The Ride of the Year award had loomed large for the entirety of the show. Between each presentation, each surfer was depicted in a short film, self-narrating the day and the moment they caught that memorable wave that had brought them to this nomination.
And then, in a sort of poetic irony, the night came full circle: Greg Long, who so humbly passed his Title to the new BWWT No. 1 Grant Baker (ZAF) in the show's opening moments, was announced as the winner for Ride of the Year.
2012/2013 defending BWWT Champion, Long took third at Mavericks and second in Oregon. His most notorious wave, however, came at Puerto Escondido, leading to tonight's Ride of the Year victory.
Biggest Wave Winner: Galtier Garnax
While Jaws and Mavericks are well-known hunting grounds for monstrous rides, but there was an even draw this year in big wave success between Pacific and European waters. Four of the five nominations for Biggest Wave came from either Nazare or Jaws, but it was the wave in Belharra and the rider from France, Galtier Garnax, that would take the award.
Garnax blew down a 62-footer in the Northern Basque terrain. He is only the second Frenchman to win an XXL Award since: Makua Rothman won on the same surf in the third XXL Awards in 2003.
Surfline Best Overall Performance Award Winner: Grant "Twiggy" Baker
The man, the myth and the legend, Greg Noll took the stage to present the Surfline Best Overall Performance Award. "They're a lot nicer than the guys in my day," he said with total sincerity.
And you didn't miss him too much did you? Twiggy made the short walk back to the podium to accept his second Overall Performance XXL Award. Baker won in 2009 for a 68-foot monster at Tafelberg Reef.
"Someone asked me today if I'm afraid of big wave surfing. I can't be afraid." Looking over at Noll he said, "Imagine the guys that found these spots."
Paddle Award Winner: Mark Healey (HAW)
Alex Gray, current No. 4 on the BWWT rankings, welcomed the "jet ski is dead" crowd as he introduced the nominees for the Paddle Award. Images of Jaws, Mavericks and Sunset showed surfers catching waves big enough for most to question whether or not it would be humanly possible to do so without the aid of a watercraft.
Mark Healey won for a 52-foot wave ridden at Jaws.
"Within all these people is a warrior," Healey said. "I see what you do and in the water and I will always respect you."
Wipeout Winner: Koa Rothman (HAW)
With pummel after pummel, from Mavericks to Tahiti and Belharra, flashing on the big screen, the schadenfreude was in full effect for the presentation of this year's Wipeout nominees.
Victorious--I guess you can say--was Koa Rothman, fresh off his best Tube award.
Women's Performance Winner: Keala Kennelly (HAW)
Women's big wave has taken a huge leap in the amount of recognition it gets and the awe its athletes inspire in their onlookers and peers. In the opening "around-the-world" sequence, the crowd erupted as a thin surfer with a bleach blonde faux hawk emerging from the spit of a thick curl in Tahiti.
Winning the Women's Performance Award tonight gives Kennelly back-to-back victories at the XXL Awards, her third total. It also puts her ahead of inaugural winner Jamilah Star (HAW) who won back-to-back in 2005 and 2006.
Only three women have won the award in the 10 years it's been given, Star, Kennelly and fellow nominee Maya Gabeira (BRA). Gabeira has won five total.
Tube Winner: Koa Rothman
Biggest Wave nominee Ian Walsh (HAW) walked up to the podium dawning a suit, tie and lei to announce the winner of the Tube Award. Koa Rothman was by far the fan favorite, a large cheer echoing through the concert hall as the now-notorious photograph of the Oahu native slimly framed by a massive wave in Teahupoo centered on the big screen.
So, of course, the crowd erupted when Walsh read out the winner. Rothman skipped up to the stage, calmed his nerves long enough to thank his sponsors and family, looked at the big fake check and said this was his dream.
2012/2013 BWWT Champion: Grant "Twiggy" Baker (ZAF)
In the name of brotherhood, last year's Billabong XXL Champion Greg Long strolled onto the stage to pass the torch to the 2012/2013 Champion Grant "Twiggy" Baker.
After Twiggy bookended the 2009 BWWT season with a first place opener and a fifth place final event in Todos Santos, the South African slowly drifted down to the bottom rankings of big wave surfers. He's admitted the presence of surfers like Long and Shane Dorian (HAW) who, in the 2010/2011 and 2011/2012 seasons continued to perform at the top, made it difficult to stand out in those years.
But last season, something lit a fire and Baker devoted his life entirely, he says, to big waves. Maybe it was the heartbreak of losing. Or maybe it was being dropped by his sponsor in July 2013. Whatever it was, it led to Big Wave history.