Big-wave surfer Jamie Sterling is about to accept one of the sport’s biggest accolades; on Saturday, April 30th he’ll be officially crowned the 2010/’11 Big Wave World Champion. Sterling’s fellow competitors will join the organizers of the Big Wave World Tour (BWWT) at The Surfing Heritage Foundation in San Clemente, California to honor his performances at tour events this past season.
Normally a five-stop series, the BWWT – now celebrating only its second season – was cut short to three in 2010/’11 and Jamie made the final round in all of them, winning the Pico Alto event in Peru in August. Being a big-wave event, conditions need to be firing full-bore to issue “the call” to local and international competitors, and this season’s events at Mavericks in Half Moon Bay, California and Todos Santos in Ensenada, Mexico failed to meet the minimum wave requirements.
Like his compatriots, Sterling travels the world – often at a moment’s notice – to find the best conditions for big-wave surfing, and it’s often not in the sun-drenched, flip-flop weather traditionally associated with surfing. Jamie’s wet suits are as vital as his boards, as you can see in his Lake Superior session in the video below.
We caught up with Jamie as he made his swing through SoCal for the awards ceremony and asked him about the title, psyching up for competition and chasing the perfect wave.
Before this season started, what did you think of your chances to win the title?
I thought my chances were pretty high because it’s been a goal and dream of mine for many years, so I’ve been working really hard for it for a long time.
Did you do any special preparation for this season’s events?
It’s been a lot of hard work, a lot of surfing and traveling around the world, gaining knowledge of all these waves by surfing them for years now. Training and focusing on being the world champ paid off.
How important is it to you to win this title?
It’s very important; it’s one of the biggest goals in my surfing career. To win this tour was my main goal last year, so I’m very stoked that I set out to do it and I actually did it.
The waiting period can be pretty long for the BWWT events; how much warning do the competitors get when the event is actually a go?
They give us two to three days to get there from anywhere in the world. If I can see that the swell is going to be a good one, I may just go even if they haven’t called it yet. More than likely, they’ll end up having it. I may even plan to spend a few weeks at the venue during the height of the season, so sometimes it works out that I’m already in the area so I’m already in synch.
"It was way in the negatives; I’d never endured anything that cold in my life." -Jamie
What are the best and worst things about chasing big waves around the world?
The best thing is that it’s always been my dream to do what I’m doing. Doing what you love is a special thing that not many people get to do, so right there, it’s great. The worst things are… Last-minute plane tickets around the world are really expensive. You get a lot of anxiety and butterflies that run through you days and hours before you actually get to paddle out; it can be pretty nerve-wracking. The worst is losing your friends on those big days; sometimes friends die doing what we love to do.
After surfing so many big waves around the world, are you able to enjoy surfing on a regular day?
I love surfing any waves – one foot to 75 feet, it’s all fun. Every day I’m out on my long board, short board, stand-up paddle - whatever type of board the conditions call for, I’m out there having fun.
How much gear do you have to haul around?
I’ve been traveling to a lot of these destinations for the last 15 years, so I have friends I stash equipment with. I bring in two or three new boards, new stuff we’ve been working on, with the old stuff for backup. It’s not like I’m traveling with ten boards, or even six anymore, because I’ve been doing it for so long.
It works out well, and the locals get to ride the boards too; you end up trading them for a place to stay or selling them for a good deal, and you kind of improve the surfing culture in those areas, because you’re leaving state-of-the-art equipment with a surfer who really wants to surf their waves, but they don’t have a shaper or the material to build a proper board.
How was the Minnesota session on Lake Superior?
That really came out of right field; I never thought I’d surf the Midwest. It was cool, something different. It was a pleasure to do something new and outside the box.
How did that compare, temperature-wise, to other spots you’ve surfed?
Hands down, that was another meaning of cold. It was way in the negatives; I’d never endured anything that cold in my life. I had the same butterflies I get when I surf big waves, but it was all about the cold weather.
What’s the strangest place you’ve surfed?
Probably that Minnesota trip, or the tidal bore in China. Those are things I never even dreamed would happen when I started out surfing. Definitely different (laughs).
How about the best?
Probably my home town, North Shore of Oahu. It just has a variety of the best waves in the world. It’s one of the more consistent places in the world; we’ve got waves for seven or eight months out of the year. Pristine tropical conditions, white sand beaches, and it’s where I grew up.
And the gnarliest?
Probably trying to paddle-surf Jaws on Maui, or towing in at Teahupoo in Tahiti.
What’s next on your calendar?
On May 8th, my baby boy named Cyrus is due to come into the world, so I’m going back home for that, then it’s back on the Tour. Chile will be the first event, so I’ll be heading there for a short trip after my son is born, then back home to hang with the family, then I’ll go to Mexico. I’ll be doing a surf camp in Rhode Island with some kids at the end of July, then the second stop of the tour in Peru. That’s pretty much the immediate future plans for me.
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