XXL Trouble

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Trouble on the party bus: Rusty Long and crew.
Trouble on the party bus.

By Taylor Paul

Photos by Jeff Flindt

It began in front of Rusty Long’s house, with a rented red double-decker bus at the curb and a green limo in the driveway. The limo wasn’t rented; Rusty and his roommates own it so they don’t have to search for taxis. Digression (you can expect a lot of that). It’s nine am after a night that didn’t end (for me at least — everyone else probably kept going) until about four. I am scrambled like the eggs I’m gonna eat once I finish this. I will douse them in Tabasco.

Control. Control. Rusty Long’s driveway. Pre-gaming for the Billabong XXL Big Wave Awards. There are so many big-wave surfers here. I will name some of them: Rusty, Greg, Ramon, Sion, Healey, Twiggy, Kohl Christensen, Gary Linden, Ryan Seelbach, Colin Dwyer, Travis Payne. Understand, though, that these guys are very popular, so there were many more people. Girlfriends, friends, family, strangers. When we got on the bus, both of its decks were overflowing with beautiful bodies. Greg Long said to me, “I don’t know a lot of these people.” We almost couldn’t leave ‘cause there were too many people. Then we almost couldn’t leave cause the bus was a piece of trash. A charming piece of trash.

Due to overflow from the bus, the green limo had to be taken. And there was a black limo too. I remember that distinctly ‘cause it raced ahead of us, pulled over on the side of the freeway, and Healey and co. (I think) stood on the roof and mooned us.

On the bus, there wasn’t just people; there was excessive tequila and Tecate. I knew this going into it, so I slammed bladder-sized servings of water before the boozing started. I also knew going into it that there was no bathroom on the bus. And we were leaving at rush hour bound for Los Angeles. And there was an Angels/Yankees game. And our bus maxed at thirty-five. Thirty-five.

I eventually broke the seal by peeing in an empty tequila bottle. Some people were grossed out, and those same people were peeing in bottles later. By the time we got to Anaheim, guys were manually opening the electronic doors at stop-lights and peeing, then opting to walk the rest of the way.

Walking meant navigating hoards of Yankee fans and Angels fans and scalpers (“I need tickets!”). Then upon arriving at The Grove Theatre, the scene switched from baseball to big waves. XXL big waves, to be precise. The Billabong XXL Big Wave Awards presented by Monster Energy.

At the awards entrance, you have to get past the wristband police (blue means you’re in, white means you’re at a table. I started with a blue, then SURFING Editor Travis Ferre gave me a white, then Anthony Tashnick gave me a red rubber one with magnets on it), before reaching an outside lounge area. Couches. Red carpets. There are posters everywhere of people riding double ex el waves. Everyone lingers and socializes and looks all hot. There are heat lamps so they can feel how they look. I cannot stress enough how good everyone looks, and by everyone, I mean the girls. This is like the Oscars for the wives and girlfriends of the big-wave surfer dudes (my girlfriend called the awards show, “The Surfies”), so they get dolled. New dresses. Wavy hair. Shoes that could be used as stabbing devices. And the big-wave surfer girls themselves looked stunning. Maya, Bethany, Savanah, so hot right now.

After the outside lounge area you go into an inside lounge area. There are bars everywhere. There are famous people shaking hands and hugging. I give a big hug to Carlos Burle. He is the nicest person ever. Tonight he will be named the big-wave world champion. I double fist with a low-carb Monster and a beer. After shaking hands and kissing babies (Jamilah Starr brought hers) for 20 minutes or an hour, a voice (presumably God’s) comes over the loud speaker and says, “The awards are about to begin, please take your seat.” And most people don’t, ‘cause schmoozing is too much fun. Then they start the show. Many people remain and shmooze and watch it broadcast on TV.

The recap of the year is already playing when I go to the inside table area and try to find my seat. But it’s dark and I can’t see where the SURFING mag guys are, so I just sit in a random table in an empty seat so I’m not blocking people’s views. I am informed that I am sitting in Makua’s seat. He will be back soon. I take that to mean I can sit there until he returns or there is a brief intermission. But they remind me again that he is coming back so I just leave.

The recap was a collection of footage from the year, organized by the most memorable days. There were many memorable days this year, so it takes a while. When it’s over, Sal Masakela comes on stage to host the show. He is hilarious; self-deprecating and sarcastic.

The presentation of the awards is a mess, though. When Rory Russell announces the Monster Tube Award, the nominees for Best Performance by a Female come onscreen. Christian Fletcher introduces Sebastian Steudtner in the Biggest Wave category by saying, “And the winner is…the German who doesn’t paddle.” And when the German reaches the stage to accept the award, Fletcher mutters something about Hitler. They spend way too much time going through interviews about the biggest wave, when it’s clear that it is the dullest category (that a windsurfer won the award will reinforce to the surfing world that towing is not a game of skill). It takes a while for Occy to present his award because he is crooning, “We don’t neeeeeeeeeeeeeed…no more trouble.”

Besides the Fletcher incident, the slip-ups go unnoticed. Everyone is celebrating the end of a glorious winter. And celebrating their wins. Besides Steudtner, the awards are as follows: Shawn Dollar for Monster Paddle, Raimana van Bastolaer for Monster Tube, Brook Phillips for Wipeout of the Year, Twiggy for Ride of the Year, Shane Dorian for Overall Performance, Maya Gabeira for Women’s Overall Performance.

When the show lets out, everyone hangs. Greg Long lines 15 tequila shots, but hesitates when the bartender asks for payment. “What am I doing?” Greg asks himself. “Where’s Twiggy?”

Twiggy is across the room. He just won $50k. Greg finds him and returns with his credit card. This is what Greg and Twiggy and crew do when they win things: they spend a small fraction of their earnings buying other people booze.

The bus ride home takes forever (remember, thirty-five), but I don’t have to pee so much, and nap for a portion of it. The crew (a quarter of what we started the night with) return to Rusty’s for conversation and dancing. The 20 pizzas left over from the afternoon are devoured in a moment. I don’t get a slice and am sad about it. My girlfriend is also hungry, so we make for the exit. On our way out we see Greg and his lady Jessica. Greg won’t allow us to leave, and pulls us into a secret lair (someone’s room) where he has stashed one vegetarian and one Roman Orgy pizza. We sit and giggle at our good fortune, recap the night, and stuff our tummies with room-temperature slices.

Ken "Skindog" Collins and Keala Kennelly and a few pints of hair product.
Ken "Skindog" Collins and Keala Kennelly and a few pints of hair product.
This conversation was less important than Sean Moody getting a high-five.
Best Overall Male Performance winner Shane Dorian.
Grant "Twiggy" Baker (with scarf, right) makes the pre-show media rounds.
Hurley's Paul Gomez and Monster Energy's Eric Johnson: plaid brigade.
The inimitable Sherm shoots the intimidating Mark Healey.
Dimes on the floor, needing to be picked up.
SURFING's Jeff Flindt and Maui's Ian Walsh, not far from the bar.
"Ian, tell the people at home what it's like surfing Jaws."
Longtime XXL regular Makuakai Rothman did, in fact, return to his seat.
Occy and Paul Gomez.
Greg Long, Mark Healey and Shane Dorian. Steel nuggets.
Greg Long wins XXL awards more often than he doesn't.
Twiggy, two fists for Ride of the Year.
$50k buys a lot of scarves.
Kiss me, I'm South African! Twiggy wins again.
Party bus detritus post-XXL.
What now? Skindog greets the evening.
Two stories of trouble prepare to return to Orange County whence they came.
Twiggy exits The Grove with his hands full.
Until next year!