Surfer Andrew Cotton was key in big wave record

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Media caption,

Andrew Cotton, 32, from Braunton, was nominated for surfing one of the biggest waves of the year in the Billabong XXL Awards for big wave surfers

Devon surfer Andrew Cotton was key to a successful attempt to ride the world's biggest wave yet.

"Cotty" towed American Garrett McNamara into a 78ft (24m) wave in Portugal last November, confirmed by Guinness World Records as the biggest wave ever surfed.

The feat, using a powered personal watercraft, earned Cotty a half share of the $15,000 (£9,300) prize money at the 2012 Billabong XXL Awards for big wave surfers.

Cotty, 32, from Braunton, said: "I feel so stoked for him, it was an amazing achievement."

Cotty was himself nominated for surfing one of the biggest waves of the year at the awards for his ride of a 50ft (15.2m) wave at Mullaghmore off the west coast of Ireland on 8 March.

Image caption,
Andrew Cotton, pictured with his family, admits "huge sacrifices" have been made for surfing

Mullaghmore was one wave in a year of huge swells that Cotty surfs around Europe every winter.

Cotty, who started surfing when he was nine, did not begin his wave hunting odysseys until 2005 when Al Mennie, a friend from Northern Ireland, invited him over.

"I had always believed as much as anyone really that if you want good, big surf you don't go to England or Ireland, you have to go further afield.

"But it opened my eyes that you could get bigger waves than anywhere in the world, in Ireland."

The internet played a crucial role before his record-breaking attempt at Mullaghmore, where the wave was created in a five-times-a-decade storm.

"Tracking the swell, it was obvious it was going to be huge," he said.

According to wave forecasting website Magic Seaweed , it was the product of a huge low pressure zone pointing at Ireland, exaggerated by a funnel of extremely strong westerly wind south of Greenland.

Waves coming in to Mullaghmore were at least 10 times "overhead" from trough to peak, or 10 times the height of an average adult.

The waves come from the deep waters of the Atlantic before hitting a shallow ledge offshore.

The result is very large, fast and hollow waves, so Cotty uses a colleague on a powered personal watercraft to "whip" him in to the wave.

The technique means that he is riding his surfboard like a waterskier before dropping into the wave.

Image caption,
Waves that hit Ireland in March were created by unusual weather conditions

Cotty's big wave boards are as "short as possible", they have foot straps and they are weighted with lead so they do not bounce and skip on the wave face.

"The second your board comes out of the water you lose speed and control," he said.

"I have short, under 5ft 11in (1.8m) and under 2in (5cm) thick boards, but they are also really heavy."

Asked about going into 50ft waves, he said: "I don't even think about it to be honest. If you did you might talk yourself out of it.

"I just really enjoy riding big waves for the rush you get.

"I also like surfing alone and that's the nice thing about Europe at the moment. At a lot of the big wave spots there is no-one else there."

Despite the risks of the sport, Cotty has so far escaped with only a torn ligament and says keeping fit is the key.

'Huge sacrifices'

"It's [then] about putting yourself in the right place," he said.

Despite the accuracy of internet forecasts it is still possible to get it wrong.

"There is an element of luck to it," he said.

Image caption,
Andrew Cotton uses a personal watercraft to "whip" him onto large waves

"Sometimes the ocean is not on your side.

"I once drove all the way to Scotland for one surf and then it looked like Ireland was going to be amazing so we drove all night to Ireland to Mullaghmore.

"We had an hour's sleep in the van and then got one wave, fell and got injured and couldn't surf for the rest of the day and the next day drove all the way home."

With sponsorship his trips "pay for themselves" until he returns to work in the spring.

He admits that big wave surfing has meant "huge sacrifices" for him and his family.

"My partner Katie knows if I didn't go away I wouldn't be happy.

"She plays music and I wouldn't say to her you can't go out and do a gig."

His long-term aim is to become a professional surfer.

"Most other guys I am up against are full-time," he said.

"I've worked for the past seven years to get this far and hopefully now I'm closer to achieving that."

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