Exclusive interviews with the Queen of Freestyle, Sarah-Quita Offringa, Ireland’s big wave surfer, Finn Mullen, and the legendary Jason Polakow

As promised here are the exclusive interviews with some of the remaining winners. Enjoy the interviews below:

Sarah-Quita Offringa (Starboard / Gaastra / Chris Benz / Mystic / Maui Ultra Fins), winner of the Women’s Best Freestyle Move of the Year for her awesome toad.

How many times have you done that move before?

I've been doing Toads for about 3 years now. It's one of my favourite moves when it's very windy so I have done it quite a lot of times!

In your opinion, from 1 to 10, how difficult is it to learn?

It depends on the conditions you're sailing in. It's definitely harder on flat water than it is in more wavy conditions.

It did take me a while to master but once I got it I was able to stick them regularly

On a scale from 1 to 10 I would give it a 7.

What do you recommend to a sailor that wants to practice new freestyle moves?

I would recommend watching other sailors that can already do the move or watch clips (repeatedly) where you see how the move should be done correctly.

A really good way to progress as well is filming yourself so you understand where you're going wrong. This really speeds up the learning process.

and of course... Don't give up! keep on trying. The feeling you get when you finally stick that move is indescribable!

And finally, what gear were you using?

I was sailing my 4.8 Pure and 91l Flare with a 16 cm Maui Ultra Tatystyle fin.

Finn Mullen (Starboard / Severne), winner of the Men’s Wipe Out of the Year.

Do you remember how you felt when you were on that wave?

There was just me out on my windsurfer and some friends tow surfing - we had all had some good waves - two of the five waves selected for the Billabong XXL final in 2012 were from that day so there was a lot of adrenaline flowing amongst us all :) The wind was dropping pretty fast and it was getting harder to position with the tow teams so I had to use the wave to get up to speed more. I'd had to let a good few go as the tow surfers were inside of me, a good one lined up but I could see it had a wall running on it and so I needed to be further down the peak than I was. To gain speed in lighter wind you have to use more of the wave's power so I had to be deeper but I knew it was going to be close to squeeze it past the barrel that Mullaghmore is famous for. As the wave lined up I could feel the cave forming, it's such a meaty tube there that it creates its own wind that sucks up the face, only this time it was literally sucking all the wind out of my sail as the tube was so big it was creating a wind shadow. As I began to set my rail for the bottom turn I could see I was going to get pitted but I had nowhere near enough power in my sail or speed to make it further down the line. Ejecting at Mullaghmore is not a decision you make lightly but I needed to get away from my gear as much as possible. Going over the falls there is never easy, it's a pretty violent experience, like being beaten up underwater while being cart wheeled blindfolded and holding your breath. It's hard to do but at that point you just have to relax as much as possible and accept you are going to be underwater out of control for a while until it lets you go and you can swim for the surface. People have been seriously hurt at Mullaghmore and I've broken my feet and ankles getting bounced off the bottom there so when you make it out all ok you're very grateful and this is why the break and the people who surf it will always have my maximum respect. Mullaghmore is like one of mother nature's best teachers and getting a wipeout  there is just like a hefty clip round the ear to remind you of your place.

Did you get many wipe outs that day or was this one, one of the few?

That was my only one, sometimes wipe outs can be just as memorable as the waves you catch so it's all good - you have to like them to some degree as its part and parcel of big waves, so you can't really expect to avoid them and certainly Mullaghmore is very unpredictable and hard to read as anyone who has surfed there will tell you, so it is definitely even more part of the deal there and one you need to be physically and mentally ready for.
What do you recommend to a sailor that wants to start searching for big waves to avoid wipe outs like this one ;-)?

