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Billabong XXL Awards celebrate big-wave surfing

March 21, 2014|By Stacey Leasca

What’s it like to stare down a 78-foot wave? It's really no big deal.

Or so big-wave legend Garrett McNamara claims. “I got desensitized by riding so many big waves that I don't really get a rush anymore,” McNamara said with a laugh, adding, “I’m hoping I get the rush someday when I find a big enough wave.”

It's hard to tell if he's kidding because McNamara has ridden many of the world’s largest waves. So many that it’s hard to keep track of all his record-setting rides.

PHOTOS: Billabong salutes big waves

McNamara currently holds the Guinness World Record for largest wave ever ridden at 78 feet, set in 2011. In 2013, McNamara beat his own record when he rode what is believed to be a 100-foot wave off the coast of Portugal (video, above), although the height of the wave has yet to be confirmed. It's a record even McNamara finds hard to believe. He said he'd always searched for 100-foot waves -- and seeing them is "an amazing sight ... like finding the holy grail.”

Big-wave surfing has become a lot, well, bigger, over the years, thanks to surfing celebrities such as McNamara and with a little help from sponsors like Billabong. 

This year marks the 14th annual Billabong XXL Awards, which celebrates the insane people who willingly paddle into waves larger than many buildings.

The awards are handed out in several divisions of crazy, including the $50,000 ride of the year, biggest paddle, best tube, and there's even one for the XXL wipeout of the year.

"This was clearly the most outrageous year for extreme big waves in the 14 years of the Billabong XXL Awards," event director Bill Sharp said in a news release. He said this era in surfing history will be remembered as a “time when nature provided a grand stage for the world's best big wave surfers to make global headlines taking on the swells produced by some of the most intense storms on record.”

McNamara is the proud owner of at least 10 XXL awards, including his 2012 wins in biggest wave, ride of the year and, most notably, wipeout of the year.

Sharp noted in the release that the waves, and the athletes, have helped catapult this extreme sport into the limelight like never before, something McNamara can attest to.

McNamara said some of his more recent fan mail had come from “the most unlikely places,” often hundreds of miles inland. “It’s just been so amazing and exciting to see so many new people interested in surfing.”

Looking to get into big-wave riding? McNamara advises you first research your waves, become an expert risk technician, sew some flotation devices to your wetsuit and only try what’s comfortable for you. He doesn’t believe in taking risks and doesn't even consider himself an adrenaline junkie.

“I don't jump out of planes, I don't ride horses, I won't swim with sharks. I’m not a thrill seeker," McNamara said. "I just do what I am comfortable doing and put all the safety in place.”

One last piece of advice from the champ: Find a surfing mentor. If you don’t know one, McNamara is offering to be your own personal surfing Yoda. He responds to as many fan questions as possible on his Instagram account.

Find out who will take home this year’s ride of the year when Billabong holds its XXL awards ceremony May 2 at at the Grove Theater in Anaheim.

stacey.leasca@latimes.com

@Sleasca

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