In front of a standing-room-only crowd at The Grove in Anaheim, Calif., Nathan Fletcher humbly accepted his XXL Award for Ride of the Year for his historic wave at Teahupoo. Fletcher stood at podium with a complete loss for something to say about the ride he was towed into by Makua Rothman on Aug. 27.
"When you catch a wave like this they don't give you public speaking lessons," said Fletcher, stammering while digging in his pocket for his notes.
Public speaking lessons or not, he was still more insightful and honest than the celebrity presenter who said, "This is like a big-wave rodeo." What does that even mean?
"Nathan should win because anybody that can survive what he did deserves Ride of the Year," said Garrett McNamara, who was also in contention for the award and earlier in the night won top prize for a world-record 78-foot wave he was towed into off the coast of Portugal on Nov. 1.
But the night belonged to Fletcher, who also won the Monster Tube of the Year Award and the Surfline Performance Award. A bit awestruck by all the fanfare, when he won the Monster Tube Award at the beginning of the show he was nowhere to be seen. Guest presenters Dave Grohl and his band Chevy Metal [which included some of his Foo Fighters bandmates] heckled him for a while before proud papa Herbie Fletcher stepped to the podium: "This is the most radical thing I've ever seen, man."
Finally, Fletcher found his way to the stage, mumbled a few words and quickly got out of the spotlight, clearly more comfortable nearly getting his head ripped off at Teahupoo than standing in front of so many surfers, cling-ons and industry muckety-mucks.
Fletcher's onstage act improved only slightly when he won the Performance Award: "I was going to the restroom and they called my name again."
And therein lies the beauty of Nathan Fletcher, he's as roots as they come. As he explained how his wave at Teahupoo changed his life, tears streamed down his cheeks. His gratitude and appreciation didn't need an articulate speech, his pursuit of his passion spoke loud enough.
But maybe it was Greg Long who summed it up best when talking about his Puerto Escondido wave that was up for the paddle-in award: "It only takes one wave to change your life."
Twelve years in and the XXL Awards, and big-wave surfing as a whole, continue to flourish. Best-selling books have been written, movies have been made and, tragically, a few lives have been lost along the way. For as corny as it sounds, more than ever the 2012 XXL Awards seemed to bring this unique fraternity of the surf world together to celebrate what the sport is all about: riding waves. (In this case they just happen to be particularly large waves.)
Critics will always say these men and women are just adrenaline junkies, or that the XXL Awards put cash prizes and editorial glory ahead of etiquette or tradition, but that's kind of missing the point. David Wassel, who won the Paddle Award for the 53-footer he tamed at Jaws with his bare hands, put it to those watching live and via webcast, "Honestly, I don't know any of you people, but I have to thank you because 20 years ago when I started all this, nobody cared."
Today people legitimately care. You don't get the Foo Fighters, Greg "Da Bull" Noll, a couple of Playboy bunnies, Tito Ortiz and Tony Hawk to show up on the same night without having some kind of cachet. And best of all, as is always the case at the XXL Awards, next year could be even crazier.
"When I rode that wave it was just a warm-up," McNamara said. "I had my mind on something much bigger."
Ride of the Year Award: Nathan Fletcher
Billabong XXL Biggest Wave: Garrett McNamara
Monster Energy Paddle Award: David Wassel
Monster Energy Monster Tube Award: Nathan Fletcher
Verizon Wipeout Award: Garrett McNamara
Surfline Men's Performance Award: Nathan Fletcher
Billabong Women's Performance Award: Maya Gabiera