Big Mama. Nazare's colossal yet fickle set wave that only breaks on gigantic days is a hard wave to get right. It breaks almost directly out from the cliff, if just to the left a touch, and is a right hander that runs in front of the death zone. For some, it's a dream to score Big Mama. And, on the last wave of Saturday's hyper session, right before the sun kissed the horizon, Rafael Tapia got his Big Mama moment.
Tapia, a big wave surfer originally hailing from Chile, has paid his dues at XXL Nazare over the years – but also, spends as much time whipping people into the waves of their lives as he does on rescue duty. This a gent who pays it forward.
As Saturday bowed out, Tapia had been on rescue duty all day, before Nic Von Rupp's team hollered at him to get a wave or two. They didn't know then that right before sunset, one of the bigger waves of the day was steaming to shore.
“Well basically, there's three peak at Nazare, first, second, third which work on any kind of swell,” said Rafael. “First peak is next to the rocks – so going right there would take you into the them – it's almost unrideable. All the lefts are taking you away from the rocks. Usually some of the energy is softer towards the second or third peak.
“The rights every now and then are good but the lefts are better in general and a load safer. BUT then we have Big Mama, that's a very different wave. It breaks way far out and it's right in front of the cliff or maybe just a little bit to the left of the cliff. And that wave is mostly a right.
"Finally, on Saturday, I got a Big Mama. That's something I've not had at Nazare after all these years. I've got a load of big waves there – literally had the wave before the Guinness biggest wave back in 2017 – my one was a very big left. Had great rights, a lot of injuries [laughs] but never had the Big Mama.”
But how do you know if Big Mama will be working? “It breaks maybe every hour, half an hour but only on the giant days and it's only a right,” said Rafael. “For me it was pretty special. I was helping out Nic Von Rupp and he offered to get a couple of waves for me. It was late in the afternoon, everyone had pretty much packed up and left.
Live cam: Nazare
“I got a big left, got picked up. Didn't think we'd have another chance to get another wave – I dunno, I just love surfing so much. Everyone was wanting to call it in and then they were saying 'well, if you want one more, let's go, but it has to be one more'.
“Then this big, giant set pops up. Scooby was driving for me, part of NVR's team. We didn't really communicate that well, but I wanted this Big Mama – when he did the turn on the ski, I was on the wrong side of the rope and it was the first time I've towed with Scooby but I know he's a great driver and put 100 per cent of my trust in him.
“It was incredible because I just crossed over the rope and almost had to run the rope out while he was gunning to escape the wave [laughs]. It was a soft, easy drop in a way but the drop was long. At some point, I looked back and the thing was giant, it was so big. Then it kind of fattened out. Alemão [de Maresias] was on the side and it was all good, there were cheers – and it was the last wave surfed of the swell.
“It really felt special, you know? My first Big Mama and the last wave on Saturday...”
Where can people go after getting Big Mama though, is this the ultimate Nazare experience? “I don't know if surfing Big Mama is the ultimate goal for Nazare.” Tapia said. “I've surfed a load of barrels there, on the giant days. I've put a lot of people into the waves of their lives, rescued a lot of people – but Big Mama...it's so difficult to get. It's so elusive and you miss a lot of waves if you just try to surf that. I'm not sure if I'll ever surf a Big Mama again. I'd love to! But I'm not sure it'll ever happen.”