2015 ended up being a phenomenal year for surfing. Be it for new benchmarks in big wave surfing, high stakes world title races that went to the wire, crazy stunts and the opening of new frontiers, it has to be called a vintage year.

Here, we take a look at the key highlights from the last 12 months.

A new world Champion

Adriano exits the water as the 2015 world champion. Photo by WSL/ Kirstin

Adriano de Souza exits the water as the 2015 World Champion. Photo: WSL/ Kirstin

The year ended as it started, with a new Brazilian world champion. Unlike last year's 20-year-old champ, Gabriel Medina, Adriano de Souza had been on tour for 10 years and, perhaps, no other surfer has put in more effort to win a title.

After winning the Billabong Pipe Masters, de Souza fulfilled a dream that started with a $7 board, bought for him by his brother, in the Sao Paulo’s favelas where they grew up. He also dedicated his win to his good friend Ricardo dos Santos, who was shot and killed in Brazil earlier this year.

The people's champion

Mick Fanning tribute to brother Peter

Mick Fanning posted an emotional tribute to his brother Peter after winning what many are calling the “Heat of the Year” at the Billabong Pipe Masters. Photo: Mick Fanning

Mick Fanning may have lost the world title at the very end, but his performances and behavior have netted him millions of new fans. His bravery, humility and composure in dealing with a shark attack in South Africa was widely praised.

Fanning then showed his generosity when he donated the $75,000 fee he gained from a TV appearance to a recent shark victim. As if the year hadn't been traumatic enough, on the eve of the Billabong Pipe Masters, he discovered his elder brother Peter had died in his sleep.

Fanning had already lost another brother, Sean, to a car accident when he was only 16, yet still competed to the very end of the event with dignity and composure.

North Korea becomes new surfing frontier

Sunrise at Majon Beach, Hamhung North Korea Uri Tours Surfing North Korea Trip

Sunrise at Majon Beach, in Hamhung, North Korea. Photo: Uri Tours

Back in September, New Jersey-based travel company Uri Tours offered adventurous surfers the opportunity to be among the first people to surf the waves of North Korea.

Uri Tours CEO Andrea Lee hoped that by continuing to open North Korea to international tourism, it would help establish some sort of surf culture in the country.

“We want to open North Korea as a surfing destination on a larger scale,” she told the Associated Press. “The hope is to create a foundation and to pave the way for future surfers.”

Surfing makes the shortlist for the 2020 Olympics

Meanwhile, across the channel, Main Break at Margaret river offers up its version of a barrel... Gabriel Medina. Photo: ASP

2014 World Champ, Gabriel Medina, would be a favorite for a gold medal. Photo: WSL

It was announced that surfing and skateboarding were two of five new sports that had been shortlisted by the Tokyo 2020 Additional Event Program Panel to be a part of the 2020 Olympic Games.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) will make a final decision on their inclusion in August 2016. While many skateboarders saw this is as a bad thing and started a petition to voice their disapproval, most top surfers and the official bodies, such as the International Surf Association and World Surf League, backed the bid.

Man-made waves became a reality

Kelly Slater man made wave

It’s hard to believe that’s a man-made wave. Kelly Slater and his team have been working on it for nearly 10 years. Photo: Vimeo

It seemed like every other week in 2015, there was a new proposal for a wave park. Following on from the opening of the first-ever public park that uses Wave Garden technology in Snowdonia in Wales in August, other projects have been mooted like Australian cities Brisbane and Melbourne, as well as Austin, Texas; Bristol, England; and Orlando, Florida.

These are in addition to the existing pools in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and Malaysia. Then, just before Christmas, Kelly Slater blew them all out of the water when he unveiled a man-made wave so perfect, it defied description.

It looks like he and his team may have reached the Holy Grail of artificial surf perfection.

Who knew you could surf on a dirt bike?

Robbie Maddison Pipe Dream Surf Big Wave Tahiti Dirt bike Motocross Stunt

For a moment, it seemed as though Robbie Maddison might outrun the whitewash. Unfortunately for him, that wasn’t the case. Photo: DC Shoes

To surf on a motorbike is clearly nuts, to surf huge waves in Tahiti is certifiably insane. Robbie Maddison may need to be straightjacketed after he rode a 20-foot high wave over shallow coral on a specially modified dirt bike, and survived.

“I honestly thought those were the last moments of my life,” he told GrindTV. “That's something I don't ever want to experience again.”

Shark attacks garnering attention

Kelly Slater shark

Kelly Slater saw two great white shark breachings during his session near Cape Town, South Africa, in July.

Sharks have always been an issue for surfers, but in 2015, it seemed that the issue became more front of mind. High profile attacks, like Mick Fanning's at J-Bay, and then footage of a great white breaching close to Kelly Slater, were one factor.

More tragically was a number of fatalities and spate of attacks in North Carolina, Hawaii and Northern New South Wales that led people to question polices on the management of shark species and to weigh up the protection of apex predators against the deaths and injuries of several surfers.

Big waves got bigger

Greg Long finals Pe'ahi Challenge

Greg Long on the way to third in the Pe’ahi Challenge. Photo: World Surf League

2015 saw some of the biggest waves ever ridden in the sport's history. As inflatable life jackets improved and big wave riders were increasingly able to make money out of their passion, the barriers were pushed to new levels.

In May, Mark Healey caught what is thought to be the biggest wave ever ridden at Mexico's Puerto Escondido. Sessions at Nazare in early October were thought to be the biggest waves ever ridden at the Portuguese break.

However, it was at the inaugural Pe’ahi Challenge, a Big Wave World Tour event held on Maui's Jaws in late November, that redefined what was possible with many surfers paddling into waves thought to be 60 feet high.

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