Bill Sharp And The New Big Wave Challenge
After 25 years of putting together big wave events for the likes of K2, Billabong, and the WSL, Bill Sharp recently found himself at a loose end. With corporate sponsorship drying up, no-one wanted to support the XXL awards, which celebrates the most exciting aspect of surfing - big waves, really big waves.
“If you go back a decade, the Billabong XXL Big Wave Awards were an integral part of the US surf industry,” recalled Sharp. “But the surf industry that backed what we were doing has pretty much collapsed at this point and just getting all the surfers in one place now is almost impossible.”
The consequence, explains Sharp, is that “big wave surfing has found itself without a town square where all the athletes, shooters, and fans can focus their attention and know what is happening in the sport.”
“A lot of the top big wave surfers came to me this last year and asked me to try to bring back the excitement of the old XXL event days – so I developed what I’ve been calling the New Big Wave Challenge.”
When it comes to categories, Sharp has had to fight his instincts and streamline the event. “I have to keep pushing myself to simplify,” explains Sharp. “It's like I immediately want to add, Slab of the Year, Tube of the Year, Manoeuvre of the Year, Up and Comer….fuck, it could keep going. So I’ve had to remind myself, ‘Hey, let's just build the little habitable hut first before we start building a giant skyscraper’."
So the ‘habitable hut’ includes the most fundamental categories: Ride of the Year, Surfer of the Year, Biggest Wave Paddled, Biggest Wave Open, and Best Wipeout.
A difference, this year at least, is the lack of prize money. “Well I’m starting the New Big Wave Challenge to re-establish the foundation,” says Sharp. “We need to get the framework back up and running first.”
“Out of the hundreds of people I've talked to,” says Sharp, “only a couple even mentioned the prize money. Most of them are trying to establish their relevance as a sponsorable commodity.”
Sharp goes further: “For a lot of them, the difference between whether they have $5 or $5,000 or $50,000 isn't really going to make a career for them. First they need the platform whereby everyone can be acknowledged and that system has to be put in place.”
The New Big Wave Challenge will have its awards night next month at Nazaré, a shift from the old Southern California ceremony, and a decision that makes a lot of sense.
“Regardless of the wave itself, just the community of Nazaré reminds me of the North Shore in the seventies,” explains Sharp. “It was that place where everyone gathered with a sense of common purpose. Get your equipment ready, get together mentally, and you can go out there and paddle into thirty foot waves every couple of days. It's really a thriving scene and the only place in the world really where I can count on sort of a bit of governmental support for something like this.”
Once the ceremony is over, the awards bestowed, the window will open for a second Big Wave Challenge season, though of course it won't be so ‘new’ by then.
“By then, I hope to drop ‘new’ and replace that with a title sponsor name that's incredibly wealthy and prestigious.” Sharp adds with a laugh.
And it’ll be an El Nino season too, which isn’t so good down here in Australia but historically has been kind to Hawaii and California.
“I feel it in my bones.” Sharps says almost conspiratorially. “We've been through some soft cycles the last few years - lots of 60ft foot waves, but we need 80ft, even 90ft. It's time for the coastlines to get throttled by swell.”
The New Big Wave Challenge online: