Cold Call: Sebastian Steudtner

"And the winner is... Sebastian? The fucking German guy who can't paddle?!" That's how surf icon Christian Fletcher announced the winner of the Billabong XXL Biggest Wave prize, Sebastian Steudtner, at this year's awards ceremony. The 25-year-old from Nuremberg won with a successful ride of a 66-foot wave on December 7, 2009, at Maui's Jaws. A former pro windsurfer, Steudtner earned $15,000, along with the ire of many surfers: Steudtner has been riding waves for a mere seven years and mainly knows how to catch one only if he's towed in behind a Jet Ski. MARK ANDERS asks how he did it.

Steudtner on his winning wave     Photo: Batel Shimi/BillabongXXL.com

OUTSIDE: How does a German even get into surfing?
STEUDTNER: In 2001, I came to Hawaii on a student-exchange program, and while there my friend introduced me to a family of big-wave surfers. The first thing we did is go tow-surfing. It was 15 to 20 feet. After the first wave, I knew this was my sport.

Why go straight to tow-in surfing?
Because you get so many more waves than in paddle surfing. And you're able to surf bigger waves. I come from fast sports, so that was a better match for me than the regular paddle surfing.

Did your background as a windsurfer help?
I'm used to doing sports where you're not moving your feet on the board. I like the way that feels. And in windsurfing, you learn how to read the wave earlier because you catch the wave earlier. That's true of tow-in surfing, too.

What do people say when you tell them you're a German tow surfer?
A lot of people laugh. They think, You're joking. But they understand it, too, like the Jamaican bobsled team. It's kind of the same thing—except that I won.

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