The most immediate feeling swirling through Albee Layer after winning Taylor Steele's Innersection free surfing contest was relief. Steele and the Innersection crew flew to Maui on Wednesday to personally congratulate the 20-year-old and award him the $100,000 first place prize.
Right now Layer's tentative plans for the money is to take his friend, Dege O'Connell, on a surf trip and to start a lunch truck with his boys on Maui. While the big payday was a blessing, Layer was more stoked on living up to the hype from his hometown crowd.
"The biggest feeling so far is a sense of relief because I felt like I didn't want to let anybody down," said Layer. "My friends, family and everyone on Maui: It just seemed like a lot of people expected me win, so it was kind of a lot of pressure and it felt so good to live up to everybody's expectations."
Layer and Mr. Pipeline, Jamie O'Brien, were the frontrunners to win the internet-based surf video competition. JOB's section was filled with perfect barrels, huge-rotating airs and featured several international locations (Bali, Indo, Mexico, Micronesia and others). Layer's segment on the other hand, was shot mostly in Maui -- except for brief appearances of Tahitian and Fijian tubes. Perhaps, it was the Maui boys charging at home that got the Innersection voters' attention because those waves were windy and wild, especially the huge paddle-in session at Pe'ahi.
"I think it was pretty big one," explained Layer when asked about the significance of the Pe'ahi clips. "Because I had some alright air stuff, but a lot of guys can do airs. I think that wave [at Pe'ahi] and that one big left made it more different than a lot of the other [Innersection] parts. There are very few spots in the world with waves like that, so I think it definitely helped a lot."
Last year, Layer's best friend, Matt Meola, won the inaugural Innersection. It was a huge motivator for him and fueled his desire to win this year.
"Matt winning last year definitely lit a fire for me to get inspired and do my best and take the trips," admitted Layer. "His mom, too [Nancy Meola], she helps manage us and that played a big part in this thing working out the way it did."
With Meola and Layer's Innersection wins, there is one burning question in the surf community's collective mind: Does Maui produce the best free surfers?