By now you’ve probably seen what happened in Ireland on Sunday. Those who were on the ground at Portugal’s premier big-wave spot, Nazare, saw it too. But it takes time for a big storm from way up north near the UK to push swell 2,000 kilometres down to Europe’s western flank. (We’ll have more on other spots along that stretch, soon).
On Sunday evening through much of Monday, however, that same first XL swell of the North Atlantic big-wave season showed itself on the shores of Praia do Norte. For those two days, the scene in that little town with a big heart felt like a homecoming of sorts.
Live Cam: Nazare
Some Nazare devotees have been here for a few weeks now. Other returning big-wave surfers arrived the day before the swell. All of them were soaking up whatever juice they could get out of the North Atlantic. But aside from the colossal, triangular peaks, the main theme here was fellowship.
“It’s this gathering of the tribe,” says João Macedo, who deftly navigated a lefthand set wave out there on Monday, right as the XL swell filled in. “It’s just one of those special places on Earth. Nazare really brings people together, and the past few days we’ve had these beautiful, big waves coming through and lots of amazing action. It was really rad.”
When an XXL swell unloads on Ireland, starts moving down the Atlantic highway and is due to arrive at any time from mid-afternoon to nightfall, what’s a big-wave surfer to do?
“We prep,” says Sebastian Steudtner, current World Record holder for biggest wave ever surfed. “Run through radio checks, check over the boards, check over the skis, and check in with each other. Did one spot check, hung out with the family.”
After a somewhat slow midday session — maybe some 20-footers — the XXL swell finally arrived a few hours before last light. The manageable conditions became difficult, due in part to light but scattered winds that rippled across the faces of 40-50-foot waves, creating bumps in places you don’t want them to be.
“I actually arrived a day before the swell, flying in from Spain, and honestly I had a shocker on the first day,” said Chilean big-wave waterman, Rafael Tapia. “Eric Rebiere and Mason Barnes went down. I came to help them, tried to punch to the outside, and lost the ski. Not the way you want to start your Nazare season. After the ski incident, I did manage to bag a few with Nic [Von Rupp]. Then I watched Nic get the bomb of the day at First Peak, super steep and thick.”
Tapia is one of those rare Nazare staples who’s managed to score Big Mama — the massive righthand peak that breaks only on the biggest of swells, about a kilometre out from the headland. It is a mythical wave that only a handful of people have surfed, and ever less have surfed it well.
“I’ve got a house here and usually spend all winter there,” Tapia continued. “There’s some fresh, frothing faces this season and some great new additions. But what’s really special about this place is the local people, the food, the wine… [laughs] That’s good enough. Then having the biggest wave in the world on your doorstep, that’s just the icing on the cake.”
“I didn’t even surf Sunday,” said Nazare-born Tony Laureano, who’s teamed up with Justine Dupont this season, along with Fredo David and Tony’s father, Ramon. “I wanted to just focus on towing Justine and feel out the vibes in the water, because we knew Monday had potential. The aim was to go out, have fun, and come home safe. Mission accomplished.”
“It’s a solid crew,” Justine told MSW. “Sunday was a little slow and there was lots going on out there with the skis and people, but that’s Nazare, and it’s fun. We feel great about these partnerships, and going out there with Tony makes me really confident.
We must not forget that, back in 2017, Tony became the youngest surfer to ever be nominated for a WSL Big Wave Award. He was just 15 years old at the time and had only been surfing Nazare for three seasons.
Amidst the whirring and buzzing of ski teams, Santa Cruz’s Nic Lamb opted to paddle a faithful 10’8” Stretch gun into the lineup. He stroked into a gigantic wave a half-hour before dark. “They said it was too big to paddle,” he told MSW, “but I thought it was too small to tow.”
And just like that, the session was over. Surfers retreated home or sat down to eat in their respective team bubbles.
“Today was solid, but not a great shape, it felt a bit straight,” said Andrew Cotton. “It’s due to be bigger tomorrow, but it’s Nazare, you never really know what’s going to happen. You just have to be in the water and go for it.”
Monday morning started like any morning when Nazare is going XXL; down in the lock up on the harbour, where a whole bunch of big-wave equipment is stored. The swell had peaked overnight but was still bombing.
By 7:30am, ski teams left the harbour and made the journey from Nazare’s south beach towards the Sitio headland, which houses the town’s famous Forte de Sao Miguel Arcanjo and the throngs of cheering spectators that line the cliffside. Once you go around that corner on a ski, you start to see what’s really happening out there.
“It was actually kind of rough in the morning, weird, maybe a bit too west,” said Nic Von Rupp. “All of a sudden it cleaned up, and we managed to get some bombs. I was stoked!”
“Yeah, it was wild out there,” Justine added. “Lots of kits in the water but the swell direction felt better. There were lots of closeouts, though. You really didn’t want to be under them. I got two good ones and I’m already looking forward to the next one.”
“I got a few lefts at First and Second peak,” added Steudtner. “There was a lot more west in the swell than we thought there would be.”
Meanwhile, Michelle des Bouillons had actually been training all summer for this opening-day swell in Indonesia, packing more than her fair share of freight trains with tow partner Ian Cosenza at Desert Point. Unfortunately, Michelle broke her finger four days ago, which sidelined her for this session.
“My expectations were high,” she said. “The forecast looked good. My fingers didn’t hurt. I put Ian into some good waves away from Nazare before this swell and felt I could drive the ski. But it just didn’t work out.”
“Yeah, that was super challenging out there,” said Cosenza. “There weren’t really any A-frames, which makes it tough to know what to go on. To be honest, it felt more powerful yesterday at first light. I guess everyone should have been out yesterday.”
“All in all, it was a late start to the season, but a great one,” said Tapia. “Aside from the ski incident.”
Ultimately, the past few days at Nazare felt like a pacesetter. There were some big waves ridden, some crazy mistakes made, and plenty of tapas devoured. But there’s a lot of season left. And for this semi-nomadic crew on the ground, the feeling’s the same.
“First big swell of the season and it wasn’t giant-giant Nazare,” said Pedro Scooby. “But it was good. It was fun. And that’s why we’re all here.”