After lashing the Midwest and Northeast of the USA with record snow and cold, the low pressure system dubbed “Winter Storm Hercules” by American media outlets chugged out across the Atlantic Ocean, where extraordinary weather observations were recorded including sustained winds of 92 knots on a high-seas oil platform and satellite-measured significant wave heights exceeding 62 feet. Surfline.com forecasters described it as an “exceptionally impressive storm in a month of impressive storms,” and top big wave riders from around the world deployed throughout the region in hopes of scoring the greatest waves of their lives.
While it appeared that the Hercules storm technically had all the ingredients to theoretically produce the long-discussed 100-foot wave face — if the biggest swells hit just the right reef with the right conditions — that elusive breakthrough did not occur this time around. Some breaks were too stormy, and the peak of the swell arrived in darkness overnight. Nonetheless, some excellent rides and outrageous wipeouts where put on the board, and perhaps more amazing photos of the ocean’s fury were snapped than ever in world history. Many images can be viewed now on the XXL FB page, and the top entries will be added to the Billabong XXL.com event site in the coming days.
Some of the highlights of the Hercules Experience included enormous empty waves in unexpected locations such as the Atlantic islands including the Azores and the Canaries. Ireland opened the surfing action with some wild rides at Mullaghmore Head in County Sligo, and while the famed wave over at Nazaré was obscenely gigantic (and closed to surfing by the Navy), the entire Portuguese coastline seemed on the verge of washing out to sea with many impressive photos and videos of nature’s capabilities being recorded.
Many eyes were drawn to Belharra Reef, France, near the Spanish border in the Bay of Biscay, where the winds were expected to be lighter and the ocean’s oscillations groomed from churning seas down to powerful long-period groundswells. A group of the best big wave riders in the world flew in for the occasion, including South African Grant “Twiggy” Baker, Australian Jamie Mitchell and Hawaiian Shane Dorian, with the thought of paddling into the biggest waves ever caught without a jet ski. And while the all-star crew was fully prepared for anything, the swell peaked in the dark overnight and ultimately only a few solid waves were conquered on the day. Mitchell caught the biggest wave that came in, but was not able to complete the ride successfully, parting ways with his surfboard halfway down the massive face. It is still being regarded as one of the biggest waves ever attempted and Mitchell’s reputation (already substantial as the greatest paddleboard racer of all time) grew ever larger with the effort.
The European rides will join earlier XXL event entries from Chile, Peru, South Africa, Tahiti, Tasmania, Mexico and Hawaii as the peak months for wave action in the North Atlantic and Pacific are just now arriving. The annual event period for the competition runs through the end of winter, with the nominees in seven categories announced in late March. The Annual Billabong XXL Big Wave Awards will take place at the Grove Theater in Anaheim, California on May 2, 2014 where over $120,000 in prize money will be awarded to this year’s champions.