The Nelscott Reef Unformal Unvitational is a big wave contest where prone and SUP surfers battle side-by-side. Because after all, Mother Nature doesn't discriminate...and neither do two-wave hold-downs. Photo: Pete Alport Nelscott Reef Big Wave Classic

The Nelscott Reef Unformal Unvitational is a big wave contest where prone and SUP surfers battle side-by-side. Because after all, Mother Nature doesn’t discriminate…and neither do two-wave hold-downs. Photo: Pete Alport

Recapping the 2016 Nelscott Reef Classic Big-Wave Surf and SUP Competition

Yesterday, I laid on my belly desperately stroking my 9'4" gun toward the horizon. A standup paddler stood beside me desperately stroking his 10' SUP in the same direction. A 40-foot mountain of water loomed above us. Suddenly, the differences between us—traditional surfers and standup paddle surfers—seemed pretty damned irrelevant. In the end, we both got sucked over the falls—I took a long trip to the bottom, while the SUPer got pitched into oblivion and broke his board. In that instant, it occurred to me: the ocean doesn't give a damn what you ride.

John Forse doesn't care what you ride either, so when he throws an expression session/party/"Unformal Unvitational" big wave contest, everyone gets an invite. John is the man behind the Nelscott Reef Big Wave Classic, Oregon's locally organized, grass-roots big wave competition, and this year he made sure we all understood it wasn't just a surf event—it was for both surf and SUP. With a bombing swell and perfect conditions forecasted for the week, John put out the word that the Classic was coming. The event was greenlighted by the local government and set to run on January 7. On Wednesday evening, the night before the event, a mix of big wave pros and underground chargers started trickling into Lincoln City. Among them were half a dozen SUP surfers.

The contest was a loosely organized expression session, with 15 chargers from up and down the West Coast donning colorful jerseys and taking to the lineup. Meanwhile, another half-dozen who weren't signed up for the event paddled out as well, hoping to catch a few bombs of their own. A crack water safety team made sure everyone was safe, a few drones flew overhead to capture footage, and cold beer waited at the after party, where the entire contingent would watch video from the session and vote on the winner. This was big wave surfing as it should be—bravado and camaraderie as a bunch of self-funded hellmen pitted themselves against the angry ocean. The weather even cooperated, with light offshore winds sculpting the 15- to 20-foot peaks and the clouds parting for a rare dose of Pacific Northwest sunlight.

After a six-hour marathon session with enough epic rides to go around, the last of the boys made their way to shore and hot tubbed away the hypothermia before heading over to the Lincoln City Cultural Center for the awards banquet. Kevin Riddleberger took first, local Tony Perez second, and Ian Wallace third, and to be honest, I don't know which of them surfed and which of them rode SUPs—but I'm pretty sure that that communalism was probably John Forse's goal after all.

Video Recap of the 2015 Unformal Unvitational