It takes a lot to make a good surf contest but when they get it right, boy, is it a sight to behold.
So here are 10 surf contests you wish you’d been there to see – from the groundbreaking (and since discontinued) 1995 Grajagan Pro in Java and Mexico’s Barra De La Cruz to Code Red Teahupoo, flawless France and the recent heroics of J Bay and Tahiti.
Quiksilver Pro, G-Land, 1995 (Winner: Kelly Slater)
Widely hailed as the beginning of the ‘Dream Tour’ era, the 1995 Quiksilver Pro G-Land lifted the sport out of the monotonous corporate-era grovel-off style contests and into the mind-boggling perfection every well-travelled surfer knew was out there.
It was won by a 22 year old Kelly Slater, who beat a field of greats including Rob Machado, Shane Dorian, Tom Carroll and many more to claim victory. Some will argue the ensuing event in 1997, won by Luke Egan, featured as good, if not better waves.
Mountain Dew Pipe Masters, Hawaii, 2000 (Winner: Rob Machado)
Contest directors watched Pipe pump for days on end at a perfect six to eight foot without running the contest in 2000. This should give you some idea of how hard they scored that year.
A beast of a swell had been predicted for the end of the waiting period and contest director, Randy Rarick’s decision to hold off would be spectacularly vindicated when Pipe erupted in flawless ten to 12 foot conditions for the finals.
Californian Rob Machado broke through for his first Pipe Masters victory, following his defeat in the classic bro-down with Kelly in 1995.
Rip Curl Pro Search, Barra De La Cruz, 2006 (Winner: Andy Irons)
“The wave is unbelievable. It’s bound to be one of those waves everyone talks about,” said Kelly Slater, rather presciently, following the events of the Rip Curl Pro Search contest held at mindless Barra De La Cruz in 2006.
Eight years on, pro surfers today are required to pay a fee of $800 US dollars to local mafia figures if they want to film or shoot themselves surfing the now inundated right points of southern Mexico.
Back in that original contest, the surfing world had watched with eyes the size of dinner plates as Taj Burrow got the world’s longest, thickest sand-bottom drainer and Andy Irons gouged, tubed, and punted his way to a memorable victory.
Billabong Pro J Bay, South Africa, 2009 (Winner: Joel Parkinson)
It was a freak occurrence that gave us the best J Bay seen in 20 years for the Billabong Pro 2009.
Just prior to the contest, a giant storm ripped a huge amount of sand from the back beach and spread it evenly across the reef at J Bay, plugging the holes, and creating the most insanely roping right-hander imaginable.
It wasn’t since houses were built along the point, stopping the natural sand flow out to the point, that this had happened.
Joel Parkinson took the event with one of the most masterful displays of flowing point break surfing ever seen, equal to, if not better than, Tom Curren in his heyday.
Billabong Pro Teahupoo, Tahiti, 2011 (Winner: Kelly Slater)
Kelly Slater might have won the event but 2011 will be remembered as the year the entire top 35 stood up.
In what were widely hailed as the heaviest waves ever seen for a World Tour contest, those competitors still remaining in the event bravely accepted the challenge to take to the water, just one day after the unprecedented Code Red swell.
Kelly excelled of course but waves ridden by Owen Wright, Jeremy Flores and Matt Wilkinson, among others were ranked among the most memorable in ASP history.