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Alms, Kemper champs of the Jaws Big Wave Championships

Men’s 2019 cbdMD Jaws Big Wave Challenge winner Billy Kemper rides a massive wave in Thursday’s final at Peahi. The waves were 30 to 50 feet at Jaws. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

The Maui News

Riding 30- to 50-foot waves, Mauians Paige Alms and Billy Kemper captured the World Surf League cbdMD Jaws Big Wave Championships at Peahi on Thursday, the second time they captured and men’s and women’s titles together in the meet.

Kemper defended the title he won last year, taking home an unprecedented fourth Jaws Challenge title. Alms captured her third Jaws title. They won the title together in 2016.

“I’m so happy and stoked, pretty excited for a cocktail,” said Alms. “It was some super challenging conditions today. As soon as I paddled out in my first heat, the wind was here, and I knew the Maui glass was on.

“To do it three times is all a blur, and I’m pretty baffled at the moment.”

Paige Alms captured her third Jaws Challenge title on Thursday. She is shown riding a big wave during her women’s semifinals heat.

Alms said she got “pretty beat up” at the end of the first wave. She sustained a hamstring injury after scratching into and dropping down a face before being swallowed up by a mountain of white water. But she grabbed a backup jersey and surfed on.

“I try and pick the good ones,” said Alms, the 2016 and ’17 winner. “I’m not out there to prove anything to anyone except myself.

“It is the ultimate feeling being on a giant wave, it’s when I feel the most alive and so it’s a double-edged sword.”

“You are putting your body and life on the line to ride these waves but when you successfully ride one nothing beats it,” she continued.

Annie Reickert, a Maui native, finished third behind Felicity Palmateer of Australia. Keala Kennelly of Kauai, finished fourth; Emily Erikson of Oahu, fifth; and Michaela Fregonese of Brazil, sixth.

Ian Walsh makes a bottom turn on a massive wave during Thursday’s men’s final. He finished second.

“I think (showing up early) is partially a good thing and partially a bad thing,” said Reickert, who made her big wave debut at age 18. “I showed up and had hours to watch and study the surf and get advice from everybody.

“But the more you’re out here, the more the nerves get to you and get into your head. So it was all just about paying attention to what the sets are doing and mentally staying prepared for what you’re about to go do.”

On the men’s side, Kemper scored the day’s highest heat total of 21.26 out of a possible 30 to defend his title.

“I feel so amazing right now. I’m over the moon,” he said. “It felt like such a tough dogfight leading all the way to the final.

“Every morning, I wake up early, and I work hard and every sacrifice, time I’ve taken away from my wife and kids, it’s all for this right here. This is my pride and joy. I leave blood, sweat and tears out at Jaws. This is my backyard, and I’m very territorial.”

Annie Reichert drops down the face of a women's semifinal wave Thursday at Jaws. The 18-year-old Maui native, who made her big wave debut, finished third.

Kemper previously captured the Jaws title in 2015, ’16 and ’18. In the finals, he was able to get over the ledge and lock into a massive barrel and exit.

Kemper faced challenges from former Jaws Challenge winner Ian Walsh and three-time finalist Kai Lenny, both of Maui, as well as Makuakai Rothman and Nathan Florence of Oahu and Lucas Chianca of Brazil. Lenny actually took the lead from Kemper momentarily with his signature power carves on a massive Jaws wave face.

Walsh finished second, followed by Florence, Lenny, Rothman and Chianca.

There was no competition at the Billabong Pipe Masters at the Banzai Pipeline on Oahu’s North Shore on Thursday.