All eyes of the surfing world were focused on the Grove Theater in Anaheim, California this past Friday for the XXL Big Wave Awards. A night filled with emotional celebrations for the biggest and heaviest waves ridden over the last twelve months was highlighted by O’Neill Team rider Danilo Couto winning top honour – Ride of the Year for his amazing air drop at the infamous big wave spot Jaws.
Forever considered a wave that was too big and too fast to paddle in to, Couto and an elite group of big wave surfers began to take on the massive waves off the coast of Maui without jet ski assist. After getting one swell under his belt a large swell with extremely challenging conditions hit Jaws on February 8. It was then that Couto air dropped in to a wall of water taller than a five-story building and earned himself XXL Big Wave Ride of the Year.
An air drop that would’ve seemed to last an eternity, Couto landed half way down the wall of water and side-slipped the face of the wave before regaining control and pulling up for an amazing ride in the bowl of the wave before safely exiting to the safety of the channel, a ride of a life time for the Brazilian and a new chapter in the surfing history books. Couto reflected on his accomplishment and being a part of the big wave paddle renaissance, "I've been feeling really good for two months, ever since I caught that wave,” said Couto. “I couldn't sleep for days, knowing I had done something so special. To be a part of surf history, to have an impact, it's special."
Over one thousand images and videos were submitted for judging for the XXL Awards, winners were decided by a panel of several hundred surfers, photographers and surf media editors. A previous nominee for the XXL Awards, Couto’s mission this past winner was to take home the top honour.“From the start of the season my goal has been to win the Ride of the Year in the XXL by paddling into a wave at Jaws.
I knew it was possible and wanted to show the world. I have surfed huge waves at Jaws and other places towed in by jet skis but I have always believed that the best, most pure and rewarding way of surfing big waves is by paddling into them and that’s what I have been dedicating all my energies towards.”
Married with a young daughter, the thirty-six year old Couto has lived on the North Shore of Oahu for the last fifteen years. He is a native of the city of Salvador, in Bahia, Brazil, where he first stood on a surfboard in 1985. The transplanted Brazilian is proud to represent his native country and thankful for his life in Hawaii today, “I also did this for my country and it’s proud and patriotic people. Coming from Brazil things are always harder to accomplish but we never give up.
I also want to thank the people of Hawaii and their hospitality. It’s where I call home and I have received so many blessings from the ocean. It’s where I made my family, had a daughter born and have a lot of friends so I feel very lucky for all of that. Jaws is one of my favourite spots. More than that I feel I have a spiritual connection with it; it’s a sacred place. Big wave riding is about respecting the ocean and being connected with it…"
An emotional part of the evening was when the late Sion Milosky won Big Wave Performer of the Year. Cuoto was in the water at Maverick´s when his friend and fellow big wave rider Sion Milosky died in March. For Couto the loss was shocking, specially knowing that Sion leaves a wife and two beautiful daughters behind. Nonetheless Danilo believes that, “considering that our passage on earth is such a short one, there is a certain beauty to die doing what you love”. Couto will donate a portion of his $50,000 prize money to the Sion Milosky foundation.
The big wave surf community is a small elite group that is held together with a uniquely strong bond that is formed by the fact that each other’s lives are often on the line, looking out for one another is a natural trait for these surfers. While Couto is proud of his accomplishment he knows he wasn’t alone, “It has been a great year for me and my friends pushing the big wave paddle movement at Jaws,” Couto proudly stated after the awards Friday night. “I was the one that caught the wave but it’s important to say that you don’t do something like that alone. So I have to give thanks and share this emotion with my friends and family.
Australia’s Mark Matthews has been rewarded the peoples choice “Worst Wipeout” honour for his heroics gone awfully wrong at the 2011 Billabong XXL awards.
Shipsterns Bluff in the icy remote waters of Tasmania can deliver you the wave of your life or a pounding you’ll never forget. Matthews has seen both sides of the Dr Jeckyl Mr Hyde mutant they call “Shippies”.
“That wipe-out in particular was super violent, I just covered my head and hoped I didn’t hit the bottom” Matthews recalled at home in Maroubra, Australia. “That wave was so insane, I thought I’d made it to the bottom then it stepped out on me, I barely handled the first bump and tried to hold my line in the barrel as it warped again. I knew I was gone but tried to hang on, next thing I was upside down getting so smashed I thought the power of the wave was going to rip me in half” Mark reflected.
“I’m honoured to win the award, its just cool to be recognized amongst the best big wave guys in the world regardless of the accolade”. “I’m donating the money I won to Sion Molosky’s wife and children. I got to know Si really well during the late season in Hawaii this year, we surfed Waimea a bunch together. It’s so sad to see such a nice guy lose his life and leave a widow and 2 young children. Giving them the cash is the least I could do”
Mark who recently signed a 5-year deal with O’Neill International is currently chasing Australia’s autumn swells and favorable conditions hunting the biggest waves the country has to offer. “ I love this time of year in Australia, there’s heaps of swell and epic conditions” Matthews said. “ And having O’Neill back me for the next 5 years is amazing, I can do what I love properly which is chasing and riding the biggest waves on the planet”.