Maya Gabeira in Cape Town Red Bull Photofiles

The 2010/2011 big wave season expanded from the North Pacific and El Nino to international waves that featured massive tow-in days off West Australian reefs and barrier-breaking paddle sessions at Peahi. Even waves in Ireland roared - waves that up until now very few people knew even existed - and there were also contenders off the French and California coasts. All of which makes the 2011 Billabong XXL Awards so absolutely riveting.

All eyes will be on Maya Gabeira as she contends for a monumental record fifth consecutive Performance Award, conceivably asserting her dominance on the big-wave world still further.

“It is an honor, and it means so much,” says Maya. “All of the girls nominated are a huge inspiration and so talented.”

On the men’s side, this year we find icons like Shane Dorian and Mark Healey in the mix, but also worthy of note is the continued emergence of a diverse international scene. Both Ireland and France are boasting some very worthy contenders, as are seldom seen corners of the Southern Hemisphere.

The Year of the Paddle

But more than anything, this year might be considered the "Year Of The Paddle.” The "Ride Of The Year" category boasts its share of fuel injection, but the trending of the category away from jet skis and toward good old-fashioned paddle power has continued, unabated.

One needs to look no further than the beast that Dorian stroked into at Jaws on March 15 to illustrate the point. For so long, the infamous Maui lineup has been choked with exhaust, but as Dorian and Ian Walsh proved this winter, it can be paddled successfully.

And while it's easy to celebrate the heroics of all these mammoth waves, the end of the big-wave season was marred by the tragic loss of Hawaii's Sion Milosky, who drowned surfing Maverick's on March 17.

Nominated for both a Paddle Award and the Best Overall Performance award, Milosky is the first person in XXL history to be nominated posthumously. The 35-year-old leaves behind a loving wife and two young daughters. Already the blogosphere is campaigning for Milosky, honoring the life he lived, and in the true spirit of big-wave brotherhood, the community has pulled together to help support his family during these tough times.

Winners will be announced at the Billabong XXL Big Wave Awards at the Grove Theater in Anaheim, California, on April 29, 2011.

Follow Maya and Red Bull on Twitter for more updates and exclusive info.

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