"It looks pretty damn good actually" Said Twig before paddling out. Which, as it turned out was the right frame of mind to go on and win the thing. South Africa's Grant "Twiggy" Baker is the champion of the Arnette Punta Galea Challenge, held in the Basque Country, Spain. The first ever European event on the Big Wave World Tour proper.
You can catch-up on archived stream of the whole event HERE.
A classy day of surfing on the Xpreshon Big Wave World Tour saw a large NW Atlantic swell pump consistent waves into Punta Galea Harbour, with surfers calling the waves in the 20ft range. This magic stretch of coastline is littered with standout big wave spots and hidden corners and you can bet it wasn't just the BWWT surfers drinking greedily from this swell.
Twig Baker is renowned for being a devilish mix of out-and-out talent combined with a healthy dose of savvy and he showed that out at Punta. The 40-year-of-age from Durban in South Africa, controlled the 45 minute final from start to finish utilising perfect positioning and taking the biggest and best waves to finish with a near perfect score of 29.01 out of a possible 30.
What a day for me, it just got better each heat and in the final I felt like I actually peaked and it just worked out perfectly. This wave surprised us. It is a legitimate big wave in the world of big wave surfing and we all really enjoyed the challenge. Grant Baker.
Today's win sees Baker leading the Big Wave World Tour rankings for this season and well positioned to win this year's Xpreshon Big Wave World Tour Title.
"It's my aim to try and win the Big Wave World Tour Title, and today's win certainly has me well placed, but there are three events to go and I really have to focus on each event and be ready for when they might run."
Finishing second and third and not far behind Baker were USA/Santa Cruz pair Nic Lamb, 2nd place on a final tally of 28.21 and Ken Collins on 24.87 in 3rd.
"I would have love to have won today and I think it got down to Baker's last wave where he was in a slightly better position than myself to catch that wave" said 25-year-old Lamb.
"I'm still happy with second. Ken (Collins) and myself are here representing Santa Cruz and to place 2nd and 3rd sees us both well in touch on the world rankings and I'm looking forward to the next three events, two of which are on our home coastline in North America - Mavericks and Oregon."
Punta Galea offered an amazing spectacle for the large crowds, estimated above 10,000, who lined the picturesque 400 meter cliff face that overlooks the break in an amazing natural auditorium setting.
Local Basque surfer, Adur Letamendia, from nearby Zarautz was the highest placed European making the final and placing 4th ahead of Ramon Navarro from Chile and David Bustamante (Basque/Spain). He's always out when the waves get XXL but nonetheless placing 4th was an incredible feat in the present company (David Bustamante included).
Australian waterman Jamie Mitchell placed 7th overall, narrowly missing the final when he was edged out in his semifinal by Navarro.
The water safety team were kept extremely busy all day with numerous snapped leashes and a particularly dangerous inside rocky section to the break. One such incident saw rider and ski come to grief on the rocky point (see pictures). Apart from that, the day was managed superbly by competitors and organisers.
Arnette Punta Galea Challenge Results
1st Grant Baker (South Africa/Durban) 29.01
2nd Nic Lamb (USA/Santa Cruz) 28.21
3rd Ken Collins (USA/Santa Cruz) 24.87
4th Adur Latamendia (Spain/Zarautz) 23.57
5th Ramon Navarro (Chile) 14.34
6th David Bustamante (Spain) 0.00
Three event locations remain on the Xpreshon Big Wave World Tour: Mavericks in California, Oregon and Todos Santos (Mexico) with a waiting period through to March 31st.