Big waves for me it's just about being patient and humble. You can't force forecasts or conditions, they are as the ocean will decide on any day so patience is important, not just to wait for big swells to form but also on the day when you wait for the right wave to come along. Nothing you say or write will ever make a difference on the sea or make you bigger than it so it teaches you to be humble. Part of what I love the most about big waves is how small it makes you feel to the power of the sea - that reminds you of your place in its order, the glory is always due to the wave, the ocean, the sea. Outside of that there is of course the preparation aspect - physically you need to maintain a level of fitness that will help you swim and survive wipeouts, learn as much about the wave that you are trying to ride as possible and test and maintain your equipment so you have complete confidence in it. 

And finally, what gear where you using?

I was on my biggest Starboard Evo,100 litre board. The wave itself at Mullaghmore sits in the lee of a cliff, which is why it is so suited to surfing where it offers protection from the wind, the flip from that is that there is little to no wind in the break. The wave breaks with such force that there's a mass of whitewater that runs across the break that just sucks you up unless you're on a huge board. You have to launch in the middle of a bay protected by the village itself which is 1/2 a mile to the wind line so all up it's big board time ! Sail I was on my 5.3 S1, I've only ever used my 5.3 or 5.5 there for the same reasons I've only ever used my biggest wave board there. The S1 goes really well there as it depowers so well and is super light to drift out with. You basically need a sail that can deal with everything - super overpowered on the outside, no wind for the launch but still be throw around enough to get you up and down the face ! I also had my two O’Neill floatation vests on which helped a lot :). 

Jason Polakow (JP / NeilPryde), Winner of the Men’s Biggest Wave of the Year.

Do you remember how you felt when you were on that wave?

Jaws is one if my favorite spots to ride big waves and this particular day was a mid size day with no really huge bombs coming threw so it’s a little hard that particular wave. What I can say is that nearly every good size wave your riding at Jaws,  you have to be committed 100% and your adrenaline is always pumping.  There are times when your adrenaline really spikes and the heart rate instantly maxes out. Things like a huge elevator drop-in or if your free falling down into the pit from banking off a huge lip. Any wave you get that rush out of and make it you just instantly want another and thats why big wave surfing is so addictive for me. 

Did you get many waves that day or was this one of the few?

That day the wind was super offshore and really hard to get into the waves.

I remember trying to get down the face of at least 1/2 dozen times and then just got ripped off the back of the wave last second due to the updraft of the offshore winds.

I actually got caught inside from this happening to me and got mowed down by a set wave and my day was done in the late afternoon. 

Some days out there when the wind is super light and your just drifting around you may only get 2 or 3 waves for the entire day. The trick on those days is to stay as close to the impact zone as possible and try and not get caught inside by a bomb set. Haha

What do you recommend to a sailor that wants to start searching for big waves?

I would say to be ready for anything, even getting skunked on a trip. Riding huge swells and getting the right wind conditions is super rare and you really have to get super lucky to score an amazing day. But I think that whats makes it so fun. The hunt and all the time spent getting there makes the day so much more satisfying if you score epic conditions. Don’t get discouraged by a failed trip, keep trying and trying and when the stars align in the sky, it will be all be worth it. 

I would also recommend to do some underwater training to increase your lung capacity and give you some extra confidence in the surf incase you get wipe out. Practice relaxing your body when your getting thrashed around. Start off in small waves and build up your knowledge of controlling yourself while underwater.

Also there is a lot of new gear out there to assist you like flotation suits and jackets. CO2 canisters are the latest thing but please don't rely on this mechanism to get you to the surface. They do malfunction at times. Greg Long, who is a big wave surfer, a few months ago at Cortez Bank blacked out because his canister did not deploy and luckily he was revived.

And finally, what gear where you using?

I was using a Fly 4.8 and a custom Jaws board. Dimensions on the board are 7'10 X 211/4. Volume is around 83 Liters with a super pinched tail. Rocker is faster than a normal Ho’okipa board so you can keep max speed in the bottom turn. My fins are a quad fin set up with a slightly stiffer foil and usually the same length set up as Ho’okipa. 

That is all from this edition of the Islas Canarias PWA Excellence Awards. Thanks very much to all the people that took part in this years Awards and remember to start collecting your footage to enter the 2013 edition. (2013 categories and entry forms will be publish in April).