By Eddie Solt
The waiting period for the South Bay Big Wave Challenge starts this Saturday with a kick off at the Dive N’ Surf shop in Redondo Beach. Legendary big wave rider Greg Noll will be the guest of honor. The Big Wave Challenge is in its fifth year and is organized by the South Bay Boardriders Club.
The concept is simple. Whoever catches the biggest wave and has it photographed between November 7, 2015 and April 1, 2016 wins an as yet unspecified cash prize. The wave must be caught between the borderlines of “Indicators” in Palos Verdes to the south and El Segundo’s “Hammerland” to the north.
Modelled after other big wave challenges from all over the world, if Mother Nature doesn’t provide the goods and the waves don’t reach a certain height the contest is postponed until the next year. This was the case for the 2014-2015 season.
In the first season of the Big Wave Challenge 2010-2011, the ocean mimicked the general excitement of the local surf scene with very consistent waves the entire season to feed the local surf crew ready to test their chops in this new local contest format. The winner was pro surfer and LA County Lifeguard Matt Mohagen of El Segundo, who staked his claim at his local break, “Hammerland,” by catching a ginormous left in death or glory fashion, breaking past the rocks. Videographer Jeff Farsai filmed the winning wave.
The 2012-2013 Big Wave Challenge was won by an almost reluctant surfer, Don Connell, who just wanted to catch a few waves after driving his daughters to school and before his shift as a manager at ET Surf. It wasn’t a big concern for Connell. There was swell. He knew it. He just wanted to find a place in the South Bay that can handle a big swell, which siphons the local surfers usually to two or three places.
Connell paddled out at the breakwall just down from his workplace. After missing what he thought may have been the best wave of his life, Connell took off on the next. He made the drop all the way to the bottom, straightening out as the wave closed out. Annihilation was brought forty feet of exploding foam, snapping Connell’s stick in two places. A little dazed but not confused on what he accomplished, Connell was immediately approached by local photographer Randy Ruby, who told him that he got the shot.
The 2013-2014 season was very Gray. Alex Gray has been the South Bay representative in the world wide surf scene for the last 15 years. He came home to clinch the Big Wave Challenge with a wave described simply as “The Bomb.” In previous years, the winning wave was caught at a left handed break (a product of a giant northwest swell retracting off a manmade obstacle or a point) which made this wave unique. It was a day that Puerto Escondido came to Torrance Beach, and Gray was out there with a crew of brave South Bay surfers. Gray caught a triple overhead screamer, pulled in, and raised his arms in victory before being plummeted to the sand. Childhood friend Bryce Lowe-White captured the moment. Gray would share his winnings with all of the finalists.
He followed his South Bay triumph that year by winning the inaugural Dive N’ Surf Oregon Pro Big Wave Contest at Nelscott Reef, a break that requires a PWC just to get through the treacherous shorepound. Gray beat some of the world’s best in macking conditions. Another shining note for the South Bay for that big season, Body Glove sponsored the Mavericks Invitational in Half Moon Bay. In borderline unsurfable conditions, South Africa’s Grant “Twiggy” Baker scored a ten in the final, dropping off the ledge (a 35 foot ledge) and pulling into the inside “nugget” for a tube.
With an outsized El Nino season predicted, the 2015-2016 South Bay Big Wave Challenge looks promising. For those eager to chase the heavies, sign up forms will be available at Dive N’ Surf starting on the day of the Kick-Off event. For those who’d rather not chase mountains, but bask in the local surf culture — there’s no better way to do it then at this event.
The South Bay Big Wave Challenge kick off is from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dive N Surf is located at 504 N Broadway, Redondo Beach. ER