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Baker enjoys perfection at Puerto Escondido

Summer time and the living’s easy.

Yeah, sure. Try telling that to Twiggy Baker.

The World Surf League’s Big Wave Tour got the Saturday green to finish up its first contest of the 2016 season, Mexico’s Puerto Escondido Challenge. With the day firing 20- to 30-foot sets and plenty of hollow rides, it was 43-year-old former world champ Grant Baker — better known as “Twiggy” — who pulled off the no-doubt victory.

The world’s best big-wave specialists gathered in Puerto Escondido to determine a 2016 front runner. The South African certainly answered the call with a brilliant display throughout all three rounds. He topped the field of 24 competitors and punctuated his performance with a perfect 10 in the final.

That ride sent Baker on a right and he quickly tucked into a beautifully clean barrel. He hid from view as the crowd began to anticipate his reemergence. The spit actually showed its face first, but Baker’s wasn’t far behind as he smoothly slid out and earned the eruption of applause from the beach.

Baker won the Big Wave championship just three years ago and has now made himself the man to beat once again.

Former Big Wave champ Makuakai Rothman made the final heat but had to exit at the midway point after a wipeout. The Oahu native took off on a left and maneuvered into the barrel before getting tossed. He ended up colliding with his board and had to sit the remainder of the final with a bruised chest.

Rothman had placed first in both his opening round and semifinal heats, so he was again proving to be a force amongst these elite competitors. But it was not his day to finish the job.

Kai Lenny and Albee Layer each survived the first round to reach the semis, but neither could join Rothman to represent Hawaii in the final. Billy Kemper and Koa Rothman fell out in round one.

Defending world champion Greg Long came closest to stopping Baker’s rise to the top, but that perfect 10 was too much to overcome. Long took second place ahead of Pedro Calado, Carlos Burle, Will Skudin and Rothman.

The year’s next Big Wave event could come before summer’s end at either Punta de Lobos in Chile or Punta Hermosa in Peru. Makuakai Rothman is the defending champ at both of those locations.

Manuel, Tati each in qualifying position

Australia’s Keely Andrew created some parity at the top of the Women’s Qualifying Series with her impressive victory at the Copa El Salvador Impresionante. The top six at year’s end in the QS rankings earn automatic qualification onto the Championship Tour. Bronte Macaulay, Nikki Van Dijk, Malia Manuel, Andrew, Silvana Lima and Tatiana Weston-Webb currently make up the top six, but a group of eight surfers are all within just 1,000 points of Tati.

Both Manuel and Weston-Webb also reside within the CT’s top 10, so they are doing what they need to on both fronts. Each are looking very likely to stay in that neighborhood, so their QS spots could move down to the next deserving wahine. That would be a very welcome proposition for Oahu’s Alessa Quizon, who jumped into seventh on the QS with her run to the El Salvador final.

The women have a few weeks of down time before the QS 6,000 Supergirl Pro (July 22) and the CT’s U.S. Open of Surfing (July 25), both in California.

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David Simon can be reached at dsimon@thegardenisland.com.

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