When The Surf's Way Up

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ERIK AEDER / BILLABONGXXL.COM

RECORD RIDE: Pete Cabrinha, off Maui, Hawaii, in January, surfing the 70-ft. monster that won him the 2004 Billabong XXL Award. It is given annually to the rider of the biggest wave

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Not everyone is happy with this ever expanding frontier. Critics say the jet skis, which can dump up to one-third of their unburned fuel into the water, are major polluters. Environmentalists in California are engaged in a battle to have jet skis banned from Monterey Bay, which would include the big reef break at Maverick's. The surfers, meanwhile, are seeking an exemption for their favorite reef.

Others question whether the pressure of sponsorship and competitions is pushing some big-wave surfers dangerously beyond their abilities. Hamilton, who surfed Jaws reef the same day Cabrinha set the record, thinks he might have ridden some even higher waves. But he declines to enter the big-wave competitions because he thinks they are bad for the sport. "I resent the whole concept of a bounty to try to ride an 80-ft. or a 100-ft. wave. You are provoking people that maybe shouldn't be out there."

Maybe no one should be out there in surf that is as high as an eight-story building and breaks every 20 seconds with the force of a Union Pacific train. But, as Hamilton would be the first to say, big-wave surfing is not about playing it safe. It's about the thrill of taming that killer wave.

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