2019-20 Big Wave Tour Kicks Off At Pe’ahi, Haiku, Maui
On Thursday December 12th, the World Surf League’s Big Wave Tour kicked off in extraordinary fashion with its first event of the 2019-20 season at Pe’ahi (also known as Jaws) on Maui’s North Shore. The 2019 Jaws Big Wave Championship was green-lighted just two days prior to the competition, as a major run of XXL northwest swell coincided with excellent weather conditions.
Jaws lived up to its reputation as a premier big wave spot, consistently producing 30-50 foot barreling waves as the world’s top big wave riders—including ten women and twenty-four men—took to the water for the championship event. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was the Hawaiian surfers who fared the best of this brave bunch.
On the men’s side, Lucas Chianca of Brazil was the only non-Hawaiian to make it the championship heat, as Billy Kemper of Maui took home the crown for his fourth title at Jaws. Kemper, who competed at the 2019 Pipeline Invitational just days before the Jaws Challenge, scored a 7.8 on a barreling 35-foot wave in the final heat to put himself ahead of fellow Hawaiians Ian Walsh (2nd place), Nathan Florence (3rd place), Kai Lenny (4th place), and Makua Rothman (5th place).
For the women, it was savvy veteran Paige Alms from Maui who brought home the title, making it her third career win at Jaws. Although Alms caught just one wave during the women’s championship heat, her 6.1 score was enough to edge out Felicity Palmeeter of Australia (2nd place), and eighteen-year-old Annie Reickert of Hawaii (3rd place). After Reickert, it was 2018 Jaws Challenge winner Keala Kenelly of Kauai, who earned a fourth place finish, while Emily Erickson (HAW) and Michaela Frigonese (BRA) finished in fifth and sixth place respectively.
With massive surf comes epic wipeouts, and the 2019 Jaws event was no exception. By far, the best wipeout of the competition came from Jamie Mitchell, who fell from the top of a 30-footer only to be sucked back over the falls and pinned to the rocky sea-bottom. Fortunately, Mitchell made it back to the surface where he was eventually rescued by Hawaiian Water Patrol.
The next WSL Big Wave event of the 2019-20 season will be the Nazare Tow Surfing Challenge in Portugal and will be greenlighted only when the waves are a consistent 25 feet minimum with favorable weather conditions.