Grant Baker has been coming to Puerto Escondido for more than 20 years...and Saturday, it showed.
The legendary South African charger spent the bulk of the day putting on a tube-riding clinic in Puerto's heaving barrels, making the ridiculously tough conditions look almost playful.
Baker had the first scoring ride of the day during Semifinal 1, and surprised everyone by emerging from a frothy tube long after most observers had given up on him.
But he was just warming up.
He backed that up with another barrel that spit twice, and mixed in a few more funnels to lock in his trip to the Finals.
Meanwhile, his fellow competitors were surviving on a steady diet of thick closeouts. Will Skudin, Kai Lenny, and Albee Layer all struggled to find exits, but charged through heavy caverns to nab the precious bravado points on offer. Greg Long, who's known for being patient, sat in the lineup without a score in the first Semifinal until under the 2-minute mark. A desperation bomb way down the beach helped him sneak into the Final.
In Semifinal 2, Makuakai Rothman picked up where he left off on Friday, throwing himself over ledges and up in into big, gaping caverns. The Hawaiian seemed to be the only other surfer in sync with the surf early Saturday, when nothing was coming easy.
But by the time the Finals rolled around conditions were perfect. A dropping tide and dying winds made for a crystal-clear lineup, and the waves were starting to take shape.
Rothman looked determined to give Baker a run, pulling into a giant lefthander to start his campaign in the Final. But he didn't make it out, and during his subsequent rinse cycle his big board slammed his chest. For the second day in a row Rothman had to go to the beach during his heat, but this time he wasn't able to return.
Baker opened strong again in the Final. On his first ride he traveled for miles through a bright blue, glassy cylinder before getting shut down. It was a solid score, but turned out that it was just his warning shot.
He stayed with his favorite peak and managed to find a few more gems; the best one being a Perfect 10 that spit for the second time just as he was coming out.
"As soon as I saw how big it was this morning I knew this was the day," Baker said. "This is my favorite size -- the size where my favorite bank fires. I was telling everyone this is exactly what we come here for."
Baker, a proud new father, dedicated the win to his wife and baby daughter back home in South Africa, while thanking his longtime local friends in Puerto Escondido for their endless hospitality. He netted a cool $25,000 for the win, and an early lead on the Big Wave Tour rankings for 2016.
1st Grant Baker (ZAF)........$25,000
2nd Greg Long (USA)..........$16,000
3rd Pedro Calado (BRA)......$10,000
4th Carlos Burle (BRA).......$7,000
5th Will Skudin (USA).........$3,000
6th Makuakai Rothman (HAW)....$3,000