What started as a purple blob in the middle of the Atlantic turned into one of the best days of competitive big wave surfing that Nazaré, and the world, has ever seen.
The real action, however, was scheduled for the Sunday, 18th of November, with the WSL tipping that a potentially “record-breaking” swell was due to hit. And although it never fully hit shit your pants proportions, fans such as myself who made the pilgrimage were in no way disappointed.
Here are 5 takeaways from the latest Nazaré swell from someone who watched it live from the cliffs with wide eyes and sweaty palms.
Big waves surfers are wired differently to you and me.
Their willingness to be flung into waves 30, 40 or 50 times their size is something I’ll never comprehend. Let alone the dedication it takes to train for the possibility that each session could be your last. But, without a reliable and quick thinking partner on the ski, these seemingly fearless surfers could never accomplish the feats they do.
Watching those ski drivers race in and pluck their helpless amigo or amiga from the water, with only a few seconds between success and a prolonged dunking, was pretty cool and proof that it takes a team to ensure surfers are kept safe and ultimately alive. All so they can charge harder and go deeper for our viewing pleasure.
Those early days of Nazaré had a lot of big wave purists turning their granite chins up in defiance, declaring it was nothing but a swell bump as opposed to a proper breaking wave. And looking back, it’s hard to argue with them.
Many of the first rides out there were on waves that hardly broke. They were, of course, monstrous, but debate raged (and still does to some extent) that the biggest wave should be one that breaks top to bottom.
In the last few years and certainly after the last WSL event though, it seems Nazaré has solidified itself as a genuine big wave location. Worthy of its reputation as a menacing and notoriously unpredictable proving ground for chargers from around the world. And more lean and mean than the glorified burger it was once touted as.
It may sound dramatic, but that’s only because worst-case scenario for most of us if we pick the wrong wave is that we embarrass ourselves in front of our friends, snap a board or in extreme situations, cop a couple of stitches somewhere on the rig.
A trip to the ER in the back of an ambulance or even, god forbid, death, however, is a reality for these big wave hellman and woman whenever they suit up and hit the water.
This makes choosing the right wave critical.
Commit to the wrong one and they not only risk their own life, but also the life of those who are tasked with saving them, since the water safety team put everything on the line to ensure a quick extraction from the impact zone.
Given that Nazaré is also a notoriously shifty wave with a number of peaks and one of the world’s, if not the world’s most punishing shore break, one lapse in judgment could trigger a situation where there’s more at stake than just one surfer’s life.
Remember the Maya Gabeira and Carlos Burle’s debacle in 2013? Poor wave choice coupled with a lapse in judgment and sketchy conditions equals life-threatening danger.
High enough that you can’t smell the jet ski fumes but close enough that you can still feel the earth tremble with each breaking wave, the cliffs of Nazaré offer up the perfect viewing platform from which to watch all the action unfold down below.
It actually feels like a major sporting event, with everyone in the crowd collectively inhaling as surfers drop multiple stories from the lip, only to erupt in applause when (or if) they make the takeoff. Of course, this is punctuated by long bouts of waiting as ski teams and surfers try to find the best place to sit in the lineup. But this only adds to the atmosphere by building anticipation. And when those lines start to stack up on the horizon, you can bet all eyes are on the ocean.
It’s intense, exciting and terrifying all at the same time. Not to mention car alarms would go off intermittently whenever the bigger sets of the day slammed into the cliff face…. causing everyone to exchange nervous glances and say a few hail marys for the poor souls surfing down there.
Nazaré is like watching Mother Nature flex her strength, letting us all know we’re just perennial betas compared to her. With set after set looming on the horizon, only to detonate in a show of force right before your eyes. The waves there are something to behold.
I’ve witnessed solid surf before and as the husband to an Austrian wife, I’ve seen some awe-inspiring mountains. But there’s something about Nazaré that takes hold of you and leaves a lasting impression.
It’s an education in the fact that you can’t put a lid on nature. And I came away feeling humbled by its refined savagery and grateful of the perspective that watching the world in motion can give to you.
You can’t hit pause on Mother Nature, and there’s something to be said for the men and women who surrender themselves to the terror of Nazaré, whilst still maintaining their composure as if it’s just another day in the office.
A ferocious, leviathan office that could eat you alive, that is.
Related article – 7 Of The Best Surfing Beaches In Portugal
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