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Nazaré swell takes big wave riding to new heights of risk

I don’t believe you should want to die doing something you love. What fun is never again being able to do something you love. No, that’s not a question.

You should die doing something you hate. Like math. Or watching Grey’s Anatomy.

This is why I don’t understand the infatuation with riding waves like the ones in this video, taken recently at the big wave break in Nazaré, Portugal, and now “trending” all over non-surf related news sites.

A storm awoke gargantuan sets of muscular, plodding waves that looked more like Appalachian hillsides than surfable waves and there to be towed in to them was a collective of common big wave wranglers like Garrett McNamara and Carlos Burle, who was there specifically to top McNamara’s big wave record.

Maya Gabeira, also an accomplished big water artist, had to be rescued from the tumultuous froth as onlookers stared from above at the invading tidal beasts, which appear even more monstrous when camera perspective skews our viewing angles.

Gabeira was rag-dolled several times by the tumultuous white stew before Burle finally bailed from his sled to drag her to shore for CPR.

Those who surf know the feeling of being caught inside. Few other emotions are as visceral, or so physically manifested in the stomach. It’s a wave-to-wave, oxygen-depleting existence. Get through this next one. Go back under and wait. Hope for the sun.

Surfing to many is knee-high beach break and carefree lessons captured in surfboard shaped frames for the stairwell. Soft top boards and rented wetsuits.

Probably, that’s what surfing should always be. Or perhaps only slightly more advanced versions of those experiences.

But even at the moderate level, surfing makes no excuses about indifferently coupling a reason to live with the potential for death.

As much I as love to surf, it has scared me more times than climbing. I’d rather find myself off-route on a dissipating finger crack than on the inside of a freak set. Waves know no end, they continue forward without the slightest concern for what’s floating in their path. Human life is just more flotsam and jetsam.

I don’t doubt for a second the skill of these riders and I couldn’t care less about the politics of tow-in surfing. What I deeply question is the comfort these riders have with death. I want to know why they willingly accept odds that suggest never returning to the surface is more likely than rescue should they need to bail or realize too late that the wave they chose was too fast and closing too soon.

Wave measurement being as subjective as it is, whether or not Burle broke McNamara’s wave height record will be debated for some time. If it sells more Red Bull, then it was probably bigger.

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