Billy Kemper remains the only surfer ever to have won the Pe'ahi Challenge, after yesterday claiming victory in the event for the second successive year. The first ever Women’s Pe’ahi Challenge was won by a dominant Paige Alms, after three of the six finalists failed to make it to the start line due to injuries sustained in the previous round.

If the contest never quite matched the excitement of last year, it was largely because the bar had been set 60 foot high. Yesterday the surf was medium-sized by Jaws standards, and the swell wasn’t hitting the reef at the necessary angle to produce consistently makeable barrels. Damien Hobgood successfully pig-dogged a criminally underscored tube in Round 1, but the next legit barrel wouldn’t be ridden until the final. Foremost among the shock early exits were last year’s finalists Albee Layer and Shane Dorian, arguably the two standout performers at Jaws in recent years.

Kemper, in t'pit. Photo: WSL / Tony Heff

But another name is making an increasingly strong case to be included in that conversation. Midway through the final, last year’s victor disappeared behind the curtain of one of the day’s more solid set waves, and reappeared to claim the day’s only 10. Kemper’s superior poise was in evidence again in the final seconds of the heat, when the Maui local dropped into a bomb, stalled with both hands, and pulled into a hefty section that opened, if only for a moment, its formidable jaws. Joe Turpel allowed a note of genuine excitement to creep into his voice. There was to be no exit, but the 9 point score rounded off an already impressive heat total and an emphatic performance.

Greg Long stands tall. PhotoL WSL / Tony Heff
Wolf in Lamb's clothing. Photo: WSL / Tony Heff

Greg Long surfed into second with a masterful, calculated display of big wave surfing, catching just two waves all final, each scoring in the high 8s. Grant “Twiggy" Baker’s third place finish, following on from his win at Puerto earlier this year, means he retains a slender lead over Long in the Big Wave Tour rankings. Nic Lamb, who made what was probably the drop of the day (above) in the semi-finals, took fourth.

Short Alms long pocket. Photo: WSL / Tony Heff

In the women’s, pre-event favourite Paige Alms faced disappointingly little resistance on the way to the win. Justine Dupont and Felicity Palmateer both surfed better in the opening round than in the final, where neither managed to make an impact. Keala Kennelly, who had looked like the woman most capable of challenging Alms, injured herself in Round 1 and had to be taken to hospital, where she was joined by fellow finalist Emily Erickson. Their injuries are not thought to be overly serious. Laura Enever, who suffered one of the days’ heaviest beatings in her opening heat, also sat the final out with an injury, though the CT competitor remained in the channel to watch.

Short Alms long pocket. Photo WSL / Tony Heff

In the final, a delighted Alms effectively had Jaws, the wave she’s dedicated so much of her career to, all to herself. She not only out-surfed her two opponents but also took by far the greater risks, and was rewarded with several gruelling wipeouts in addition to a well-deserved victory.