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Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Updated: March 16, 2:10 AM ET
McIntosh rides 'Wave of the Winter'

By Jake Howard
ESPN Action Sports

In a surprise midnight announcement from the bowels of LAX baggage claim, Tuesday night Reef McIntosh found out that he was the recipient of's "Wave of the Winter" $25,000 top prize.

"I thought the cameras were paparazzi for some celebrity, then I was like, 'Wait a minute,'" McIntosh said.

With a waiting period that has extended for the better part of four months, there was no shortage of worthy contenders: Bruce Irons, Jamie O'Brien, John John Florence and Kelly Slater to name but a few of the finalists. Through all the spray and backwash, McIntosh's bomb at Off The Wall on Dec. 2, 2011, stood the test of time.

The judging panel was composed of original Pipeline Master Gerry Lopez, Sunny Garcia, Pancho Sullivan, and Ross Williams, an occasional contributor to's surf site. The criteria was simple: best wave ridden on the North Shore during the winter 2011-12 season wins. After announcing the finalists Monday morning, Lopez and company quickly came to a verdict.

"Once we heard from Gerry Lopez and the rest of the Wave of the Winter judges that Reef had won, we started brainstorming ways to make the announcement special," said Surfline's Mike Cianciulli. "We knew he'd be arriving in California on Tuesday and got a plan in place to surprise him on his arrival to LAX. Frankie D'Andrea from Nike, who sponsored the contest, Jeremiah Klein, Marc Beaty and myself from Surfline and Strider from Quiksilver -- with a bottle of Dom Perignon -- all surprised him in the baggage claim area and presented the check for $25,000. Needless to say, at midnight after a long day of travel, he didn't see that coming."

McIntosh grew up on Kauai alongside Bruce and Andy Irons, the Alexander brothers and Sion Milosky, and is rightfully reputed as one of the hardest charging surfers in the Islands. In January, he won Da Hui Backdoor Shootout in some of the best Pipeline conditions of the year. He is an invitee to the Quiksilver Big Wave Invitational in Memory of Eddie Aikau. When he's on dry land you may find him at the Quiksilver house on the North Shore, where he keeps a constant vigil over the sand that unknowing grommets track in.

As for his plans for the $25,000 prize? "It's going into the wedding fund," he said. It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.