction and local bathymetry. However, it is interesting to see how the data stacks up, and having a visual reference from the actual day provides a tangible reference.
There’s no doubt the surf will be massive when a buoy reads 22 feet at 16.7 seconds, but what about 6 feet at 14 seconds? Or 8 feet at 8 seconds? We’re working on implementing some features to help with this, and provide that valuable point of reference so you can begin to develop your own buoy awareness.
You may not have the gusto to glide onto the cover of Surfing when the Waimea buoy hits 16.7 feet at 20 seconds (like it did on Christmas), but at least you’ll understand what that looks like.