With the European winter officially wound down, Nazare usually returns to a state of hibernation. But yesterday, ol' Praia do Norte awoke thanks to a shot of adrenaline – and oh, it was by no means an all-time session, your regular cast of protagonists were elsewhere, but what did throw down was a gnarly couple of XL days with a good mix of tow vs paddle.
The swell rifled in from the WNW, capping out at the 14.5ft@16 seconds mark but was coupled with a fresh, scattered wind, making for some tricky conditions. And when Nazare isn't perfectly aligned, all kinds of carnage will unfurl. Think, lost skis, surfers washed to the beach, some of the most brutal hold downs – and that was just on Tuesday.
On hand capturing what you see throughout was lensman and the master of shooting Nazare, Helio Antonio. “When no one was expecting it, another big swell hit Portugal,” he says.
“Really, it started on Tuesday but it was small with sets around four meters. As the hours were passing by, the swell picked up and by the end off the day, it was already delivering some big ones. Not the giant beasts we are used to seeing, but still pretty outstanding.
“It was a tough day. Tahitian Tikanui Smith was completely blown out by the power of Nazare, after a wipeout on the infamous first peak sent him all the way to the beach. He said he'd never felt anything so heavy and it was the most life threatening situation he has ever experienced.
“The sets weren't clean and well defined and the sand banks are very difficult for driving the skis on the inside. In fact, losing a board and picking it up close to shore would probably mean game over.
“Well experienced drivers lost skis while some decided to beach them acknowledging it would be suicide trying to go back out.”
It was yesterday that blipped on the radar of the big wave contingent. “The wind was calmer and the direction was better, so the surf conditions got cleaner,” said Helio.
“Most of the guys opted to paddle which means having a lot of patience and luck. French surfer Julian Reichmann was in the right spot and did an excellent job paddling in to what was probably the wave of the day.
“Tikanui Smith went back in after his dramatic experience the day before and also paddled one of the best waves that hit Nazare in the morning.
“Even on these big but not giant days, Nazare can be ruthless and Justine Dupont also experienced a tough situation. After being picked up by Fredo David on the ski, a bomb exploded right behind. Fred had to speed as much as possible and the gun Justine had under her body slipped, dragging her out of the sled just to be pounded by the monster behind. Tense moments, but luckily there were no more critical waves afterwards.
“The first peak was delivering those typical A-frame beasts but paddling is pretty much suicide. A wipeout over there means a big risk of being dragged to the rocks and having to depend on your own luck, since the skis won't have a shot of rescuing.”