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An Island at Mount Bachelor: Gerry Lopez’ Big Wave Challenge 2017

When I returned to my assigned window seat before a 6:40 am departure, a boy in his late teens had commandeered it and redistributed my belongings—my pillow and boarding passes on the floor, headphones and sunglasses in a seatback pocket, and my mint-chocolate RXBAR to the man in the row ahead, which he was now eating. I half-acknowledged his half-hearted apology.

When I landed in Los Angeles, I waited for a terminal-to-terminal shuttle that came too late. I arrived at the gate for Redmond, Oregon, as the American Airlines attendant shut the door in my face and told me I could catch the same flight tomorrow. Not a chance I was going to spend 24 hours in the hectic hell by the acronym LAX, and three airports later I touched down in Oregon.

The next morning everything was different. I asked the guys at Mount Bachelor's rental counter if I could borrow a screwdriver to mount my bindings; they cleared a space and handed me a number three Phillips and a tape measure. The woman at the retail store obliged without hesitation when I asked sheepishly if I could use the outlet behind the desk to charge my camera battery. Outside, I watched a liftie greet two snowboarders with a smile as they hopped over a railing and into the maze to avoid walking an extra 100 feet or so.

I imagine it is this ubiquitous laid-back, welcoming mentality that drew perhaps surfing's greatest legend to the landlocked oasis that is Bend and its adjacent ski area—not resort—Mount Bachelor. In 2012, approximately two decades after relocating from Hawaii to Oregon, Gerry Lopez created a snowboard event that embodies this spirit—what I feel like an awkward haole typing and he would refer to as "aloha."

The Big Wave Challenge falls into a similar vein of snowboard competition as a banked slalom: young, old, intermediate, and professional snowboarders ride the same course; it's not televised; the awards ceremony takes place in the cafeteria of a lodge; it favors those with edge control; numbers go on your leg; and it is a gathering of snowboarding's dedicated community. But unlike a banked slalom, Big Wave isn't timed and riders aren't allotted a set amount of runs but rather lap as many times as they're able during their division's heat, which I believe are the two pivotal separators in the vibe that pervades at the top of this course and, say, Baker during the Slalom.

Similar to LBS, however, is the eclectic crowd that the Big Wave Challenge draws, with riders coming from around the country and even the world to slash, carve, and air their way through the transition-laden course. A strong contingent of snowboarders from Japan demonstrates some of the most ocean-influenced riding seen at the event.

Judged on style above all else, the Big Wave Challenge is what most every other contest is not. Ample acknowledgements are awarded by Gerry, himself, honoring various approaches to the single course. The event this year honored influential park builder and founder of Park Raker, Pat Melondoski, who, as Gerry puts it, has recently dealt with "one of the biggest waves life could throw at you."—a brain tumor. Hardship of this magnitude reminds us how lighthearted an activity snowboarding is, even when it involves an element of competition—that it shouldn't be a cause for stress or anxiety. And come to think of it, neither should someone eating your snack on an airplane. It's 2017, and we've got bigger problems to work out.

Results:

Men’s Pro
1. Max Warbington
2. Phil Hansen
3. Scotty James

Wahine’s
1. Colleen Quigley
2. Marie France Roy
3. Erica Vikander


Makule’s
1. Allister Schultz
2. Gabe Tripplet
3. Jason Shutz

Keiki’s
1. Alder Butsch
2. Jack Guthrie
3. Cole Vales

Surfers
1. Chris Christenson
2. Jason Murry
3. Joe Curren

Gerry Lopez Award
1. Hidehiko Wajima
2. Yo Amagai
3. Chandler Kane

Pat Malendoski Award
Todd Kirby

Wipeout
Adam Short
Frankie Bilello

Best Layback
Josh Dirksen
Takanori Nagata

Plumbers Crack Award
Dane Gadauskas

Best Skate Style
Nora Beck
Elijah Pyle

Best Slash
Jorden Freitas
Marissa Kraw

Best Carve
Naoya Wada
Alex Yoder

Best Spin
Randal Seaton
Kent Callister

Best 360 Carve
David Marx
Tanya Zarling

Biggest Air
Jared Elston
Guy Young
Tucker Andrews

Backdoor Pipeline
Forest DeVore

Best Surf Style
Barret Christy Cummings
Yoneyama Katsunori
Kazushi Yamauchi #orangeman

Most Creative Line
Brock Crouch
Jonny Sischo

Most Aloha
Hayden McCallister

Most Fun
Allison Allen

Gerry Lopez dedicated the event to his close friend and influential Bend resident Pat Malendoski, who underwent surgery to remove a brain tumor.